The state budget scam

Published Jul 9, 2014 at 5:18 am (Updated Jul 7, 2014 at 10:24 am)

Apparently with a straight face, Republican State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai stated that the $29.1 billion spending plan sent to Governor Corbett for his signature is a “responsible budget.” Surely he jests.

The budget is balanced through sleight of hand: trickery. A deficit estimated at $1.7 billion is wiped out, spending is significantly increased, and presto, change-o, there are no new revenues – no Marcellus Shale gas extraction tax, no tax on smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes, no closing of the “Delaware loophole.”

The budget provides shaky one-time revenue sources, it pushes obligations into a different fiscal year, revenue projections are almost certainly overly rosy, and new revenues are anticipated which may not come to fruition.

The General Assembly refused to address liquor sale privatization and the mammoth $50 billion deficit in state pension funds, which is helping to ruin school districts and taxpayers, rendering the notion of property tax reform or relief absurd.

I note the irony that as he pleads for action on pensions, the man the governor endorsed for the important position of State Auditor General, Upper St. Clair State Representative John Maher, helped to set in motion the pension calamity when he joined 175 of his similarly greedy house colleagues in approving a 50 percent retroactive boost in legislative pensions in 2001, throwing in state employees and public school teachers for a 25 percent hike so as to deflect any accusation that he acted in self-interest. There was no rank and file clamor for pension hikes in 2001; these plans were already generous defined benefit vehicles; this was strictly an action taken in the spirit of, “If you give them (our elected officials) the money, they will spend it.” We are now in the throes of a crisis because the General Assembly and governors who preceded Tom Corbett failed to contribute the Commonwealth’s share to the funds for years.

It is almost certain that Tom Wolf will occupy the Governor’s Mansion come January 2015. He can expect to find himself in the same bind that Governor Corbett did when he succeeded an overtax, overspend, overborrowing “leader.” The Corbett legacy will be threatened when the citizenry comes to recognize that the budget was “balanced” this year only through hocus pocus. Incoming Governor Wolf is a man to be pitied.

Oren Spiegler

Upper St. Clair

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