Wolf’s general state budget message, details seem at odds

Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget message this week included the admonition that “Harrisburg has been living beyond its means. Households can’t do that, and neither can we.”

He proceeded to outline a $32.3 billion spending plan that includes a 3.2 percent spending increase.

He proposed to fill some of the state’s $3 billion projected deficit by imposing a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production.

His budget address did not seem to address the looming pension underfunding crisis, the elephant in the room when it comes to any sound fiscal plan for state government.

And he proposed an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour.

We appreciate the more conciliatory tone of Wolf’s budget message, a manner that was not lost on state Rep. Garth Everett, a Muncy Republican who represents much of our region. And we appreciate Wolf’s plan to consolidate some of the state bureaucracy as a means for cutting the state government jobs count.

But his general premise was not matched by the details of the budget.

The best way to attack the state’s deficit is a cut in the overall spending, not an increase.

While we can understand changes in gas industry impact fee collections to base them on the amount of gas produced rather than the number of wells, the method of distributing that money to local communities must remain and a second tax on the Marcellus Shale industry would endanger the state’s economy.

As for pensions, any budget that does not begin to directly impact the ever increasing state pension debt is incomplete. That can has been kicked down the road for far too long.

Likewise, privatization of the liquor store system to generate new revenue from licensing fees seems once again not to be a priority.

Regarding the minimum wage, an increase from the federal floor of $7.25 an hour is due, but a hike to $12 an hour would lead to greater unemployment and could be disastrous for small businesses in the state. It’s simple survival math. They can’t afford to pay that minimum wage without reducing employment rolls.

The tone from the governor was more conciliatory, and that’s good, because there are obviously a lot of tough negotiations ahead, given how far apart Wolf’s budget is from the Republican majority views in the Legislature.