Wolf not ‘kicking the can’

With Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf having delivered his fourth and final first-term budget proposal, attention shifts to the Legislature, which will alter significantly what the governor has put forth.

Specifically, the state chief executive’s attempt at getting $1 billion in additional spending as part of a $33 billion 2018-19 budget package can be regarded as “dead on arrival.”

While some spending increase might be in the version of the budget that’s enacted months from now, the higher-spending number isn’t likely to be anywhere close to what Wolf seeks.

That doesn’t mean some of the spending increases in certain budget categories that Wolf proposes, such as in education, won’t happen. Rather, to make available some of what the governor is requesting, spending in some other budget categories will be chipped away to provide the revenue.

Wolf shouldn’t be faulted for presenting a budget package that contains items that he knows won’t pass. That’s a reality that’s marked probably every budget plan that’s ever been presented by a Pennsylvania governor.

As in labor contract negotiations, the saying that “you always ask for more than you hope to get, in hopes of getting something more,” applies to governmental budgeting as well.

Like the additional $1 billion in question, Wolf is smart enough to know that his fourth proposal in as many years for implementation of a Marcellus Shale severance tax is facing rejection by the Republican-controlled Legislature, even though the Senate approved such a tax last year.

The proposal being part of another proposed spending package merely keeps the issue on the proverbial table for the future.

Democrat Wolf merits criticism on a number of fronts, but he can’t be accused of having been timid, or of having backed down on proposals — good and bad — that he advocated on the campaign trail in 2014.

He knew on the day he recited his oath of office that his dealings with the GOP Legislature wouldn’t be easy, but he has remained persistent regarding his viewpoints on how the state should move forward in confronting major revenue needs.

While some independent analysts are casting doubt on the governor’s pronouncement that there will be no deficit in 2018-19, state residents need to realize that this is a gubernatorial and legislative election year.

Both state governmental branches will try to paint a happier face on the current fiscal situation — and completion of the 2018-19 budget process is likely to occur more quickly this year than during the last three preparation cycles.

As part of that, angering voters will be considered taboo; therefore, the governor’s proposal — one that’s not really unreasonable — that municipalities without local police departments pay a per-capita fee for state police coverage will be “kicked down the road” again.

The governor has labeled his plan a “cost-to-carry” budget containing the bare minimum of spending to keep government operations running and to continue support of entities that depend on state money.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate believe it’s more than that and are pledging a final budget product that’s “a reasonable, responsible budget that taxpayers can afford.”

Only at the end of the 2018-19 fiscal calendar — about 17 months from now — will taxpayers be able to pass judgment on that pledge.