Pa. budget mess provides teaching moments

October 03, 2009|By BILL KOHLER

Even if I had done something completely idiotic, my father always found a way to make it a teaching moment.

The man, who taught history for 30 years, had some serious patience for his students as well as his kids. Me? Not so much. I'm a work in progress.

However, in his honor, I thought this would be a good time to take a teaching moment from the state budget crisis that still is strangling Pennsylvania from the steps of Harrisburg to the trees of Potter County; from the art museums in Philadelphia to the Ragged Edge Library in Chambersburg.

Whether or not you live in Pennsylvania, there are plenty of takeaways from this issue that is somewhat embarrassing to those who do live there.


o Lesson 1: This is no way to run a business.

If any business owner ran a company the way Gov. Ed Rendell and legislators have run the state the past seven years, that business would have been shuttered long ago.

Deadlines are meant to be met, not ignored.

Vendors and people who depend on you for their livelihood should be paid, not stiffed.

Budgets are meant to be balanced, not billions of dollars out of whack.

o Lesson 2: How about some advance planning?

I'm no accountant and I'm no doctor of physics.

However, I'm not the only one who saw this coming, right?

We had story after story leading up to the June 30 deadline saying the sides were billions and billions of dollars apart.

State Sen. Rich Alloway, who represents Franklin and Adams counties and lives in the Chambersburg area, made a good point during the first several weeks in July when top negotiators with furrowed brows and hunched shoulders were meeting late at night and on SUNDAY! (Oh, the horror!)

Alloway wondered why these urgent meetings weren't held months ago. I agree.

Legislative leaders should have had their noses to the grindstone and sleeves rolled up in February when Rendell announced his budget.

If a private citizen found out his company was closing in 90 days, forcing him on unemployment for at least a couple of months, it's a fair bet he would quickly adjust and cut back spending. He might sell a car, drop a cell phone or immediately start looking for another job.

I think most of us wouldn't wait till D-Day, would we?

o Lesson 3: Lay off the arts, man.

One of the revenue generators in the proposed spending plan being discussed this week is imposing the 6 percent sales tax on the purchase of tickets to arts events such as concerts, museum exhibits and the like.

These groups are struggling enough. People are backing off discretionary spending for things such as concerts, trips to the museum and the zoo.

We need these events and places to escape from the harsh realities.

Raise the overall state sales tax before you touch this stuff.

o Lesson 4: This is perhaps the biggest takeaway of all: We learned to live within our means a little more.

With a recession in full swing and the specter of an unbalanced budget hanging over many a head, local governments and school districts worked especially hard at trimming their budgets and delaying unnecessary expenditures. Most in Franklin County did so without raising taxes. That's commendable.

It was painful to many, but worth the work. This really is how all local governments should do it every year, recession or nirvana, pending budget doom or not.

I know there's no easy fix, but perhaps the state's leaders should follow the leads of the local governments and local businesses when planning the budget in the future.

That would be a great lesson.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7281 or by e-mail at

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