Pa. budget compromise important

Pennsylvania’s Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf seemed to take at least a small step forward during the past week as they held talks on two of the most difficult issues in the still-unfinished 2015-16 budget-preparation exercise.

Until accords on pension reform and school funding are hammered out, the current no-budget debacle appears destined to drag on indefinitely, perhaps to the point of a fiscal crisis.

While no major inroads toward resolving those two issues were indicated following face-to-face discussions that began in midweek, the situation – in however small a way – was more encouraging than when both sides were glued to their respective positions without attempting to free themselves from their stubborn “adhesive.”

Both sides need to acknowledge that compromise is necessary, sooner rather than later.

Wolf’s original budget proposal went too far on taxes and spending, but the Legislature for months was wrong in thinking it could railroad a new “same-old, same-old” budget into law without giving the governor some of what he feels is necessary to get the commonwealth back on the road of fiscal stability.

The state is going to put itself in more serious financial difficulty and set itself up for additional credit downgrades if it doesn’t soon come to grips with the serious financial issues dogging it.

Pennsylvania, which should be a leader among the states in ability to address tough issues, is instead imprisoned by immovable partisanship that not only impedes progress but also wastes taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Following Wednesday’s meeting between legislative leaders and Wolf, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, while seemingly bemoaning a lack of substantive change in the governor’s position on the pension issue, provided an on-target perspective of why the pension issue now exists.

“We’ve been talking about pension reform for a number of years now,” Reed said.

What that means is that current and past lawmakers, and previous administrations, had “kicked the can down the road” rather than make the difficult decisions to rectify the unconscionable pension actions made in 2001 during the administration of former Gov. Tom Ridge.

It is those actions that are the root of today’s pension problem – a problem that also has exacted a heavy tax toll on payers of school real estate taxes.

Meanwhile, the pension issue’s negative impact on the state budget has put constraints on money available for general school funding.

Until significant progress is made on the pension and school-funding fronts, the state’s fiscal difficulties will mount and the commonwealth’s 500 public school districts won’t have an easier task making ends meet.

On the pension issue, Reed told the news and information service Capitolwire that, “We just need to see the details (from Wolf); we can kind of put the numbers together on what those details mean, and how that would look for both the budget and pension systems going forward – a lot of it will be dependent on what they’re proposing.”

In the end, the two daunting issues – and a few others – will require movement by both sides, and there is room for such movement.

But the truth is that the state’s budget situation is getting to the point where small steps forward must give way to large ones.