Gov. Tom Corbett signed a $29 billion flawed state budget on Thursday while vetoing a portion of legislative spending to underscore his call for lawmakers to pass public pension reform.
But Corbett, a Republican, has so far been unsuccessful in getting a Republican-controlled legislature to cut pension benefits for future state government and public school employees.
Corbett ironically suggested the absence of pension reform is forcing school districts to raise property taxes. But the governor failed to say he has proposed and signed previous state budgets that slashed school funding and that the state’s absence of a fair school funding formula is also forcing school districts to raise property taxes and other taxes.
Philadelphia is a clear example of a municipality that had to raise taxes because of inadequate state funding for schools.
The House is scheduled to return to Harrisburg Aug. 4-6 to consider pension legislation and a bill to let Philadelphia increase its cigarette tax to fund public schools.
The governor has put in place a budget that critics said lacks sufficient revenue to cover 12 months. The state has been struggling with a $1.5 billion revenue deficit. Corbett’s action came 10 days after the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year, a period when state government continued to operate even though Pennsylvania lacked legal authority to spend new money.
Corbett also vetoed $65 million from a $330 million line item that funds the General Assembly as a way to get political leverage with lawmakers. He criticized them for not contributing $75 million of a $150 million surplus to support the budget. Corbett also vetoed $2.2 million for legislative-backed local projects and $5 million to cover increased legislative parking costs under a Harrisburg city fiscal recovery plan.
We agree with Corbett that GOP legislative leaders need a wakeup call, but probably for different reasons. The legislature has been slow to act on several pressing issues including their recent failure to take timely action on the cigarette tax.
But the governor himself has failed in leadership for not having a strategy to get pension reform done.
Some state Republican leaders said Corbett’s call for the state General Assembly to return to Harrisburg and help him reform the state’s pension systems as part of the budget process is more political in nature than helpful in bringing about reform.
On the state budget, even Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said there’s some concern whether revenues are adequate to avoid the need for cuts or freezes to state programs sometime this year.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he’s concerned this budget is not sustainable and that it threatens to create an enormous budget deficit that will become evident in six to nine months.
Audits show local school districts are under financial pressure due to a combination of the elimination of $224 million in charter school reimbursements in 2011, other state funding cuts and growing pension contributions, according to DePasquale.
“Our real concern would be making it through the end of the fiscal year,” said Douglas Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, speaking about state funding for county programs.
Too much of Corbett’s budget is based on hope. And hope is not a plan.