As Pennsylvania’s governing bodies, the executive and legislative branches, continue to find themselves at an impasse regarding the budget for 2017, Governor Tom Wolf is letting the public know that some tough decisions had to be made as a result.
The Governor has announced that he was “forced” to withhold a little under $1.2 billion in payments to Medicaid program providers. This translates to mean the state is withholding payment for services rendered by hospitals, doctors, medical personnel.
The move is sure to encourage even more healthcare providers who currently accept Medicaid to potentially decide to decline to continue to do so. Even if the impasse is broken, and the bills are eventually paid, the reality of being in the first round of providers the state will decline to pay for services already rendered might give more healthcare providers greater incentive to cut their potential losses while they can.
The governor’s office has stated that payment to these providers could be delayed “for at least a week,” though no maximum time for the delay was given.
Looming next week is a bill in the amount of $581 million that is set to pay “pensions obligations” for public school teachers and employees. What that translates to is this, the state may have to defer payment to retired teachers and retired employees who received pension benefits that far exceed those experienced, on average, in the private workplace, thanks, in large part, to government-supported unions.
It is telling to this writer that the Governor has chosen to defer payment to healthcare providers, who provided a service currently, before he chose to affect the payment of pensions to retired government workers, enjoying the benefits of government unions that essentially lobby the government to cost taxpayers more money buying services that are largely inferior to what the private market can offer.
On June 30th, legislators passed a $32 billion spending plan, but to this date, September 18th, 2017, they have failed to pass a plan to pay for the budget they approved.
The main issue comes down to taxation. Do you raise taxes? Do you borrow? If you do raise taxes, by how much, and where? The borrowing scheme would involve borrowing against projected revenues for the state’s share in a tobacco settlement, funds that have been used for projects Democrats favor, such as mass transit, environmental projects and parks.
As usual, the partisan finger pointing has both sides attempting to paint the others side as a villain, with Republicans accusing Democrats of simply refusing to make any meaningful cuts, and Democrats accusing Republicans of protecting the rich from tax hikes at the expense of everyone else. At the end of the day, your perspective on the matter may very well be shaped by the degree to which you are affected by the Republican or Democratic approach, though the mainstream media coverage has largely favored the narrative that Republicans are trying to protect their corporate buddies and wealthy sponsors from having to pay more taxes, even though the taxes proposed will actually hit average Pennsylvanians across the board.
Meanwhile, two private citizens, joined by State Rep Jim Christiana (R., Beaver) have filed a lawsuit demanding that a budget be passed. The suit makes the case that the state’s constitution requires a balanced budget and that the onus for passing a budget falls on the Governor, as well as the legislature. Their lawsuit, strategically, targets Democratic leaders, claiming their actions violate the PA Constitution.
The suit specifically claims that he Secretary of the Budget Office should freeze spending “until expenditures balance with available revenues.” The suit also prohibits any agent of the state from borrowing money. The move seems to be designed to put pressure on the Democrats to come further toward the plan the Republicans favor.
Last Thursday, September 14th, the PA House passed a revenue plan. The plan passed on a partisan basis, with House Republicans voting for it and House Dems voting against it. The House Republican plan would largely leverage funding revenues from the tobacco settlement to keep the government afloat for now. House Dems, however, do not like the plan, calling it “shenanigans.”
Representative Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) stated, “They want to sell it outright for a lump sum. The problem with that is you only get pennies on the dollar.”
Representative Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), countered, “We use resources we already have. It’s the responsible thing to do for our taxpayers.”
Its prospects in the Senate are not certain as of the writing of this article.
Unless you stand to directly benefit from either the Republican or Democratic approach (and many of us fall under neither of those categories), this budget battle is a reflection of owners and managers of a business, a coercive enterprise, attempting to manipulate revenues in a way that most benefits their power base.
None of these elected ‘leaders’ in Harrisburg are working to be as efficient, as ‘fair’ as possible as stewards of our wealth, gained through taxation, fines, regulations, licensing, etc. Rather, they are doing the work of petty lords and ladies assuring that their personal fiefdoms receive a good cut of the booty from that collection effort.
Make no mistake, when Democrats claim they are defending the environment, they’re really defending their powerful special interest constituents, even, in many cases, the business interests of their families. When Republicans claim they are defending the taxpayer, they’re really representing their corporate allies, even, in many cases, the business interests of their families.
Government is largely a business, and this latest budget impasses, the second one in three years, is a perfect example of how elected officials use their power of office to protect their slice of that business. But unlike business in a free market, this business isn’t spending its own money. It’s only spending our money, money it collected by forcing us to buy products and services, whether those products and services were quality and fair-priced or not.
There are no good guys in this budget impasse. There is only we the cash cows, the ones doing the paying, the ones who, I can assure you, no matter what your politicians will tell you, will soon be paying more for less products and services offered at lower and lower quality.