I think most people have a moment where they think about a scene or title of a favorite movie. Lately, I can’t help but think the 2017-18 Pennsylvania budget has played out like the title of the Clint Eastwood classic, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
The Good: As a result of a bipartisan appropriations bill that passed overwhelmingly -- with nine of the Lehigh Valley’s 11 state representatives voting for it -- Pennsylvania will continue to make strides in bolstering our investment in children and education, including an additional $100 million for basic education, $25 million for special education, $25 million for pre-K, $11 million for early intervention and $5 million for Head Start. Additionally, the budget will support important human services programs, including an additional $21.9 million for long-term care for seniors, $180 million for those with intellectual disabilities, $4.4 million for autism services and $1.5 million for newborn health screening. All of this will be done while the General Assembly and the governor work toward efficiencies and savings through department consolidation.
The Bad: There is not enough money available to pay for the good work we want to do. For more than six years, Pennsylvania has seen operating-deficit budgets cobbled together by terrible borrowing, one-time revenue sources and expansion of activities such as gambling and alcohol sales, which have significant social costs to our commonwealth. The Rainy Day Fund is all but depleted and cannot, as of early August, even fund a single day of Pennsylvania’s operation, as the Rainy Day Fund has approximately $245,000. This is down from $755 million when Gov. Tom Corbett took office and Republicans took total control of the General Assembly. According to the Pew Trusts, between 2009 and 2012, Pennsylvania’s budgets required $17 billion to close gaps. This decrease and the continued need to close budget gaps are entirely because unsustainable and irresponsible budgeting gimmicks have depleted all cash reserves. This has to stop.
The Ugly: Gridlock has brought the General Assembly to a standstill and has not produced a revenue bill to pay for the budget. Gov. Tom Wolf has called on the General Assembly to resume its work because the longer this goes unresolved, the bigger the deficit grows and the more painful the solutions become. I echo the governor’s call and like most of my colleagues, I am ready to pass a balanced budget. While we have done the difficult work of committing to very important and worthy investments in Pennsylvania, the budget deficit remains unfilled.
There are no easy solutions to these problems. We need to take steps to institute a tax on natural gas drilling and join every other gas-producing state, including Texas, in doing so. Additionally, we need to close the Delaware loophole which allows out-of-state corporations to do business in Pennsylvania, use our roads and enjoy police, fire and public infrastructure, but allows them to avoid paying their fair share.
I look forward to returning to session in the near future so we can bring this impasse to a close and so we can move forward.