EDITORIAL: Fiddling while Rome burns

York Dispatch
State Sen. Scott Wagner

It is said that the Emperor Nero, one of the wealthiest of emperors, in 64 AD, played the fiddle while Rome burned.

While the lore may be historically disputable, the saying — fiddling while Rome burns — lived on to describe machinations such as those in Harrisburg these past 7 months – and counting.

The privileged fiddle while the working class suffer.

The latest in the saga of the state budget — or lack thereof — is the move by Senate Republicans this past week to pass “paycheck protection” legislation.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Paycheck protection is a great, political name for a bill. Sounds like the lawmakers really have our fiscal well-being in mind. But if they really had our well-being in mind, wouldn't we have a budget?

Senate Bill 501, co-sponsored by Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, passed along party lines and will now head to the full House for vote. The bill specifically targets the use of public employers collecting money for political purposes.

Previous versions of the bill failed to pass the Senate in 2014 and early 2015, but Wagner said he's confident the House will approve this latest effort. "The issue is unions have an unfair advantage," Wagner said. "If union members are happy, the unions can send them invoices, and they'll pay their dues."

Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, who serves on the committee, said she voted in favor of the bill out of concern that public resources may be used for political purposes.

We understand the opposition to unions. We have heard all about it. We disagree and agree with Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, who says that in this age of growing income inequality, weakening workers’ voices is just not “good policy.”

But that’s an edit for another day.

At issue today is that the good people of Pennsylvania do not have a state budget. And we are unable to point to something, anything, this Legislature has accomplished in the meantime. So this posturing and grandstanding is even more of an affront than usual.

Gov. Tom Wolf said credit downgrades by rating agencies tied to the state’s budget deficit have driven up the cost of borrowing “all across the state,” leading to tax increases.

A bipartisan deal formed in December had called for a $30.8 billion spending package, a 6 percent increase, and a tax increase of more than $1 billion a year.

As the deal hit more roadblocks and lawmakers rushed to leave town for Christmas, the Republican-controlled Senate sent Wolf the main appropriations bill in a last-ditch, $30.3 billion budget package that had been written by House GOP majority leaders. All but two Democrats opposed it.

Wolf signed $23.4 billion of it, calling it emergency funding to prevent schools from closing and social service agencies from laying off more workers. However, Wolf vetoed billions for public schools to keep pressure on the Republican-controlled House to pass the bipartisan deal.

While state reps fiddle around with the kind of political posturing that is the “paycheck protection” bill, Harrisburg is burning and a number of state organizations are going without the resources they need — or the ability to properly plan their own budgets — because state lawmakers haven’t had the maturity to work together on the state budget.

This lack of prioritization is another in a long list of politically motivated moves that we sincerely hope voters become fed up with once and for all. When representatives are up for election, we hope the voters of Pennsylvania will keep this folly in mind.

The Associated Press contributed to this editorial.