Tax hike not first answer to state budget shortfall

Seven weeks before the state budget deadline, Pennsylvania’s ledger sheet gets scarier looking by the day. The state Department of Revenue is reporting a budget shortfall of $1 billion through the first 10 months of the current fiscal year. That’s a 4-percent shortfall, the largest in a fiscal year since 2010.

Unless there is a drastic turnaround in taxes and other revenues received in the next several weeks, the shortfall for the past two years will be more than $3 billion.

That’s hardly a recipe for a 2017-18 budget that allows the state to operate with all important facets in place. Those elements are adequate maintenance of human services agencies, a sharp movement toward solving the state’s pension crisis and adequate funding of public education.

With all of them affected by a budget shortfall, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office is adamant that a tax increase this year will be necessary to balance the budget. This tends to be the knee-jerk reaction whenever the proposed budget runs into choppy waters.

Somebody has to pay these ever-increasing taxes. Before that happens, cuts in agency administrative staffs and operations in every corner of state government should be explored. That’s certainly how the private sector would deal with budget struggles.

Before increasing taxes, Pennsylvania should sell off its liquor store system. There will be no shortage of private interests willing to pay a robust license fee. Just how bad do the state budget circumstances have to get before this long-overdue action is taken?

Beyond rational actions, we would hope some of the staff representing both the administration and the Legislature are taking a hard look at every expense item in the state budget. Again, this may seem tedious, but it’s how any business, large or small, would react to any difficult budget situation.

We want rational actions in the next six weeks before this budget shortfall is used as the lever for a tax increase.