There is, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a time-honored and long-standing tradition that takes place every year.
I’m not talking about the February 2nd ritual of watching expectantly to see if Punxsutawney Phil will glimpse his own shadow, heralding six additional weeks of Winter.
I’m not talking about the amazing July 4th event that takes place in downtown Philadelphia, drawing nearly one million people together to celebrate PA’s unique place and status in the history of the United States’ liberty-based government.
No, I’m talking about the annual Harrisburg tradition that comes around every Summer, in which the PA state senate and governor fail to pass a budget in time for the next fiscal year. PA governor Ed Rendell has the dubious distinction of being seemingly incapable of herding PA’s senate into signing any budget into law before the state teeters on the verge of government program funding meltdown.
To put it kindly, the PA state budget is in a state of total crisis. The Commonwealth now faces a budget shortfall of $3.2 billion, or roughly the GDP of Mauritania. That kind of deficit is basically a guarantee of missing end of fiscal year targets, since it’s unlikely that any Senate would be happy with the level of cuts needed to reign in such a monstrous shortfall. This situation has the ability to self-perpetuate: When the state budget is not positioned well to weather a poor economy, the budget deficit grows; it becomes harder and harder to pass a budget due to the pressures of cutting programs that will piss of the state Senate’s constituents; the next year’s budget is then passed late due to the in-fighting, and thus faces more pressures and a potentially greater deficit, which means the budget is poorly positioned for the next economic storm… and the cycle starts all over again. Which is more-or-less what’s been happening in Harrisburg.
And yet, the PA state government is sitting on a goldmine that could – relatively quickly – halve that deficit. It simply lacks the courage and will to act on it.
The goldmine? Wine…