Gov. Wolf says he will allow a $31.5 billion spending bill to become law without his signature, but it can't rightly be called a state budget because the legislature hasn't decided how to pay for it. It could be described as half a budget, a spending plan to nowhere, or another mostly empty gesture from Harrisburg. But it isn't a budget, and it won't be until lawmakers agree on the taxes and other revenues that allow the state to function.
Intentionally or not, the Democratic governor has stepped out of the Republican-controlled legislature's way and is allowing it to race toward a brick wall of its own construction. Lawmakers cannot fulfill their constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget without taking responsibility for adequate funding.
Members are, of course, balking, and the conservative Commonwealth Foundation has insisted that the governor must balance the budget by cutting spending the legislature doesn't pay for. But Wolf has already offered a balanced budget. It's the legislature's turn to accept his proposal or provide a reasonable alternative. Moreover, legislators should not be eager to give the governor the power to make unilateral spending decisions by ceding their authority and duty to pass a credible budget - one that relies on sustainable, recurring revenue rather than the gimmicks of the past.
Lawmakers have considered raising tobacco taxes or expanding gambling, an ill-advised and unreliable source of revenue. But they have not come up with enough to close a $1.3 billion deficit.
Another proposal being floated in the capital is to hold the natural-gas industry responsible for the gross receipts tax levied on utilities, which according to proponents could raise as much as $350 million a year. In the absence of the sort of gas extraction tax levied by every other major energy state, that is worth considering. But it would require lawmakers to take on a lobby that many have been afraid to upset.
Wolf and legislators agreed to a spending plan that adds $200 million for basic K-12 education, $30 million for early-childhood education, and $20 million for special education. They have also agreed on an additional $15 million to combat the growing opioid addiction crisis, including funding to treat 4,500 more addicts.