IT WOULD be wrong to say that Gov. Wolf and the legislative Republicans aren't on the same page when it comes to spending and taxes. They aren't even on the same planet.
The governor has an ambitious plan to fashion a "grand bargain" that balances the budget, increases state aid to public schools and lowers local property taxes by increasing the personal income tax, sales tax and by imposing a severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas.
The Republicans have countered with an ambitious plan to deny reality and to say "no" to any talk about taxes, even the natural-gas tax.
It wouldn't be so bad if this stance were a posture taken as part of the hard bargaining that must go on if we are to have a new budget anytime this year. (No one expects the two sides to meet the June 30 deadline.)
Unfortunately, there is evidence that many House and Senate Republicans aren't posturing at all. Many are pure tea-party ideologues. They want less of everything - spending, taxes, government. You name it, they are against it.
This kind of thinking infected state government when Tom Corbett was in the governor's chair. To the cheers of the anti-tax ideologues, Corbett slashed state aid to education, pinched social-welfare programs, cut the state's central bureaucracy and bragged that he held the line on taxes.
He did hold the line on state taxes, but county governments and school districts had to race to make cuts and increase local taxes to make up for the retreat of state government.
If you were a Pennsylvanian, you did not pay more income tax, but the odds are your property-tax bill went up and up and up during the Corbett years.
The Corbett legacy includes a $1.2 billion deficit handed to Wolf as Corbett, repudiated by the voters, left town.
Wolf was elected with a mandate to increase the state's share of funding the schools and to erase the deficit he inherited. He has done so with a budget plan that he stresses is not the final word, but a beginning point for negotiations.
The Republicans have responded by barricading themselves behind a series of demands: no talk about the budget until we pass a bill to fix the ailing state-pension funds. No vote on a budget until we pass a bill that does away with the state liquor system. No tax on natural gas because it will harm the companies that are sucking this natural resource from deep beneath the ground.
For the record, when it comes to pension reform and the liquor stores, the Republicans couldn't make headway on those proposals when they controlled the governor's office and the House and Senate, because their own members were divided over these issues.
How can we expect a Democratic governor to step in and pass their proposals for them?
We do need a pension-reform plan and we do need a debate on the state liquor system, but let's uncouple these difficult issues from the process of budget making.