Free the Budget Hostages

This week, lawmakers are expected to vote for a “stop-gap budget”—funding state services and programs for a few months, while continuing to negotiate a budget compromise.

Yet, some politicians oppose even this measure and want to keep holding children and social service agencies hostage to their demands for higher taxes. Ironically, this opposition comes on the heels on House Democrats requesting, and receiving, an advance on the funding for payroll they expect to get whenever a budget is passed.

This hypocrisy—“money for me, but none for thee”—shows exactly why we need to fix the budgetary process.

More than a stop-gap budget, lawmakers need to adopt real reforms that prevent this practice—frequently used by former Gov. Rendell—of holding funding for schools until lawmakers meet the demands for higher taxes. As we pointed out in a recent op-ed, legislation has been introduced that would prevent these budget breakdowns from happening again:

One possibility is a bill introduced by Rep. Dan Truitt to ensure important government services remain open during the impasse. Separate legislation sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument and Rep. Dave Hickernell would ensure school districts receive funding if summer break ends before the stalemate.

Alleviating the temporary pressure and freeing the hostages would allow for honest budget discussion and compromise.  

This starts with dropping any pretense of higher sales and income taxes on working families. Clearly, there is zero appetite for raising income and sales taxes on working Pennsylvanians. Even if you question the vote on Wolf’s tax plans on June 1 (which failed 0-193), the fact remains that to this day NO House Democrat has even introduced the Governor’s sales and income tax increase proposals.

No one—except Gov. Wolf—really supports increasing taxes by more than $4 billion this year and $8 billion next year. If we accept that such broad-based tax increases are simply untenable, then they must be off the negotiating table entirely.

Furthermore, imposing a new and higher severance tax on natural gas will not even come close to covering the spending sought by Governor Wolf.

In order for both sides to leave the negotiating table satisfied, they must be willing to cut the current subsidies to their favored special interests.

Governor Wolf will need to inform his government union supporters that he will trade liquor privatization (complete divestiture of the wholesale and retail business) and pension reform (401k-type plans for all new hires and legislators) for more money for education. 

The Republican legislature will need to inform their business supporters that they are cutting their subsidies (approaching $1 billion) to the film industry, the horseracing industry, and many other business interests that enjoy selective tax benefits and handouts.

A compromise will be found only when both sides are willing to surrender some of the demands of their preferred special interests. We should never negotiate the taxpayers’ interests with hostage-takers.