Time's 'a wastin'
State legislators always leave a host of matters on the table after they pass a budget then hustle out of town for the summer recess. That's especially true in an election year like this one, when legislators facing opponents head home to campaign, and all of them head home to raise money.
This year is a little bit different, though, in that some of the most important issues facing the commonwealth never even made it to the table before the recess. It's all the more remarkable because much of that business, if it had been transacted in the public business, could have helped the Legislature to cover the state's unresolved deficit while more fairly spreading the tax burden. Among those matters:
- Revenue: Despite better-than-expected revenue in June, the last month of the fiscal year, the state government deficit still ended up north of $500 million.
This generally is a revenue problem rather than a spending problem. But the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett aren't inclined to fix it in an election year, even though doing so also could produce fairer taxation.
As always, lawmakers did not close the Delaware loophole, which allows some of the world's largest corporations to evade taxes on the business they conduct in Pennsylvania. That results in a very high corporate tax rate of nearly 10 percent that is paid mostly by smaller companies, and which discourages development.
The Legislature can and should close the loophole and reduce the corporate tax rate by a third, as often is proposed. Doing so substantially would increase revenue while more fairly spreading the burden.
Lawmakers also could end Pennsylvania's status as the only state that doesn't tax cigars and chewing tobacco, stop paying businesses to collect the state sales tax and join every other gas-producing state by imposing a fair tax on extraction. Together, those measures would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue without hurting the state's competitiveness.
- Governance: Lawmakers pondered several sound ideas to reduce the size of the needlessly large and expensive Legislature, then punted. They and everyone else knows that both houses could be substantially trimmed, saving tens of millions of dollars a year, without adversely affecting representation or governance.
Likewise, lawmakers refused to reform the big public pension systems that are about to produce substantial property tax increases in at least scores of the state's 500 school districts and consuming an ever larger share of the state budget. Democrats won't do it because they are tied closely to public employee unions. But Republicans have majorities in both houses, and they have defied Gov. Tom Corbett's demand for reform.
In a symmetrical bid of bad governance, lawmakers can restore $65 million that the governor red-lined from their budget, from a $150 million surplus of taxpayers' money that they should have returned to the Treasury to help offset the budget deficit.
There is more, but the "full-time" Legislature has scheduled only 11 to 14 more session days for the year.