Lawmakers should work through recess

It would be refreshing to hear even one Pennsylvania state lawmaker announce that “I will show up for work at my Harrisburg office every day this summer to protest the lack of a 2017-18 state budget that’s responsible, realistic and in the commonwealth’s best interests for the future as well as the present.”

But don’t hold your breath regarding such a prospect, despite the increasing evidence that next year’s spending plan is not going to be responsible, not going to be realistic and not going to protect taxpayers from someday having to shoulder a big financial burden to return the commonwealth to a solid financial footing.

Many Keystone State taxpayers smiled upon hearing that the Legislature was crafting a last-minute 2017-18 spending plan that some lawmakers were referring to as a “get-out-of-town budget.”

To those taxpayers, that meant no tax increases.

However, it’s troubling that those same taxpayers were failing to consider the bigger picture. That bigger picture is the reality regarding Pennsylvania’s financial troubles — that avoiding tough decisions can’t continue forever.

That’s not to imply that a tax increase is unavoidable, but those taxpayers ought to be asking why their representatives in Harrisburg have allowed themselves to be part of another budget-preparation exercise that will be unproductive in terms of getting the commonwealth’s fiscal house in order.

Back in February, it was reported that the state was facing a $3 billion deficit. Now, nearly five months later, there’s been no concrete evidence that real progress has been made to decrease that figure significantly, if at all.

The budget-preparation deadline date is June 30 — Friday — and the 2017-18 fiscal year begins a day later.

What should be maddening from taxpayers’ perspective is that so much work related to the budget has continued to be unfinished with less than a week remaining in the current fiscal calendar.

Budget preparation is one of the most basic responsibilities of lawmakers and, yet, budget-preparation incompetence remains deeply imbedded in this state’s government.

Now, beyond that, the state is faced with something that the taxpayers should regard as unthinkable as well as unacceptable — a hasty spending package built upon lawmakers’ desire to leave town for the summer and, at the same time, avoid hard decisions that need to be made.

Part of the reason that the state’s deficit was $3 billion as the 2017-18 budget-preparation exercise began was that the General Assembly still hadn’t addressed some unfinished business tied to the 2016-17 budget. And, with the threshold of 2017-18 just a stone’s throw away, much of what was unfinished a year ago remains unfinished.

Regardless of what might transpire regarding the new budget over the next few days, it’s not going to be enough, and lawmakers, when they “get out of town,” should leave with shame on their faces rather than with any expressions of satisfaction.

Unfortunately, not one lawmaker is likely to display courage, take a stand, and show up on the steps of the Capitol each day to protest the ongoing inability to craft a good budget.

Sometimes, a lonely voice showing up for work — when others won’t — can have a great positive impact.

That’s what Pennsylvania needs at this time. It’s worth a try.

The prospect of lawmakers leaving town again when so much work remains unfinished constitutes a major injustice to the state and its people that right-thinking citizens shouldn’t be willing to tolerate any longer.