Gov. Corbett needs to find a magic lamp and a cooperative genie (don't bet on the Legislature) to get his budget plan to work.
Was last week Gov. Tom Corbett's birthday? If not, it should have been.
His budget address last week had the air of a wish made before blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.
The Republican governor is predicating huge and costly assumptions in his $28.4 billion spending plan on some terribly wishful proposals.
Take his pension reform initiative, which links lowered pension contributions and funding for public education.
New state employees would be shifted into a defined-contribution plan, similar to a 401(k), rather than the current defined-benefit pension -- the costs of which threaten to bankrupt government entities from municipalities to school boards to Harrisburg.
But Gov. Corbett also wants to reduce pension benefits for current employees. In the private sector, that's not uncommon, and it might be necessary to keep pension costs under control.
But is it legal? Union representatives say no. They're ready to go to court to prove it. And the Legislature is showing little stomach for cutting pensions for workers already in the system.
Speaking of education funding, Gov. Corbett also is linking his call for privatization of alcohol sales to a grant program for public schools. We are all for privatization of half the Liquor Control Board's mission -- the half focusing on sales of wine and spirits. (The other half is the "control" part of the equation, which is why we support turning over alcohol sales to the private sector: How can the LCB both promote and control alcohol at the same time?)
The education grants are a nice pot-sweetener, but again, legislators are feeling somewhat queasy at the prospect of breaking up the LCB. The governor may wish for General Assembly backing on this initiative, but he hardly has a guarantee of that.
Wait, there's more. Funding for senior citizen programs depends on the success of Gov. Corbett's unilateral action last month to turn over the Pennsylvania Lottery to a British firm, Camelot Global Services. The union representing lottery employees is suing, and state Treasurer Rob McCord, a Democrat, has threatened to withhold his signature on the checks over concerns about the legality of the deal.
Not to mention Gov. Corbett's solution to transportation funding needs -- lifting the cap on the oil company franchise fee, meaning gas stations will pay tax on nearly double the wholesale gasoline price that they're paying now, to raise $1.9 billion for roads, bridges and mass transit. Administration officials gamely insist this won't affect the price of gas at the pump, but that's another wish and not an assurance.
We're wondering if the Legislature wants to take the chance of allowing what could amount to a 20-cent increase in each gallon of gas, effectively crushing the state's economy.
Gov. Corbett might as well have tossed pennies into a wishing well when he handed out copies of his budget.
As pundits pointed out in the wake of the governor's presentation last week, the budget math depends on these wishes coming true. If they don't, expect a slew of painful funding cuts.
This is why Gov. Corbett's budget resembles a house of cards. Pull one card from the stack, and the whole edifice comes tumbling down.
We admit, we're impressed that Gov. Corbett didn't give the Legislature a status-quo budget. He's taking big steps to change the way Harrisburg does business.
But these are steps he can't take alone. The Legislature has to walk along with him, and it looks like the governor is wishing for that to happen rather than being sure of it.
Government budgets are supposed to be built on hard numbers and rational assumptions about those numbers -- not on wishful thinking.n
We're wondering if the Legislature wants to take the chance of allowing what could amount to a 20-cent increase in each gallon of gas.