State budget hurts cities
Every government budget also is a political document, so it's no surprise that the budget signed by Gov. Tom Corbett partially addresses what the public has identified to pollsters as his biggest failure: education funding.
The budget includes $316 million in new education funding, although almost half of that money is to cover the state's share of the exponentially rising cost of school employees' pensions, which the Legislature has failed to reform. So, taxpayers won't see that money in local tax reductions or programs. And another $100 million is for programs favored by the administration rather than general funding
And the budget defies the clear wishes of the public in that it does not include a fair tax on gas extraction and evades yet again the conversion of the state booze monopoly into a capitalist, market-based enterprise.
The most marketable part of the budget is that it does not include a state-level tax increase, although the failure to reform the pension systems guarantees a host of local tax increases.
Meanwhile, the budget marks a continuation of the state government's withdrawal from helping struggling city governments, including those in Scranton and several other communities in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Not only does this budget do nothing to correct basic local governance problems, such as needlessly expensive local services due to redundancy, it further diminishes programs that cities have been using to help maintain infrastructure and development.
The budget eliminates $32.4 million for the state Department of Community and Economic Development. That means real dollar reductions statewide in the Main Street and Elm Street programs that foster redevelopment, and funds for job training and equipment tied to those projects.
Overall, due to the governors' and legislators' political need to avoid state-level tax increases in a gubernatorial and legislative election year, the budget does not address a substantial deficit that had been projected to be about $700 million. That, in effect, shows that the budget truly is incomplete. Unless tax revenues suddenly, unexpectedly and dramatically increase in coming months, the Legislature and the next governor - whether Mr. Corbett or Democrat Tom Wolf - likely will have to deal with the fiscal reality next year, when an election is not impending.
Whereas all budgets are political documents, this one remains curious because it doesn't really resolve even political problems, much less the pressing issues affecting Pennsylvania's cities.