Recently I spoke before a Republican group about the current state budget deal. During my remarks I praised Republicans in the state House for their continued principled opposition to the tax increases contained in the current plan, and I had harsh words for Republican leaders in the state senate for caving into Governor Ed Rendell and agreeing to raise taxes.
Listening in the audience was a Republican state senator who took strong exception to my remarks. He said I didn’t understand how Harrisburg worked and that as the majority party in the senate Republican leaders had to act responsibly and pass a budget. That raises the question: what constitutes governing responsibly?
I find it interesting that when Democrats stick to their principles, as Governor Ed Rendell has done in demanding more spending and higher taxes, they are deemed as governing responsibly. But, when Republicans act according to their party’s core principle of fiscal conservatism and demand less spending and lower taxes they are viewed as ideologues.
It is bad enough when the mainstream media, leftist academics, and Democratic politicians parrot that line. But, when the only component of state government under Republican control drinks such double standard laced Kool-Aid, it points to a serious structural deficiency within the ranks of the GOP.
Let us examine more closely the term "governing responsibly." Sometimes it is best to answer a question with another question, or even an entire series of questions. So I ask:
Is it "governing responsibly" to raise taxes on over 100,000 small businesses at a time when the economy is in deep recession, unemployment is at or above 10% and we need the new jobs entrepreneurs can create?
Is it "governing responsibly" for budget makers to forecast zero percent growth in state tax revenues, but agree to a new state budget that calls for spending virtually the same amount of money as last year – a year in which we racked up a $3.2 billion budget deficit?
Is it "governing responsibly" to implement a new tax on small games of chance that will take money from the pockets of small nonprofit groups like VFWs and volunteer fire companies at the same time as private contributions are down due to the recession?
Is it "governing responsibly" to continue to fund the skyrocketing costs of the welfare system when the Auditor General has raised concerns over waste, fraud and abuse?
Is it "governing responsibly" to agree to expand legalized gambling to include table games when reforms have not yet been made to the current system which is rife with corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude?
Is it "governing responsibly" to be raising taxes for the general fund when fiscal disasters in the state’s pension and unemployment compensation funds loom?
It is "governing responsibly" to continue spending at a level that will be unsustainable in two years when federal stimulus funding ends?
The answer to all those questions – and many more – is no, that is not "governing responsibly." Responsible governance would require cutting spending to within our current means, not increasing taxes or user fees, and reforming agencies such as the gaming board and welfare department to eliminate corruption and maximize income.
Why then do senate Republican leaders think their agreeing to this budget is "governing responsibly" when it fact it is precisely the opposite? The budget agreement fails to adequately reign in spending, it lacks long-term funding sustainability, and it levies crippling taxes on Pennsylvania’s small businesses and nonprofit organizations. It is the epitome of irresponsibility.
It is true this budget crisis has gone on far too long and Pennsylvania needs a budget. But the solution is not for senate Republicans to act in an irresponsible manner. Rather, the senate should join their Republicans colleagues in the house and stand tall for the principles of fiscal conservatism that voters sent them to Harrisburg to implement.
And that, would be governing responsibly.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO Of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected]lincolninstitute.org.)
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