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What's next for Pa.: change or more of the same?

Budget shortfalls and a new governor's agenda could clash or cooperate. Which will it be?

AT THE RISK of inducing a long winter's nap, let's talk about budgets, politics and perspective.

Wait, don't go. I promise more straight talk than snark.

Pennsylvania, we're told, is in a fiscal pickle - again.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf is stressing. Mostly he's stressing that it's not his fault.

"I am inheriting a problem, a big problem," he says. "I do not want to go into this with anybody being under the misapprehension that somehow I caused this."

And what exactly caused it? According to Democrat Wolf, it's "failed ideology."

OK, we get it.

Blame the guy you're replacing, just as the guy you're replacing blamed the guy he replaced.

We hear it over and over in Harrisburg. We hear it over and over in Washington. And it's really all a lot of hokum, politics as usual.

What we don't hear in either capital is actual accountability.

It was disingenuous for Gov. Corbett to offer - and for the Legislature to approve - four "no-tax, on-time" budgets, ignoring increased spending for public pensions and social services that far outstripped revenue growth.

It is disingenuous of Wolf, who surely has been watching and was revenue secretary under Gov. Rendell, to seem surprised at our fiscal condition.

Corbett, like Rendell before him, like Schweiker and Ridge before them, and with the cooperation of legislative leaders in both parties, all did the same thing.

They played short-term ball with finances and taxes while disregarding needs for long-term action.

Pick your issue: school funding, pension costs, liquor privatization, property-tax reform, merit selection of judges or any number of structural fixes to governing, budgeting, voting, redistricting, campaign finance, etc.

All were abandoned to maintain an insular political culture that's special-interest driven to protect incumbents.

"Failed ideology" is more catchphrase than answer. The answer is failed public service. And no one governor is culpable for the current state of the state.

So what happens next?

If the coming $30 billion budget has, as predicted, a shortfall of $2 billion or more, the chances that Wolf delivers his campaign pledge of $1 billion in new spending for schools are, let's be honest, virtually nil.

If GOP legislative majorities continue to oppose increases in broad-base taxes on sales or income, prospects for a budget without deep cuts in human services or education (that's where the money is, people: nearly 80 percent of General Fund spending) are virtually nil.

And even if Wolf and lawmakers enact a natural-gas severance tax, the highest estimate of what it could bring ($1 billion) gets them only halfway home.

Stopping waste, fraud and abuse? Cost-saving "innovations"? Pennies in the well of wishful thinking.

Leaving what?

When I ask Wolf if his "failed-ideology" comment is a continuance of his campaign, he says he's sorry I see it that way.

Then he adds: "I'm trying to make an honest assessment of where we are. I am a different kind of politician. I want to be guided by what's practical, not what's ideologically correct."

Part of this answer is promising and part is naive.

The promising? Saying that he won't be guided by ideology suggests openness to pension and/or liquor reforms opposed by unions and most Democrats.

It also suggests openness to compromise. Two come to mind: severance tax for pension reform; increased personal-income tax (we have the lowest among states with a flat-rate 3.07 percent) for a decreased corporate net income tax (we have the highest among states, 9.99 percent).

The naive? Wolf might well be a "different" politician, but legislative leaders are the regular kind.

If Wolf's willing to dump Democratic ideology, he could get somewhere. But if he's looking for "different" politics in the Capitol, he's looking in the wrong place.

And the overriding political question is whether GOP lawmakers work with Wolf or - since our historic eight-year, party-switch cycle now is broken - set him up as yet another "One-Term Tom."