Our state legislators are attending picnics today and awaiting tonight’s fireworks, just like everyone else. The reason they are at home instead of at work in Harrisburg is because they managed to pass a budget before the July 1 deadline. But the budget the Republican-controlled Senate and House passed is so bogus even Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has not been able to bring himself to sign it.
Corbett hoped the budget bill would address in some way – any way – the onerous $50 billion state pension crisis. It does not. The governor said earlier this week he would hold off signing the budget into law while waiting for the House to send him a meaningful pension reform bill. The House responded by voting to refer a hybrid pension proposal to the House Human Services Committee for further study.
The $29.1 billion budget was crafted by the majority Republicans behind closed doors. Democrats, every one of whom voted against the bill, were shut out of the process. We don’t know the details of the budget and won’t know them until it becomes law, because citizens are shut out of the process, as well.
We do know, however, the plan calls for state spending to increase by 3 percent, or $943 million, without any increase in taxes. Where this revenue comes from is a bit of a mystery, as is what the Legislature plans to do about the $1.75 billion deficit it ran up last fiscal year.
Though it’s more than likely some state agencies and programs will feel the knife, our state lawmakers made sure they would be safely out of harm’s way. They voted to give themselves $280.4 million, slightly less than the $301 million the nation’s most costly legislative body spent last year. Note, however, that their spending habits need not be curtailed. The Legislature’s surplus grew by $14 million last year to $154 million.
Lawmakers said they need this much money in reserve in the event they get into a budget battle with the governor, who then might crimp their money hose.
Despite the fact the Senate, House and governor’s office are all controlled by Republicans, that could happen. Corbett could veto the budget, call the Legislature back and insist on action to address the pension crisis. That could cut off state funding and services and be politically damaging, but it would be a glimmer of fiscal responsibility we so long to see.
Pennsylvania’s problems can’t be fixed by delaying them, but by facing them and their difficult solutions now.