The no-new-taxes pledge nears its sell-by date

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 Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie both face budget deadlines. (AP photos)

Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie both face budget deadlines. (AP photos)

Since taking office, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has prided himself on getting state budgets done on time, unlike his “slovenly” predecessor, Ed Rendell.

He’s having a tough time meeting that goal this year.

Today is the deadline. Corbett and a not-on-the-same-page legislature will have to hustle to agree on a new fiscal roadmap by midnight.

Meanwhile, over in Trenton, discord also reigns at the deadline. Democratic lawmakers have sent a spit-in-your-eye budget to Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Using the line-item veto, Christie will wield a heavy red-pencil on the spreadsheets the cranky Democrats have sent him.

In neither case would a missed deadline be fatal, just embarrassing. But the budget fights on the banks of the Susquehanna and the Delaware are significant.

They signal the end of an era. A political vogue has run its course and is collapsing in exhaustion. It’s the fetish of the no-new-taxes pledge. For a long time that pledge could be fulfilled by reliance on an unholy trinity: layoffs, gaming and gimmicks.

But the jig is up. As job and GDP numbers demonstrate, all the layoffs and service cuts tend to harm growth, not fuel it. Tax revenues lag as a result. Gaming has reached saturation levels, and the list of one-shot gimmicks is dwindling.

The no-new-taxes pledge was always, if you think about it, nonsensical. Politicians like to claim they’ll run government like a business. That line has many logical flaws. But go with it for a minute.

Have you ever known a business to promise its customers that it would NEVER, no matter the circumstances, no matter how much time passes, raise any of its prices?

A fetish with consequences

That way of doing business is good way to end up with a going out of business sign on the door. If product quality erodes and customer service collapses, it’s no solution to tell angry consumers: Hey, we haven’t raised our prices since 1999.

Across the nation, the no-tax fetish has caused bridges to crumble, class sizes to swell, public health to decline, innovation to languish.

These messes are more easily addressed than politicians hamstrung by no-tax pledges make them out to be. Voters are figuring that out. In Corbett’s case, if polls are right, his refusal to tax out-of-state drilling companies to find money to keep teachers in the classroom will cost him this fall’s election.

Which is why, before the holiday fireworks go off, there’s still a faint chance we might see Pennsylvania pass that drilling tax – several years too late.

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