State budget peace must be earned on merits of details

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was back on the budget stump last week. If it seems like just yesterday that the protracted 2016-17 budget tango ended, well, it was.

There are things we like about his proposal, things that are worth discussing and things that are nonstarters.

A $1 billion spending increase to $33 billion should not even be considered at this point.

First, let’s look at those accounts where there were surplusses found last year and everyone said it was too late to examine them.

Let’s find areas to cut spending. We are confident a line item by line item examination will reveal them.

Wolf is once again seeking a natural gas severance tax to bring in $250 million. Given the industry increased activity, we don’t mind it being considered. But it’s not worth imposing if it combines with the existing impact fee to put the state in a poor competitive position with other natural gas hotbed states.

Wolf wants to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour. The state is probably due for an increase in its minimum wage, but a mandated $12 an hour is too much government interference. If a business can afford that, great, but the principles of the free enterprise system should be the major determining factor in wages, not a nearly doubled increase in the minimum wage.

We support Wolf’s calls for increased spending to support industrial and computer education. Those points of emphasis match up with our changing times and needs. But they should be balanced by cuts in areas that perhaps were emphasized before but are now of less importance.

We also support a $25-per-person fee for free state police coverage in municipalities. We know some local municipal officials do not support the idea but it feels like the fair thing to do.

It’s great the governor is not proposing increases in state sales or income taxes, perhaps a gambit geared to a quiet election-year budget negotiation.

But as long as the budget includes a 3-percent-plus spending increase, the Legislature has no choice but to examine every line item and initiative in the budget for savings to reduce the budget bottom line. And it should look for fresh areas of revenue such as the long-overdue privatization of the state liquor system and sale of licenses.

We would like budget peace, too, but it has to be based on merit, not political expediency.