There is an unfamiliar atmosphere approaching civility in Harrisburg these days.
Gov. Wolf spent last week saying he isn't asking for hikes in sales or income taxes to balance this year's budget despite having insisted on both last year. This so pleased House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) that he tweeted the self-congratulatory message "Applauding @GovernorTomWolf statement that we've said and done for years: We can balance #PABudget without a broad-based tax increase."
Though somewhat misleading, Turzai's tweet was a grand departure from his antics during the previous budget season, which culminated when he dismissed the House rather than vote on a deal he had agreed to.
Now bills chipping away at the budget and related issues are moving through the legislature without overt power struggles between the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leadership. The legislation is flawed but demonstrates progress where there had been so little.
A pension reform bill passed by the House would address future deficits though not the current crisis. The Senate and House disagree on the issue, but Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said that is not likely to kill a budget deal. And while stopping well short of privatizing the state wine and liquor monopoly, another intractable issue, the governor signed a bill to allow consumers to buy wine at more private stores. A new school funding formula is also a moderate move forward, though it applies only to future funding and doesn't address past inequities.
These compromises are far more than anyone watching the unprecedented nine-month standoff over the last budget would have expected - partly because Pennsylvania's elected leaders set the bar so low. Their dysfunction forced schools to run up debt, shelters and other charities to shut their doors, and the state's credit rating to take yet another hit.
Wolf helped break the impasse in March when he let a Republican budget pass without his signature, signaling that he didn't like the deal but was ready to move forward. Soon afterward, both sides agreed on medical marijuana and other initiatives.
Wolf wants the new budget to be balanced responsibly based on real revenue. The recession and budget gimmicks employed by the legislature and his Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett, including magical revenue projections and drastic cuts to social services and education, exacerbated the state's structural deficit.
The governor also correctly insists on $250 million more for schools and additional funds to combat the state's serious heroin problem. The new sources of revenue being considered include higher tobacco taxes and expanded gambling. While raising the state's low income tax or introducing a natural-gas tax would be more fiscally defensible than carpeting the state with slot machines, Wolf has rightly recognized the need to make concessions on those and other points.