Our Opinion: Bumps in the Road

Budgets, whether they’re done on your kitchen table or in the ornate salons of government, are much easier to do when times are fat; not so much when times are lean.

Just as the Pennsylvania General Assembly gets down to the nitty gritty on a spending plan for the coming fiscal year comes news from the Legislature’s fiscal analysts that tax collections this year and next year are closing the gap to Gov. Tom Corbett’s projection last February.

The analysts say revenues will only be $220 million behind the governor’s projection, not $520 million.

That’s good news, of course, for the governor and the state, but a plethora of other bumps in the road, most of them political, are still making large pieces of the spending plan under construction still uncertain.

For instance, the Republican controlled legislature dearly wants to privatize the liquor business, but the full tilt excursion into private enterprise has its complications, namely the deleterious effects on a great many existing private enterprises involved in the sale of beer. Ameliorating those effects is a challenge. When the state created the basic structure of its beer, wine and liquor laws more than seven decades ago, it drew a blueprint for private entrepreneuers. They responded by building their businesses according to that blueprint.

Now, suddenly, the state wants to radically change the rules in such a way that many of those existing businesses would be put at risk, a situation that seems counter-intuitive to promoting private enterprise.

And, while there is a potential for a massive one-time infusion of revenue through new license sales for liquor and wine, as well as beer, the state would be giving up the long-term revenue it receives from its own liquor business.

So, even as the fiscal picture brightens – mostly because the economy is clawing its way out of the Great Recession – the budget process continues to be vexing.

There is some mild dissention in the Republican ranks and 11th hour competing liquor plans that could push this keystone of the governor’s agenda past this legislature’s deadline.