“The more I see the representatives of the people, the more I admire my dogs.”

Alphonse de Lamartine (1850)

The current impasse between Governor Wolf and the Commonwealth’s Republican-controlled Legislature represents our government at its worst!

So polarized are the major players they simply ignored their respective obligations to enact a balanced budget by June 30th. Unfortunately, there are no penalties imposed for such irresponsible behavior … which in the private sector would be cause for their dismissal!

Governor Wolf has proposed historic tax increases to fund dramatically expanded spending proposals, particularly for his public education initiatives, while the Legislature has indicated any new taxes were dead-on-arrival. While many of the Governor’s spending plans are politically popular, proposed increases in personal income and state sales taxes have no public support; although a natural gas extraction tax does have significant backing.

At the same time, the Governor seems to want no part of the privatization of the state-controlled liquor system and public employee pension reform being proposed by the Republican Legislature. As for the unfunded pension liabilities both sides would be happy to “kick this can down the road” once again.

Listening to their nightly soundbites, one is reminded of President Eisenhower’s musing that, “Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.

Now is the time for both sides in the great Pennsylvania budget debate to shed their partisan costumes and don the mantles of statespersons … and make the types tough decisions and compromises which, although they may run contrary to their recent campaign rhetoric, can finally address badly needed and long overdue reforms which are in the best, long-term interest of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

These might entail:

• Immediately moving all public employees to 401-K, defined-contribution pension plans and require all state employee contributions to their benefit plans to be at least equal to the average contributions paid by private-sector employees. Where existing contracts are currently in place, such changes should be mandated for all future public employee contracts.

  • Sell off the state liquor stores with all revenues from store sales, licensing fees and ongoing taxes being applied exclusively to the unfunded state pension liabilities.
  • Reduce the size of the state House and Senate by 25%, establish term limits and eliminate retirement pensions and benefits for all elected officials; effective with the 2016 election cycle.
  • Impose a 5% extraction tax on the oil and gas industry; despite the alarmists, it will not discourage future investments in the state. These revenues should be dedicated to the state’s education budget.
  • Expand the sales tax base; excluding only food, health (medical, dental, vision and hearing) goods and services and legitimate education-related necessities. These revenues to be earmarked to prop up the state’s Medicaid obligations.
  • Increase the state’s share of gaming revenues from 54%-55% to 65%; with all incremental monies going to statewide property tax relief.

Clearly, such a list is not complete and while some of the necessary compromises will be applauded others will be detested … with all parties realizing some sought-after goals yet no one achieving everything on their wish list.

As intractable as these parochial barriers appear to be, they pale to the conflicts of 1787 when 55 men met in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. After far more bitter disputes, particularly where representation, states’ rights and slavery were concerned, several momentous compromises (some brilliant others with terrible consequences) were made to ensure the nation would survive and, perhaps more important, ultimately provide mechanisms to right the Constitution’s initial inequities … a document which has become a model for other emerging democracies ever since.

Surely, if they could achieve so much, our current elected representatives can also learn the art of political give-and-take and that compromise is not a four-letter word!