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Inquirer Editorial: Better leaders would end state's budget impasse

The spectacular failure of Gov. Wolf and the legislature to deliver a budget has put every home, business, and school in Pennsylvania at risk.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.Read moreMICHAEL PRONZATO / Staff Photographer / File

The spectacular failure of Gov. Wolf and the legislature to deliver a budget has put every home, business, and school in Pennsylvania at risk.

Without a better resolution to Pennsylvania's nine-month budget crisis, there are only bad choices to make: Raise property taxes. Cut programs for the most vulnerable citizens - the elderly, disabled, and young. Lay off school workers, and perhaps shutter schools, before June.

It's been weeks since legislative leaders and Wolf met face to face. Staffers and some legislators are meeting, they say, but there can be no agreement without the principal players at the table.

Instead of negotiating, the state's top elected officials mostly have been pointing fingers at each other. Republicans say Wolf should cut the budget before trying to hike taxes and boost school funding. Wolf says voters elected him because they are tired of seeing schools and public services wither. Their inability to find middle ground is expensive.

Public schools have already borrowed $1 billion to keep their doors open. But some districts need to borrow more. Meanwhile, exasperated rating agencies may again lower the state's credit rating, which will make it more expensive for every town, school district, and government agency to issue bonds.

The massive amounts of cash being spent on loans and interest on loans should instead be spent on programs across the state deserving of funding. And don't forget Pennsylvania has a $2 billion deficit, which cannot be ignored.

The budget impasse may have confirmed a fear about someone with modest political credentials being elected governor: that he would not successfully contend with a preternaturally recalcitrant legislature. The problem goes beyond partisanship. There was no love lost between Gov. Tom Corbett and fellow Republicans who led the legislature during his term.

That doesn't give Wolf an excuse, and to his credit he's not asking for one. But he's got to find a way to move the ball. He says there are legislators who want to pass a budget. Fine, but nothing will happen until the House and Senate leaders - Rep. Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) and Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) - allow it.

If the governor can't move them, maybe their constituents can. Pennsylvanians can see how this stalemate perpetuated by Republican leaders, ostensibly to keep Wolf from raising their taxes, is like a gummed-up rifle ready to backfire. Their local governments will end up raising property taxes to make up for the money they're not getting from the state for schools and services.

With the April 26 primary just weeks away, the public will have plenty of opportunities in forums and face-to-face meetings to let legislators up for reelection know what the consequences will be if the budget stalemate continues.