Although there is plenty of blame to go around in the Pennsylvania budget fiasco, there is one person who could have prevented the budget brinksmanship singlehandedly had he acted wisely: Gov. Tom Wolf.
It’s difficult to pass a budget under the best of circumstances. It’s made even more difficult with a Democratic governor and Republican majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature. But Mr. Wolf could have acted more wisely to get Republicans to cooperate with him.
Months ago, the Pennsylvania Legislature foolishly passed a budget without making sure there was enough money to pay for the spending it authorized. Mr. Wolf had several options at that point: He could sign it and hope for a revenue bill to be passed to pay for it. He could veto the entire budget. He could use his line-item veto to remove certain things from it. Or he could do nothing, which means the budget bill would become law without his signature after 10 days. That last option is what he chose, and it was little different than the first option of signing it and hoping for a revenue bill.
Then, in July, House Speaker Mike Turzai decided to insist that the budget can be balanced without raising any taxes. But the Allegheny County Republican was engaging in just as much wishful thinking as the governor, since House proposals don’t raise enough money to pay for the budget.
Mr. Wolf, however, neglected to use the tool that he alone had: the line-item veto. He could have used it to slash items that are dear to the hearts of Mr. Turzai and other prominent Republicans in the Legislature. The Game Commission, perhaps? The Fish and Boat Commission? The state Department of Agriculture? Even if Mr. Wolf had no idea what would strike a nerve with Republican legislative leaders, surely his aides and his allies in the Legislature could have given him a clue.
Mr. Wolf could have said something like, “These programs deserve to be funded at the level passed by the General Assembly. As soon as the General Assembly passes legislation that will raise the money needed for them, I’ll be happy to sign a new appropriations bill restoring their funding.”
Perhaps the programs dear to the hearts of Republican legislators would not add up to enough to balance the budget. He would have had to use the line-item veto on other items as well in that case. But if he used the line-item veto, the most likely outcome is that Republican legislators would reluctantly agree to raising the money needed to fund their favorite programs.
And even if they did not, we wouldn’t be facing the prospect of bond traders downgrading Pennsylvania’s credit rating, forcing the state to borrow at higher interest rates.
Mr. Turzai deserves blame, too, but Mr. Wolf is the one person who could have prevented this situation from developing.
The preceding editorial is the opinion of The Elizabethtown Advocate. Other opinions on this page are those of individual contributors. The Advocate aims to give its readers a wide variety of opinions.