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EDITORIAL: What's the funding plan?

The Dispatch Editorial Board
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his 2020-21 budget address in the House of Representatives as Speaker Mike Turzai, left, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman look on, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa. Photo by Joe Hermitt/PennLive/The Patriot-News via AP

Good show, governor. What now?

Gov. Tom Wolf rolled out his sixth budget plan Tuesday, which would boost state spending by more than $2.5 billion relative to this year.

Wolf's wish list would pump cash into public education, water pollution initiatives and grow the state's human services line items a whopping 9%.

Wolf's $36 billion proposal might sound all well and good. Schools are struggling to pay the bills, especially under the incessant crush of charter school tuition. Chesapeake Bay remains an environmental tragedy and Pennsylvania is notorious for its share of the pollution. The opioid epidemic remains a killer throughout York County and the state.

And Wolf says he can do it all without raising taxes. 

And yet, Republicans howled moments after Wolf concluded Tuesday's address. 

Rightly so.

Wolf's 2020-21 draft executive budget is littered with gimmicks and fiscal irresponsibility. It assumes economic growth will generate 4.5% in new revenue, a projection seemingly pulled from the ether. The charter school lobby will immediately condemn Wolf's calls for funding reform. Wolf didn't event bother concocting a faux funding stream for his proposed full-day kindergarten program. 

And, while fair and reasonable, Wolf's proposal for state police funding — which would levy fees on local governments without local forces — has proven to also be a non-starter in the Legislature.

Much of Wolf's budget proposal is simply a rehash of his greatest hits, offering a litany of years' worth of policies that died unceremoniously in the GOP-run Legislature.

For instance, Wolf's Restore PA infrastructure program is back again to the surprise of no one. As in past years, Republicans in the Legislature will immediately kill the $4.5 billion tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production that's required to fund it. The natural gas industry is among the most influential lobbies in Harrisburg.

Wolf certainly didn't invent the practice of rolling out budget proposals containing dead-on-arrival executive policies. It happens all the time. 

But most governors, especially those within divided governments, recognize the score and craft a draft budget that could result in some kind of a grand bargain.

Instead, Wolf's 2020-21 budget proposal is packed with policies that are utterly doomed and provide little room for negotiation. 

On Tuesday, Wolf laid out his political priorities. But Pennsylvania's governor did not offer a spending plan designed to foster fruitful negotiations and birth meaningful policy.

So, really, what's the point?