More than 70 days have passed since the constitutional deadline for Pennsylvania to finalize a fiscal year budget, yet debates persist over whether we are going to burden hard-working families with higher taxes, cut spending for critical programs, or borrow from our children to pay for expenses we incur today. This creates great uncertainty among the leaders of the business, investment, academic, and social service communities while masking a deeper, more fundamental deficiency:
Harrisburg lacks the leadership Pennsylvanians deserve, particularly in the role of chief executive.
As governor, I would deliver a different brand of leadership to Harrisburg in order to fix the budgeting process and, more important, deliver on Pennsylvania's promise. Here's how I would handle the budgeting process:
Establish a long-term vision and plan from which short-term budget decisions can be properly evaluated. We can attribute a big part of the contention and confusion in Harrisburg to the lack of a compelling vision for what Pennsylvania should be. The mess we are in has been more than a decade in the making, and will require more than one budget cycle to fix.
The annual budget process is simply a means of recommitting to a set of priorities on the path toward achieving long-term prosperity. The governor, as chief executive, must be leading this process on both sides of the aisle. Leaders across all ideological spectra would much more likely subscribe to objectives regarding the betterment of all Pennsylvanians if such a vision were properly articulated: honoring the dignity of work through growth in jobs and wages; education preparing our children to compete effectively in a globally competitive economy; health care that is affordable and accessible; the eradication of our drug overdose epidemic; and creating a government and governing process responsive to the needs of modern society.
There will be differences on how best to achieve these objectives, but until we first agree on the what, we'll never agree on the how. I would welcome the opportunity to work with any legislator, Democrat or Republican, who in good faith had suggestions regarding how we could best achieve these objectives within the context of our present economic constraints.
Use a collaborative, "bottom up" process. During the budget process I would seek extensive input from those who deal with the day-to-day challenges of our commonwealth at the front line, including county commissioners, mayors, township supervisors, and other local leaders. These leaders know how to do more with less, innovate, and make tough trade-offs, and they want to be part of the process. I would work collaboratively with them and the legislature to develop a budget within which we all could live. Even at Day 70, I would convene them, and we could collectively resolve this in 72 hours.
Should differences remain, I would not hesitate to use the line-item veto. Good leaders as much as possible lead through inspiring, persuading, and, yes, even cajoling others. But after all input has been solicited, received, and evaluated, should differences remain, the chief executive is the one who ultimately makes the final decisions. The line-item veto exists for precisely that reason. If Pennsylvanians elect a chief executive with the full knowledge of where he is trying to lead them, then he must act, and act decisively. No decision, as we are observing, is worse than an "80 percent right" decision.
My grandfather arrived in Philadelphia from Italy a little over a century ago in search of the American dream. He asked for nothing upon arrival other than an opportunity to work hard, provide for his family, and have the chance for a better life. He spent that life shoveling coal cinders from steam locomotives and painting rail cars so that my father, and eventually I, could fulfill his dream. This is what the great people of Pennsylvania want for their children and grandchildren.
Poor leadership in Harrisburg is tragically compromising the dreams of the next generation of Pennsylvanians. If I am so honored as to be elected your next governor, my vow would be to lead our great commonwealth, working together to restore our ability to achieve our shared dreams.