Despite a constitutional requirement that a budget be in place by June 30, the impasse remains, giving Pennsylvania the distinction of being the only state without a fiscal plan.
After 67 days, why can’t our elected officials figure out a solution? If you’re told that it’s because of the complicated inside political minutiae that occurs in the state capital, you’ve been misled.
This rift between Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and the Senate Republicans is as simple as is gets.
One side truly cares about the welfare of Pennsylvania citizens, and the other cares about his legacy.
The Senate, which happens to be the only Republican legislative body north of Virginia and east of Ohio, has done a stellar job of adhering to its Party principles by refusing to raise taxes. Period. Its leaders, including Sens. Pileggi, Scarnati and Orie, have stood stronger than most political analysts predicted, and continue to win the support of the people because of their convictions.
These leaders have articulated the position that government, just like Pennsylvanian families, must tighten its belt, especially when times are tough. Of course some cuts are tough to swallow, but in large part, many spending programs should have never been passed in the first place. Over-bloated budgets, increased bureaucracy, and reckless spending all have to be reigned in, and that’s exactly what the senate is doing. Its bottom line is that restoring fiscal sanity to Harrisburg must be the cornerstone of any budget deal.
Most important, the Senate innately understands that you cannot tax your way out of a recession and into prosperity.
Bingo! It’s that simple. And that idea, anathema to Ed Rendell, is why there is no budget deal.
Gov. Rendell sees it differently. His vision? To further burden his constituents by increasing tax rates (he wants to raise the personal income tax by 16%), expand existing taxes (he has proposed widely expanding the scope of the sales tax), and enact new taxes (he had proposed high taxes on natural-gas extraction of what could be Pennsylvania’s next booming industry – the Marcellus shale fields).
Oh, and he wants to increase revenue by allowing video poker and table games throughout the state.
What Mr. Rendell doesn’t get, and probably never will, is that the way to increase revenue for state coffers is by creating a business-friendly state. Instead of trampling on the backs of already-weary Pennsylvanians, which only causes more flight of our best and brightest people and companies, he should be pushing to attract business and the high-paying jobs that come with it.
But when a state has the reputation of having one of the worst business and legal climates in the country, the facts speak for themselves.
Pennsylvania was once the leading industrial powerhouse in the country, a magnet for companies to locate here, and with them, the best and brightest workforce America had to offer. Our children were educated here—and actually stayed in Pennsylvania because of the jobs that were created by a booming economy.
But now our biggest export is our children. How many recent college graduates stay in Pennsylvania? How many parents have to make a long distance call to talk with their children? Healthcare costs for employers and employees have skyrocketed. In many cases, employers simply cannot continue to offer health care benefits and remain competitive.
Too many of our nation’s finest doctors come to Pennsylvania for an education only to flee to other states when they discover how heavy the burden of malpractice insurance is here.
In much of Pennsylvania, the manufacturing economy is little more than a distant memory. Our hostile legal climate has increased the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania to the point that we are virtually dead last in America for job creation.
The number of companies—and jobs—moving away from Pennsylvania speaks for itself. In too many parts of Pennsylvania, the economic lights have already dimmed, and may soon go out altogether.
Our economic decline can’t simply be shrugged off as the unfortunate consequences of the transition to a twenty-first century economy. Left unchecked, it has the potential to turn much of Pennsylvania into an economic backwater shaped only by the sad ghosts of the past.
If Rendell’s tax plans were to pass, that will be a stake through the heart of the Commonwealth, a final last gasp for Pennsylvania.
By contrast, if Pennsylvania is to regain its once proud position, it must aggressively rebuke the Democrats’ motto of loving jobs but hating employers.
With the senate holding the line, that might just happen.
Chris Freind, author of "Freindly Fire," is an independent columnist and investigative reporter whose home newspaper is The Philadelphia Bulletin. Readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. He can be reached at [email protected]