Tuesday, July 03, 2007

They were expendable

Everyone likes to feel important, especially when it comes to their job. Imagine you're a state worker in Pennsylvania and have to hear the politicians bicker over the budget.

If the budget isn't approved in the next few days, the state has already decided to furlough "nonessential" workers.

All you "nonessential" workers take one step forward. It could be worse. Another word for "nonessential" is expendable. And it gets worse. Other descriptive words for nonessential include "superfluous," "insignificant" and "dispensable."

Pennsylvania is in Day 3 of its annual "budget crisis" created by Gov. Ed Rendell because he can't get all the spending increases and taxes he wants out of the Legislature.

The last time a state worker was furloughed was 1991 when the governor and Legislature battled for 34 days over the state budget.

You have to wonder where we'd be if the state was facing a serious financial crisis instead of showing a healthy surplus. The Revenue Department just reported that the state ended the fiscal year on June 30 with a $650 million surplus.

(You could make the argument that the state is taking too much money from residents in the form of taxes and should return the "surplus," but that's a topic for another discussion.)

Nearly everyone in the Legislature is willing to approve $27 billion in general fund spending for the fiscal year that began July 1, but Gov. Rendell wants more. Rendell is trying to blackmail the Legislature into approving his very expensive plan to bail out mass transit and his alternative energy programs.

So far, there are few takers in the Legislature, especially the Republican-controlled Senate, which is sticking to its "No New Taxes" budget. And that means "no" to something Rendell is calling a "service benefit charge" on electricity. That's a euphemism Rendell is using these days for a new tax on electricity to fund alternative energy projects.

"We're adamant about living within our means and we'll do everything we can to do that," says Sen. Gibson E. Armstrong, R-Lancaster.

If nobody is willing to budge in the next few days, anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 "nonessential" state employees could be furloughed as soon as Monday, July 9.

Don't fret my fellow Pennsylvanians. That still leaves another 64,000 "essential" workers ready to serve you.

You wonder where that $27 billion goes. Sounds like the state payroll takes a good chunk of that.

Does the governor really want to drag this out and see how well the state functions without those 40,000 "nonessential" workers?

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