EDITORIAL: A letter to those who wait

York Dispatch
Tom Wolf

Good things come to those who wait, if you believe the old adage.

So what will come to Pennsylvania’s middle class after these months of politics and posturing now that the legislature and the governor are compromising to pass a budget?

A higher sales tax and reduced pension benefits for newly hired state employees.

Oh, and the ability for voters to kill proposed property tax increases in their school districts. Power to the people, right? Not really, but we’ll get to that later.

Granted, we still don’t know all of the details of this proposal. What we do know is it calls for increased spending on education and reduced property taxes and paying for them by increasing the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7.25 percent.

York County is a poster child for the need for education funding and property tax reform, so we applaud the effort at a reduction.


But we object, too, because this budget doesn’t offer any of the real reforms — such as a rewrite of the state education funding formula — necessary to address the long-term problems that caused property taxes to grow so much in the first place.

And while we think it’s great that Harrisburg wants to trust the voters to do something — anything — with real consequences, allowing voters to decide whether to increase property taxes is probably catastrophic.

This is one instance in which such direct democracy could have a hugely damaging effect given that we have dismal voter registration and turnout numbers and many of the people who actually do show up don’t know much about who’s running or where they stand on the issues.

Dare we, even as champions of democracy, state the obvious on this and suggest the legislature save us from ourselves?

Few voters are likely to actually research the fiscal health of their schools, which means many voters will answer no, regardless.

“This referendum would set districts up for failure, and therein lies the downfall of democracy,” said York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle.

“It would cause the demise of public education as we know it,” West York Superintendent Emilie Lonardi told one of our reporters. 
The demise of public education? The downfall of democracy?

Yup. Sounds like it’s budget time in Harrisburg. Actually, it’s way past it.

And even after the ample delay for “negotiation,” this proposal feels a bit like a rushed-together attempt to get something passed in time for a nice long holiday.

Some things are noticeably missing.

How on earth — after the people of this state handily elected Wolf on his plan to impose a severance tax on natural gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale — does this budget not include a severance tax?

Obviously Gov. Tom Wolf compromised, and apparently enough legislators found it easier to tax people than to tax an industry. 
We’ve heard all the arguments that taxing would cause drillers to move elsewhere (even though other states have severance taxes), and that the prices are so low right now that a tax would kill the industry.

The reality is that Pennsylvania is second to only Texas in natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the low price is increasing demand as more people switch to gas for the savings.

But reality didn’t seem to be too much of a concern in these negotiations.