LAST WEEK, we suggested creating a bipartisan commission to mediate the ongoing fight between Gov. Wolfe and the Republican-controlled Legislature over state spending and taxes. The commission would be charged with studying the state's spending habits and tax policies and recommend sensible ways to bring in enough money to sustain government operations and meet the mandates for subsidizing local governments and public schools.
Our argument was that, without a third party to call a timeout on the partisan war, the Legislature and the governor will remain at loggerheads. At best, that would mean a continued budget stalemate. At worst, both sides would look for gimmicks to "balance" the budget in foolish and unrealistic ways.
As if on cue, the Legislature last week offered us a proposal that it said would be a cure for our budget problems. Guess what it is?
More gambling. The state already has a lottery, a dozen casinos and horse racetracks in every major area.
What we need next, according to supporters of these bills, is online gaming - so you can sit at your computer and play casino games to your heart's content. So that you can play slot machines, not just within the confines of casinos, but in airports and off-track betting locations. So that you can bet at video-gaming terminals at bars and truck stops.
In other words, the bills - first debated last week in the state House - would take what was designed to be a carefully regulated, limited foray into gambling and blow the doors wide open.
How will this help the state? According to supporters, it will bring in millions. House Republicans said the licensing and fees would bring in $278.5 million in the first year.
What about the next year? Well, no one talks about that, because, harrumph, that can be dealt with later.
The House Republicans are enthusiastic about these gambling initiatives; the Senate Republicans less so. The governor's office said it was open to considering an expansion of gambling, but only as part of an overall budget settlement.
There's a public policy issue involved here: Do we want more gambling in Pennsylvania? You could argue we have enough venues already; adding more could increase competition without necessarily increasing revenue for the state.
There's also the issue of doing the tax equivalent of looking for loose change in the sofa while ignoring simpler and fairer solutions. One example: increasing the state income tax by one-tenth of 1 percent would bring in $385 million a year.
No wants to pay more taxes. But, raising the income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.17 percent would increase the tax burden for a family making $50,000 a year by $50.
Conservative Republicans would rather die first than raise the income tax. They'd rather see their towns turn into mini-Deadwoods. If this gimmick doesn't bring in the desired revenue, we shudder at what's next - maybe slot machines at bus stops? So much for upholding traditional values.