State budget needs to address real shortfalls

Gov. Tom Wolf is well aware that the aggressive spending and tax proposals that he unveiled during his 2015-16 budget address in March aren’t going to come to pass.

But at the same time, the Pennsylvania Legislature knows that the state can’t afford to remain locked in unproductive policies that have worked to the commonwealth’s detriment.

What will transpire or be accomplished in these last three days before the start of the new fiscal year is anyone’s guess. About the only certainty today is that at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, the state isn’t likely to be any closer to having an approved and signed budget in place than it was a month or two ago.

What that might mean in terms of state operations going forward is a matter of conjecture, but as long as vital state services aren’t interrupted, it shouldn’t be considered the proverbial “end of the world” that budget preparation is extending beyond the June 30 deadline.

The deadline has been missed before — many times.

However, the chasm that exists between what Wolf proposed in March and what lawmakers seem willing to authorize will create interesting days ahead.

How much compromise already has taken place is unclear.

Events of the past few days indicate a ramping-up of activities connected to the annual budget exercise, but how those will impact the final product that goes to a vote and subsequently is forwarded to Wolf won’t be possible to judge until budget preparation is concluded.

For now, advocates of increased education spending are speaking out, and stepped-up gambling options are being discussed by lawmakers as a means to help resolve the estimated $1.2 billion budget shortfall.

How the public pension crisis will be resolved – if indeed any progress is possible – remains closeted behind the legislative walls. Whether the state’s current fiscal condition will result in privatization of wine and liquor sales also remains a topic of secrecy.

But Democrat Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature remain on different planets in regard to 2015-16 spending. Perhaps it will take a crisis for one side or the other to blink, paving the way for a settlement.

As originally laid out, Wolf’s budget plan would have been detrimental to many, but at the same time it’s been clear that the commonwealth’s money shortfall needs to be addressed by way of a comprehensive plan that’s been missing for too long.

Whatever budget emerges must not lack major progress on the state’s most important issues.

If it takes until the end of July to fashion such a spending plan, so be it.

– Altoona Mirror