GOVERNMENT ISN'T sport, but that doesn't stop us for treating it like one. The headlines last week that followed Gov. Wolf's decision on this year's state budget were the kind you usually find over a story about a hockey game, with phrases like "Wolf caves" and "Gov. loses to Republicans" and "Gov. folds."
What Wolf did after a 270-day standoff with the Republicans who control the legislature was to allow a House-passed version of this year's state budget to become law without his signature. He did it because - or so it appeared - some rank-and-file Democratic legislators would bolt and support an override if he vetoed the bill.
He also did it because failure to get a budget was causing pain among school districts and local governments across the state, who rely on regular infusions of state aid. (Seventy-two cents of every tax dollar sent to Harrisburg is returned to local governments or individuals.) It was only going to get worse as the weeks rolled on.
Republicans crowed that they were victorious in stopping the governor from increasing taxes; that good old-fashioned fiscal conservatism won the day.
Well, the reviews are starting to come in and the Republican victory is beginning to look less-than glorious. For starters, the Wall Street rating agencies gave it thumbs down. Standard & Poors' analysis began "The outlook is negative . . . " Moody's said it did nothing to solve the state's "structural balance over the longer term . . . "
Keep in mind that the budget Wolf allowed to become law was for the current fiscal year, from July 1, 2015, until June 30 of this year. Still before the legislature is a second Wolf budget proposal for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1.
While this year's $30 billion budget balanced (though only on paper) the projection is that the state will face a $1.6 billion to $2 billion deficit in the next fiscal year.
There is no way to balance the new budget without new revenues (read: taxes). There is no sane person in Harrisburg - Republican or Democrat - who does not recognized that reality. That only leaves the tea-party wing of the Republicans in the House and Senate, whose leaders are House Speaker Mike Turzai and State Sen. Scott Wagner.
It was Turzai who scuttled a compromise worked out by the governor and legislative leaders last December. He adjourned the House rather than vote on it.
The story isn't a simple as "Republicans Win-Governor Loses." The real story is how these anti-tax legislators, who represent a minority of their own caucuses, have hijacked their own party and stripped it of its ability to compromise.
There is no effective middle among Republicans in the legislature. By that we mean elected officials who believe their job is to make government work, not to dismantle it piece by piece, deficit by deficit.
This doesn't mean there aren't any moderate/conservative Republicans in Harrisburg. It's just that they are paralyzed - by fear or by caution or by a sheer lack of will. The zanies have taken over.
Wolf couldn't get a deal done because he had no one to deal with - at least no one who could deliver enough Republican votes for a budget with tax increases. In the end, he decided it was better to live to fight another day.