Editorial: Is Wolf's budget feasible?
Wow, does Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget sound good.
He started out his 2019-20 budget address — a kind of “State of the Commonwealth” — with what he acknowledged was the thing people really wanted to know.
“This proposal asks for no new taxes. Not one dollar. Not one dime. Not one penny,” he said.
Having promised cake, he then pulled out ice cream.
In addition to letting Pennsylvanians keep their wallets closed, or at least not opened any further, the governor has big plans for areas that have been important since his first campaign. Once again, he wants to focus on education and economy.
His budget had big ideas in those areas. A Statewide Workforce, Education and Accountability Program would bundle those critical areas.
“Starting immediately, we are going to put together a Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center,” Wolf said.
That would include a “first-of-its-kind Employer Fund” to bring public agencies and the private sector together to find ways to fill skills gaps.
The budget also includes steps to improve child care and build on previous education funding. Wolf would lower the age kids have to be in school from 8 years old to 6. Every kindergarten classroom would be full-day. Students no longer would be able to drop out at 16 but be required to stay in school until 18.
And the starting salary for teachers would have a $45,000 ground floor, fully funded by the state.
So would a grant program for community college graduates who put those degrees to work in Pennsylvania, and a program for parents to improve their employability to support their kids, and a $10 million infusion for PAsmart.gov to “fill more advanced manufacturing positions, help more nontraditional students … and create more jobs at better wages.”
Oh, and a Pennsylvanian version of the GI Bill that would help veterans and their kids with education and training.
It all sounds great.
But with no tax increase, is it feasible? Is it even likely? Pennsylvania’s state government has had standoffs over budgets that turned into cage matches. Pennsylvania can look at the recent federal government shutdown, chuckle and say “That was cute. Nice try.”
“In the coming weeks, we’ll have the chance to discuss, debate and negotiate the details,” Wolf said.
That’s where things always get sticky.
Hopefully the governor and the Legislature, the Democrats and the Republicans will be able to do in Harrisburg what they are having trouble doing in Washington. Maybe they can have real negotiations, genuine debate and come up with a solution that keeps the promise of Wolf’s proposal. Maybe we can have the cake and the ice cream.
But history tells us there’s going to be spinach in there somewhere.