Stop us if you’ve heard this before.
Pennsylvania is broke. Again.
Yes, in the Keystone State version of a broken record, we are once again swimming in red ink.
The latest numbers released in a report by the nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office pegs the state’s current deficit at about $500 million. And that’s just to make it through the current fiscal year.
The imbalance is expected to balloon to $1.7 billion in the next fiscal year unless the Legislature takes action.
So, naturally, Pennsylvania does what it does best. It decided to borrow money and keep its fingers crossed waiting for a solution.
The State Treasury Department announced it will cough up another $600 million to keep the state from overdrawing on its main bank account.
Don’t we all do that when we balance the family checkbook? That now means Pennsylvania is $2.2 billion in debt to the treasury, holding its fiscal breath until tax collections start to flow in.
Don’t hold your breath, folks. The state’s tax collections are lagging as we stand four months into the fiscal year.
How dire is the situation?
Gov. Tom Wolf said the state may be forced to shut down some of the state’s eight unemployment compensation call centers and lay off workers because the Senate adjourned without providing sufficient funding.
It’s more than a little ironic that the first people to feel the brunt of the state’s latest economic peril is those already out of work, and some state workers who may soon be joining them.
On Nov. 8, we elected our state representatives. Every seat in the state House was on the ballot, along with half the seats in the state Senate. These folks never lose their jobs. They make up one of the biggest, most expensive legislative bodies in the country.
It’s about time we demanded more bang for our buck.
Not just better beer laws.
Yes, this newspaper has for some time now been a big proponent of privatizing liquor sales in Pennsylvania.
The state has taken some halting steps. Republicans have professed their zeal to blow up the Liquor Control Board and turn the whole process over to private enterprise. Democrats, led by Gov. Wolf, have resisted such efforts, instead looking to modernize and expand state store service while adding the convenience of beer and wine sales in supermarkets, and adding variety in the form of 12- and six-pack sales at beer distributors.
But let’s not kid ourselves.
It’s not exactly the most critical issue facing the state.
Not when the red ink continues to rise.
Not when public schools continue to struggle under an underfunded system that still tilts away from the neediest districts. And not when that “ticking time bomb” in the budget process — the massively underfunded public employee pension plans — gets closer to detonating every day.
Take a look at the results of the Nov. 8 elections. For the most part, incumbents held sway and were returned to Harrisburg.
Republicans retained big majorities in both the House and Senate.
It’s time to address the serious money issues facing the state.
Only then should we raise a glass and celebrate the tiny steps being made to bring the state into the 21st century when it comes to booze.
Gov. Wolf will deliver his budget address in February. No doubt he will once again call for a variety of taxes to cover an increase in education funding that has been his hallmark since winning the office two years ago.
And no doubt those calls will be ignored by Republicans who hold the purse strings in Harrisburg. (It’s one thing for Republicans to always oppose tax hikes, but they’ve done little to control state spending.)
But one thing is unavoidable. Pennsylvania has a budget problem. A very big budget problem that is only going to be resolved by an increase in revenue — read that as new taxes — or cuts in spending.
Doing what we have always done will no longer suffice.
It’s time for Harrisburg to get serious about the serious issues facing the state.
Balancing the checkbook should be at the top of the list.