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For Wolf, lawmakers, state budget answers are on ledger sheet

In his third year, Gov. Tom Wolf is, for the first time, giving lawmakers a proposed state budget that does not include a major sales or income tax increase. That’s the good news.

Wolf is taking this changing strategy as a $1.7 billion budget deficit looms, tax collections are lagging and human services programs are wanting.

He’s bringing it to a budget year when the state must continue to reform a pension system that is woefully underfunded.

The governor has hinted strongly at creating more revenues by increasing taxes on Marcellus Shale gas companies. We believe that is the wrong approach given the slippery ground on which the industry is resting. They already are paying a steep freight in Pennsylvania, larger than in most other competitive gas industry states. The industry has slumped in the state in recent years but there are indications drilling and production activity are ready to increase in 2017.

That would be great news for Pennsylvania’s employment situation, given the broad range of businesses that benefit from gas industry activity. Employment creates income which creates significant revenue for the state coffers.

This is not the time to hit them with another tariff, courtesy of state government. All that does is stunt the economic payoff of a thriving gas industry. This is the time to find a long-term budget solution. And that solution is a simple one, yet a difficult one, given the track record of divided state government.

What is needed in Pennsylvania is a bipartisan look at every line item of the state budget. Given the fact that the state budget is increased by about 40 percent over the past decade, we believe the savings are there to passs a balanced budget without tax increases.

There are nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars in those state line items, we believe. We base that thinking on simple math. The spending increases – for the most part across the board – in state government have outpaced the cost-of-living and rate of inflation for the past decade by a lot.

If all parties of state government are sincere about solving Pennsylvania’s fiscal crisis without doing irreparable harm to businesses and taxpayers, the answers are on the state’s budget ledger sheet. Lawmakers and the Wolf administration just have to commit to looking for those answers with an open mind and logical view of what amounts to practical spending for each line item of the budget.

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