Now that the state appears on track to end the fiscal year June 30 with a $506 million surplus, Republicans in Harrisburg are getting tongue-tied.
They're tripping over their p's and q's, dotting their t's and crossing their i's, while fumbling to explain why some of the deepest cuts ever to hit state programs shouldn't be rolled back by half a billion dollars. Talk about English as a second language.
In a Post-Gazette story Saturday by Capitol Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello, House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, a Republican from Delaware County, said, "You can only spend a $500 million surplus once. We are doing our best not to spend any more than the tax revenues bring in."
Yet that's what the $506 million is, Rep. Adolph -- tax revenue.
House Republican caucus spokesman Steve Miskin said, "We can't fall back into the old habits of spending just because we have the money."
If you can't spend when you do have money, Mr. Miskin, when do you spend -- when you don't have money?
When Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his $27.3 billion budget in March, he acknowledged it was a tough response to a steep deficit, about $4 billion, projected for 2011-12. Since he had promised not to raise taxes, he called for deep slashes in spending: $500 million less for basic education, a $110 million reduction for Pitt, a $182 million cut for Penn State, 54 percent less for the 14 state-owned universities. He allowed adultBasic, which helped the working poor afford health insurance, to expire, saying it lacked a funding solution.
These cutbacks were put forth when the Corbett administration anticipated a $78 million surplus. Now the actual excess funds look to be six times as large, with much of it already in hand.
How Mr. Corbett and other Republican leaders can sock it into the bank while their budget triggers layoffs, tuition hikes and property tax increases shocks the conscience. No wonder they lack the words to explain why a half-billion dollars should be held in reserve while Pennsylvanians suffer.
The slowly reviving economy may be delivering the kind of tax proceeds once familiar to Pennsylvanians. While $506 million is not enough to erase the deficit, it would be the height of political callousness not to let it blunt the pain of the Corbett budget cuts.