State must resist getting reckless with budget

The state’s economy is as strong as it has been in years, leading to tax collections of $800 million above budgeted revenue projections in the current budget year.

That should make passage of a new state budget easier than normal, correct?

Well, sort of.

Unfortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed spending of $34.1 billion, plus another $750 million to cover cost overruns in the current fiscal year, for an overall spending increase of $2 billion over the current $32.7 billion plan, or 6 percent.

That spending increase is double the rate of inflation and unacceptable.

We agree with the House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, a Lancaster County Republican, who said he wants the new budget spending figure to be well below $34 billion, with money deposited into the state’s budgetary reserve account. That would be prudent given the state’s temperamental track record regarding tax collections and its looming budgetary issues, such as an underfunded pension system.

One good economic year does not merit a shopping spree. Where will this state be a decade from now if its governmental leaders are approving annual, 6 percent spending increases? That is just not sustainable.

We don’t disagree with everything Gov. Wolf is proposing. We support a fee on municipalities that do not have their own full-time police force and instead rely solely on state police for coverage. That money — not highway construction funds — should pay for state police costs.

An administration initiative to take over the online health insurance exchange that’s been operated by the federal government and use projected savings to reduce premiums for 400,000 Pennsylvanians is worth considering.

The push to help increase the state’s technical and trades education programming in concert with the employment needs of Pennsylvania businesses also is a correct approach.

But the bottom line number on this budget cannot be near the $34.1 billion requested. This is a time to be judicious with spending and secure the state against future financial problems. Any prudent, elected official who sits in Harrisburg knows the Pennsylvania track record screams for caution — not recklessness — with tax collection windfalls during good economic times.


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