Make Believe Budgeting in Harrisburg

Marc Stier |

I’ve been doing political advocacy for over ten years and have been a teacher and writer about politics for a lot longer. I don’t surprise easily. But what I saw today at the press conference at which Senator Scott Wagner and the “Taxpayer’s Caucus” presented their three billion dollars in proposed budget cuts, left me almost speechless.

I walked into the room to see a list of cuts, and near the top was a $922 million cut to the Department of Human Services (DHS). I know how devastating real budget cuts of that magnitude would be to senior citizens who get long-term care through Medical Assistance, the working poor who get health care through the same program (which is called Medicaid everywhere else), and people who are intellectually disabled and mentally ill. So I was prepared for the worst.

But when I looked at the details, I almost started to laugh. Senator Wagner sounded and looked like a serious leader. But what he has proposed was a complete and utter fantasy.

He said we could spend the $500 million in savings that resulted from Governor Wolf’s acceptance of the Medicaid expansion on other programs.  That was a key part of his plan to close the structural deficit.

But Wagner seems not to understand that those savings are already built into the budget for next year. Why? Because every year health care costs go up and the population of those eligible for Medical Assistance increases. The savings were real, but must go to pay the increased costs of the ongoing Medical Assistance program.

It’s as if Senator Wagner couldn’t understand why the Medical Assistance line item didn’t go down or why there wasn’t another line item “Medical Assistance Savings” that he could then reallocate to other purposes.

And this wasn’t the only example. Most of the other $922 million savings in DHS as well as the $158 million savings in GO-TIME are already included in the budget.

These supposed savings are simply fantasy cuts made with smoke and mirrors and the equivalent of monopoly money.

I don’t know whether Senator Wagner and his fellow Republicans are deliberately misleading people or simply don’t understand what they are talking about. But either way, it is shocking and appalling. These major parts of their proposal was simply not serious.

And, what’s worse, is that we are still facing an almost $2 billion deficit in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, and we still have no serious proposal from the Republican side of the aisle about what to do about it.