Budget no-brainers: A deficit at hand, Corbett must welcome all ideas

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It’s that time of year again. Not Christmas or New Year’s, but time for the state budget secretary’s midyear appraisal.

The forecast, like so much winter weather, is not good. Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said that, although Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration expects to balance the books on a $28.4 billion budget by the end of the fiscal year, it faces a $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion deficit in 2014-15, which begins July 1.

The annual projection comes when Democrats and Republicans are sharpening their proposals for the coming budget debate, a months-long process that will kick off in February when Mr. Corbett releases his fourth spending plan.

Mr. Zogby said that although the governor has rejected the notion of a broad-based tax increase, “I don’t think there’s anything we can dismiss out of hand.” That’s good because we think there are some revenue raisers that are no-brainers.

One would have Pennsylvania join the rest of the states in taxing cigars, chewing tobacco and loose tobacco; such a plan could generate $56 million a year. Another would cap the discount given to businesses that remit to the state its 6 percent sales tax; big stores like Wal-Mart, Target and others would be most affected, saving the state $44 million. A third idea is a severance tax, not a mere impact fee, on natural gas extraction, which could yield $334 million.

Those are Democratic proposals, but a budget deficit is owned by all Pennsylvanians. The Republicans in charge of state government should mark Mr. Zogby’s words and not reject any idea casually.

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