OP-ED: State budgeting should be a bipartisan process


This year's Pennsylvania primary election affirmed the fact that most of our citizens have lost faith in government and the political process. More than 80 percent of our Commonwealth's registered voters failed to show up to vote.

It's no wonder. People have seen increasing partisanship deadlock cripple any chance of progress in both Harrisburg and Washington. They see problems mount and the absence of bold ideas or strong vision being put forward to deal with them.

This month Pennsylvania's political leaders will have a chance to dramatically change that perception by enacting a budget that will bring about real structural change in the way government operates. If done correctly, Harrisburg could both meet the state's financial challenges and start to restore faith in government.

But to do so will require an end to political posturing and a willingness to reach a real compromise. It's not going to be easy given the bleak financial landscape.

Fortunately I believe Harrisburg's table has been set for big things to happen.

Gov. Tom Wolf's sweeping and courageous budget plan is the beginning of what could be an historic moment for Pennsylvania.

He has proposed increased funding for needed investments in education, economic development and infrastructure.

The proposal includes bold ideas that totally restructure the way the Commonwealth raises revenue and puts forth ideas Republicans have espoused for years, including property tax reform and reducing business taxes.

I see it as the beginning of a workable compromise.

What else can be done? Republicans in the Legislature should enact a severance tax on the production of natural gas, which is overwhelmingly favored by our citizens and could help repair massive cuts in K-12 education.

Every other state that produces gas from shale has a severance or extraction tax and it has not slowed down their drilling activity one iota.

Reducing school property taxes with modest increases in the state income tax and sales tax has been an idea championed by House Republicans for over a decade. Where the new rates will fall is open to debate, but since there is general agreement on the concept, compromise should be achievable here as well.

To convince the Republicans to do this, Gov. Wolf must agree to help them make progress on their two most important initiatives — pension reform and changes in the way Pennsylvania distributes liquor, wine and beer.

Everyone understands that we need to dramatically reform our pension system to keep it viable for not only current recipients but for those entering the system in the future.

The Senate Republicans have a proposal based on defined contributions, and the governor talked about replenishing the system via a bond issue.

Both ideas have some merit and I believe they should reach an agreement on pension reform that includes ideas put forth by each side.

Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly favor getting the state out of the business of selling liquor, but no one wants to tell State Store workers that they are out of a job.

There may be a compromise here as well by allowing the State Stores to stay in operation and, at the same time, granting the right to sell wine, spirits and beer to restaurants, supermarkets and distributors who already may have a partial license.

This could be the foundation for a compromise that would fair and equitable to both sides on this issue.

The truth is neither chamber of the Legislature nor the governor is going make their individual initiatives a reality on their own.

They need each other to achieve their goals.

While there are many roads to follow, there will be nothing but a dead end unless everyone embraces the concept of compromise.

Only then can Pennsylvania do something which will help us successfully meet our challenges, attack our problems, restore our citizens' faith in government — something big and bold enough to benefit us for decades to come!

— Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania.