Posts Tagged problems

A New Shade of Blue

Residents of Penn’s Woods are about to experience history in the making: the start of a new state budget year with the previous year’s budget still unresolved.

Governor Tom Wolf guaranteed the anomaly by line item vetoing almost a third of the budget passed by the GOP-controlled legislature just before Christmas.

The official start of the budget process comes in early February when the governor delivers his budget address to a joint session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  For a variety of reasons the remaining unresolved budget issues from the current fiscal year are likely to remain that way well past the governor’s budget speech currently scheduled for February 9th.

Governor Wolf began the current impasse last winter by proposing a massive increase in state spending and demanding a package of tax hikes that exceeded the tax increases proposed by the governors of all 49 other states combined.  The governor asked this of a legislature not only in control of the opposite political party, but one that holds historically high majorities and one which has become significantly more conservative in recent years.

It is a common strategy for both sides to stake out their most extreme position at the beginning of negotiations.  That leaves room for compromise, which is what always happens during budget talks.  Governor Wolf asked for $3.4 billion in new spending, the GOP preferred spending cuts.  Ultimately, Republicans agreed to a $1 billion increase, including significant additional funding for the governor’s top spending priority: public education.  The governor, however, wants everything he asked for and he wants in now.  Thus began the budget impasse which persists to this day.

The governor has made it clear he is not interested in compromise.  After vetoing the on-time, no tax hike, balanced state budget passed by Republicans last June he immediately sanctioned television ads blasting GOP lawmakers.  In another departure from tradition Wolf vetoed the entire budget.  In the past governors have signed the budget then blue lined or line item vetoed the parts with which they disagreed.  Wolf, however, wanted to ratchet up the political pressure on Republicans so he trashed the entire thing.

Since then there have been numerous votes on alternative budgets, proposed tax hikes, and so-called cost drivers including pension reform and a plan to partially privatize state liquor stores.  GOP lawmakers have passed these bills only to have the governor wield his veto pen.

Governor Wolf and his allies in the liberal media have taken to castigating Republicans, especially House Republicans for being “extremists” because they will not support a broad-based tax hike.  Largely unreported by the media is the fact Democrats in the legislature have been equally obstinate in their support of the governor’s tax and spend agenda.  Vote after vote has fallen along party lines with only a handful of defections on either side of the aisle.

This (aside from the governor’s stubborn streak) gets to the core of the impasse: Democrats have been reduced to a largely urban party that allows no deviation from its Left-wing agenda.  Conservatives dominate in the Republican caucus, but there is a group of moderate, mostly southeastern Pennsylvania legislators, who often fracture party unity by siding with Democrats.

And look for Democrats to become more ideologically rigid after this year’s elections.  State Representative Nick Kotik of Allegheny County is one of only a very few so-called blue dog Democrats and he is retiring.  The term blue dog originated because the Left strangles their moderate brethren blue to force compliance.  This canine is about to become extinct in the Pennsylvania legislature.

In its place is another shade of blue: that being the governor’s face.  He is determined to hold his breath until he gets his way.  He has called Republicans stupid, extreme and their most recent budget “garbage.”  By remaining in campaign mode rather than maturing into governing the governor’s strategy ensures not only that the current budget impasse will continue, but that Pennsylvanians are in for three more years of fiscal chaos.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.


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Of Rainbows and Unicorns

Once upon a time in the woods of Penn the benevolent overseer of the land wished to bestow upon his subjects many favors.  Believing in the superior wisdom of his court, he set out to do away with the evil forces that allowed some to rise above others.  To do so he needed more treasure, so he pledged to take from the rich and give to the poor.  But alas, he soon found there were not enough rich to supply the bounty he promised, so he began taking even from the hard working peasants.

And a great sadness descended upon the land.  The benevolent overseer stroked his beard and decreed his populace suffered from a lack of self-esteem.  If only his subjects would think more highly of themselves they would gladly offer up more taxes to the kingdom.  But, upon finding they too would have to render unto the overseer part of their own meager fortune, a great restlessness occurred among the masses.

Seeing this, the knights of the legislature sprang into action and vowed to lead the people to the land of lower taxes and less government.  They promised easier access to wine and liquor to restore the kingdom’s sagging spirits.   And they vowed the government would get out of the way and let people work hard and keep more of their shekels for their own families.

Thus did a great battle take shape over the destiny of his kingdom.

“I will lead you to the land of glittering rainbows and prancing unicorns,” claimed the benevolent overseer.

“We love you!” shouted the scribes and town criers.

“We can’t afford it!” wailed the wage earners.

“We will come to your rescue!” pledged the knights of the legislature.

And the fight commenced.

Governor Tom Wolf has put his first budget on the table. It is a complete redesign of the state’s tax paradigm, with the end result being a $4.6 billion increase in state spending.  He calls his budget progressive and a fresh start for Pennsylvania.  Republicans who control both houses of the General Assembly call it “dead on arrival.”  Many adjectives have been used by the media to describe the spending plan.  I like the term “fairy tale.”

It is a fairy tale because Governor Wolf’s proposals completely ignore the reality of the political situation in Harrisburg.  Even with complete control of the governor’s office and the legislature Republicans were unable to come to grips with pension reform, liquor privatization, and a systemic budget deficit.  As a result of last November’s election, the General Assembly has become more Republican and more conservative and the Governor’s office has been transformed into a virtual Left wing think tank.

For reasons too numerous to detail here, Pennsylvania state government is one that makes change incrementally.  Bold, sweeping action of any type on any issue happens rarely and then only when there is some level of agreement between factions of the two political parties.  Currently, Democrats are a unified and unbending block, and the capitulation wing of the Republican caucus has been rendered impotent by the sheer number of more conservative members elected in recent election cycles.

As if this were not enough of a prescription for gridlock, the Governor has opted to double down on his so-called progressive agenda. The only possible outcome is an extended period of confrontation.   This will happen because neither side will be able to back down without paying a hefty political price.  The governor is beholden to labor unions and will block Republican efforts to address budgetary cost drivers like public employee pensions.  Across the aisle, Republicans enjoy their current large majorities because of conservative legislators sent to Harrisburg to cut spending and prevent tax hikes.

By making his opening bid confrontation rather than compromise Governor Wolf has created a climate in which acrimony and gridlock will flourish.  That is unless one or both sides abandons the constituencies which elected them to office.  That could happen; if you believe in fairy tales.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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