It's time for Pennsylvania to stop papering over its budget holes

HARRISBURG, June 21 – For many years during budget negotiations, Democrats have proposed commonsense solutions like a severance tax on gas drillers and closing corporate tax loopholes, but each year Republicans have resisted. 

 

This year Pennsylvania is facing a $3 billion deficit, and there is still no tax on gas drillers or move to close loopholes. 

 

Republicans who like to paint themselves as fiscal conservatives have helped create a $3 billion deficit and now may try to do something that makes our fiscal situation even worse. 

 

Instead of a commonsense tax on natural gas or closing loopholes in our law that favor greedy out-of-state corporations, Republicans are proposing a borrowing scheme that would further threaten Pennsylvania taxpayers. 

 

As Democratic Leader of the House, I am eager to explain to my colleagues why borrowing $2 billion to fill the deficit is the wrong plan when we can simply tax gas drillers and close loopholes.

 

But like Washington Republicans, Harrisburg Republicans aren't willing to listen. 

 

While congressional Republicans are getting slammed for crafting a massive health care bill in secret and without hearings, Harrisburg Republicans are making plans to borrow something like $2 billion with virtually no public discussion to try to balance the state’s grossly out-of- whack budget for one year.

 

They plan to borrow this huge sum and repay the loan with the state’s future guaranteed payments from the Tobacco Settlement Fund. While that might help us balance this year’s budget, we’ll be paying the debt for years to come.

 

Despite having large majorities in the legislature that wrote and passed the last six budgets, Republicans still try to blame leaders of long ago for today’s fiscal trouble and pretend that their own budget choices didn’t produce falling revenue and service cuts.

 

Democrats and Republicans have to work together to fix this mess, and we Democrats know that all options must be considered. But we’ve got to start by seeing the reality of the situation and finding a compromise that uses responsible, recurring revenue sources to pay for core state government functions.

 

Democrats support passing a severance tax on natural gas drillers and eliminating corporate tax loopholes to generate more sustainable revenue. It’s a smarter approach than continuing to rely simply on shaky budget balancing tactics.

 

These gimmicks already force our state and schools to postpone paying bills owed to vendors. They could put dedicated funds like the Lottery Fund which benefits senior citizens at risk of insolvency. And they endanger the long-term viability of key environmental programs, including the protection of safe drinking water.

 

Now we’re about a week away from another budget deadline. For Republican Party leaders who love to say, “We’re not Washington,” they’ve come up with a very “Washington” way to paper over a large budget deficit.

 

Enough is enough! Instead of borrowing $2 billion, let's pass a commonsense tax on gas drillers and close loopholes.

 

 

All of us taxpayers already pay a high price for the refusal of Republican legislators to come to the table for a reasonable discussion about how to solve Pennsylvania’s chronic budget imbalance. Democratic legislators like me will continue to point out the problems with borrowing more than $2 billion to plug one year’s deficit when we can simply pass a commonsense severance tax and close loopholes.