John Baer: Gov. Ed has it right: 'We're all to blame'

Posted: August 03, 2009

NOW FOR a no-budget update from your state Capitol, soon to be renamed the Museum of Unworkable Devices.

Why not? Arizona, one of only three other states along with Connecticut and North Carolina still without a budget, is looking to sell off its state buildings.

Making our Capitol a museum would serve the public a lot better than government "leaders" now occupying the space.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, Wednesday or someday soon, stuff is supposed to start back to some semblance of normal when Gov. Ed signs a "bridge" (translated "unworkable") budget to pay employees and vendors.

This does not fund schools, hospitals, social services or anything important.

But it's good for the tens of thousands of families threatened and punished because they rely on lawmakers and the Guv to meet a basic responsibility of annually passing a budget on time.

And they're soooo interested in urgently paying state workers. So much so that when I ask major budget player Dwight Evans why the Legislature didn't work over the weekend to do so (since it'll take about a week between passage and issued checks), he says, "I don't have an answer to that particular question."

Well, I do. State workers are but pegs and onlookers in the political cribbage and philosophical wrestling associated with this nonsense.

A "bridge" or stopgap to pay them could have happened before the June 30 deadline. I suggested it June 15. And while doing it now is better than nothing, it contributes nothing to a final budget deal.

Nor does it help Philadelphia help itself. The city needs state approval to raise its own sales tax and make pension changes or face 3,000 layoffs - including up to 800 cops - shutting down fire stations, health centers, libraries and more.

Nor does it address issues such as extending (with federal funds) unemployment benefits for an estimated 20,000 people or granting military veterans immediate residency status so they can get reduced tuition at state and state-related colleges and more.

Instead we get spectacle. Like our Legislature last week devolving into a conference committee of six: three "leaders" from each chamber and each party (including Evans) to fix things.

An unworkable device, a Punch and Judy Show highlighted by fights over who's in charge and where and when to meet again. After two days of being mocked, including by the Guv, it's now on ice and rightly so.

And the basic problem, the same since February when the budget was presented, remains. The Democratic Guv wants to spend more than the state has, and to raise taxes to do so. The Republican Senate doesn't want to spend more than the state has, or to raise taxes.

Since February, about the sole sensible thing I've heard is Rendell at a news conference last week: "We're all to blame."

He even, shockingly, admitted that he "should have pushed harder" to get serious budget talks started in March. (He previously pointed out that he wrote letters encouraging meetings, as if letter-writing lawmakers is a workable device.)

The Guv met privately at the mansion with some leaders yesterday, but aides said nothing is new, no progress was made and no further meetings are scheduled.

This suggests that resolution remains a long way off, even as those other budgetless states mentioned move toward settlement.

So Pennsylvania, with the largest full-time legislature in America, is positioned once again to gain negative national attention.

Is there any good news?

Well, Rendell just declared August "Produce Month" in honor of the state's fruits and vegetables. So maybe he and all the fruits and vegetables we elect can produce something in August.

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