Remember when the Republican Party would tout its reputation for sound fiscal stewardship? Running a deficit was anathema; borrowing to make up for shortfalls was verboten; and taxes – those were for the Democrats to oppose, and for them to oppose.
Good times. Both at the state and national level, the cavalierly confrontational attitude displayed by GOP leadership toward maintaining budgetary health is nothing short of shocking.
How dire are the budgetary straits in Pennsylvania? Enough so that Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati has not only shepherded a revenue plan through the Senate that includes implementing a long-discussed extraction tax on drillers (with plenty of mollifying givebacks to the industry, to be sure) and borrowing big against the state’s tobacco settlement, but he excoriated his recalcitrant House counterparts on the record for their lack of engagement.
That rebuke wasn’t exactly unwarranted. Led by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, the GOP-dominated chamber has been enjoying a long summer vacation – with no sign of coming back to work before their scheduled return in September – despite the commonwealth getting perilously close to entering the third month of FY 2017-18 without any way to make up a total deficit of $2.2 billion.
Which begs the question: Just what does Turzai know? What information does he have that has kept him from bringing his colleagues back to Harrisburg to stave off the inevitable economic nightmare that would come from failing to balance the budget? If he’s got the goods on why there’s no reason to worry about a credit downgrade that would result in sharply higher finance charges for government entities across the state, why not share with the rest of the class?
Of course, when it comes to Republican fiscal brinksmanship, it’s all relative. As feckless as Turzai’s approach to the state’s budget crisis might be, it pales in comparison to President Donald Trump’s red-meat pledge to his base that if Congress doesn’t fund his border wall – yes, the same one that Mexico is supposed to be paying for – that he would shut down the government. And that’s not even getting into the conservative factions inside the White House and Congress angling to prevent raising the country’s debt ceiling, which would trigger a catastrophic default.
Kinda makes you long for the days when the worst thing that would happen at budget time was tagging a colleague as a “tax-and-spend” liberal or a “voodoo economics” conservative supply-sider on the way to bipartisan passage of the legislation.
Joe Scarnati: See above.
The PA economy: In addition to the Philly region being named one of the five most improved economies in the country, the latest report on employment in the Keystone State showed record payroll growth.
John Fetterman: The Braddock mayor and former Democratic candidate for US senator will reportedly challenge embattled Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in next year’s primary.
Mike Stack: The lieutenant governor came in for even more scrutiny over the eye-popping expenditures coming out of his office, including an inquiry in the House State Government Committee that was overshadowed by some truly brutal epistolary attacks between him and committee chair Daryl Metcalfe, himself under fire for unrepentantly supporting a white supremacist in 2015.
The PA Turnpike Commission: The PA Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the commission must pay $1.6 million to former employee Ralph Bailets, who was fired after blowing the whistle on an IT contractor.
The state: No, seriously. The ramifications of Gov. Tom Wolf’s promise to freeze spending on Sept. 15 if the $2.2 billion hole in the budget isn’t filled by then will be felt across the commonwealth.