Has Pa. turned fiscal corner? Let’s stay tuned

If Pennsylvania’s revenue total remains in the black for the final eight months of the 2018-19 fiscal year, mimicking the revenue picture of the year’s first four months, state taxpayers will have grounds to be cautiously optimistic that the Keystone State maybe has turned the proverbial corner on a money shortage that has dogged the commonwealth for more than a decade.

But the best advice for taxpayers is not to be duped by that fragment of good financial news.

There’s no way for taxpayers to know and understand at this point all of the financial maneuverings employed by the Legislature and Wolf administration to balance this year’s state budget — or at least make it seem like the budget was balanced by the June 30 budget — preparation deadline.

State residents aren’t destined to get solid insight into how genuine and accurate — perhaps “honest” is a better word — 2018-19 incoming and outgoing money projections were until serious progress on the state’s 2019-20 spending package begins to take shape sometime around late April.

Hopefully, budget negotiations between the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will repeat the more amicable budget negotiations that took place for this year, unlike what occurred during the first three years of Wolf’s tenure as the state’s chief executive.

Both sides need to embrace an attitude of compromise, understanding that any kind of negotiations require give-and-take.

According to a report by the news and information service Capitolwire, published in the Altoona Mirror on Nov. 3, Pennsylvania’s $2.5 billion of collected General Fund revenue in October was $28.3 million, or 1.2 percent, more than had been anticipated.

October’s collected amount, when combined with General Fund revenue collected during the fiscal year’s first three months — the state’s fiscal year begins on July 1 — brought the total amount collected for the fiscal year thus far to just over $10 billion.

That $10 billion figure is $238 million, or 2.4 percent, above what had been estimated for the four months in question.

While $238 million above projections might seem to spell excellent prospects for the state, there’s no guarantee that the trend will continue uninterrupted through fiscal year’s end.

What seems without question, though, is that the incoming-revenue numbers don’t suggest that there will be any room for a spending spree in 2019-20.

And the situation might be worse if some questionable budget moves implemented for 2018-19 end up consuming a significant chunk of the higher-than-projected money collections recorded for July 1 through Oct. 31.

One new barometer for how Pennsylvania might fare at the end of the current fiscal year — and even beyond 2018-19 — will be the amounts collected each month from the commonwealth’s expansion of gambling.

There’s no sure bet that an end-of-year windfall lies ahead.

While it’s too early to predict whether Pennsylvania really has turned the fiscal corner, based on October’s and year-to-date numbers, it’s not too early to pay close attention, going forward.

Being a good citizen of this commonwealth entails being familiar in an ongoing way with state government’s performance, fiscal and otherwise, not just as Election Day is near at hand.

— The Altoona Mirror

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