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Pennsylvania lawmakers not facing the facts

May 03, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Pennsylvania's state Constitution requires the legislature to complete its budget by June 30. Given the conflicts lawmakers have yet to settle, it may take a lot longer than that.

In February, Gov. Mark Schweiker presented a $20.9 billion budget that was an all-out effort to avoid any tax increases. It would take $550 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund and borrow $280 million to pay for increased state security and to continue the phaseout of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax.

From Day One this budget seemed like a smoke-and-mirrors affair that defied any financial sense. If half the Rainy Day fund is spent in one year, what happens in 2003? Is it prudent to make tax cuts if it's necessary to borrow to do it, especially when that loan could cost $450 million over the life of the bonds?

Those questions haven't been answered, but some lawmakers have started to get nervous about what the future will bring if they don't make the hard decisions now.

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Rep. Jerry Birmelin, R-Pike cautioned his colleagues that if they didn't face the state's problems now, they would only multiply in a year's time. Though Schweiker is proposing to hold state spending to 1 percent growth, Birmelin and others want a 5 percent across-the-board cut.

Some, including Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin, oppose that approach because it doesn't look at how necessary or effective all of the programs are.

That's true, but there isn't time for a comprehensive review of all state programs between now and the end of June. And considering that state officials'[ estimate of the revenue shortfall for this fiscal year just went from $750 million to $773 million, it would be prudent to spend less now and deal with individual programs' problems later.

This is not an argument for raising taxes, which the administration has viewed it will not do. It is an appeal to stop spending what the state doesn't have, based on a wish that things will get better before they get worse.

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