About the best thing to be said about Pennsylvania's $28.4 billion budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year is that it was passed on time. Beyond that, the spending guide excludes something that will displease just about everyone, including Gov. Tom Corbett, who saw his fellow Republicans who control the state House and the Senate omit all three of his major proposals.
At least two of those proposals, a change in the pensions for public employees and additional funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to address deteriorating infrastructure, almost certainly will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more in the long run as these issues only will become more expensive to rectify.
Corbett's third major proposal was to get the commonwealth out of the retail liquor business. By not including that in the fiscal plan, the Legislature has pleased the employees at the state stores as well as beer distributors across Pennsylvania, but as recently as May a poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College showed the majority of respondents favored privatization.
Beyond that school officials across the commonwealth are dissatisfied with the amount of money directed to education, which more than likely will lead to greater increases in local real estate taxes to fund the schools. That in turn will further aggravate homeowners who have been campaigning for years to find a way to fund education with something other than the property levy.
House Republicans had proposed $2 billion for transportation, but there was little support for it because it would have required an increase in the wholesale fuel tax.
Without those funds, state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch predicted a near-doomsday scenario: the loss of 12,000 jobs; 1,200 bridges getting weight restrictions, resulting in long, costly detours, especially for tractor-trailers; additional congestion costing motorists hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel and maintenance; and higher fares for public transportation systems, such as BARTA.
There is a chance when lawmakers return to Harrisburg in September that they might address the transportation issue, but there still seems to be little desire for any kind of tax increase, which makes additional funding for roads, bridges and public transportation unlikely.
“If it's not done this fall, it will be years,” Schoch said. “And that's just mind-boggling.”
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Tax and fee increases are the wrong answer to funding roads and bridges.”
One only can wonder what the right answer would be if having those who use the roads and bridges pay to maintain and expand them is the wrong answer. The longer they are allowed to deteriorate, the more expensive it will be to fix them.
The idiom holds true as well for public pensions, which have driven much of the increased costs for the public schools in the commonwealth.
Virtually no private-sector business offers defined-benefit pension plans any more. The longer it takes the Legislature to switch the public pension program to a defined-contribution plan, the more expensive it will be for state taxpayers.