Just as the summer solstice arrived, there were puffs of white smoke from the chimneys of the Capitol.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly had passed a budget for the fiscal year that begins at midnight on July 1. It forwarded to Gov. Tom Wolf a package not only passed on time, but with more than a week to spare before the constitutional deadline.


Their budget didn't contain broad-based tax increases, had a little something for everybody and provided the governor one he's likely to actually sign. If he does, it will be his first. He hasn't signed one yet in his years as governor.

It must be an election year. Oh, yeah, it IS an election year.

It's not a perfect budget. We've never had one, nor will we ever. On balance it's what you'd expect in an election year, which is pretty good news for taxpayers and the state's economy.

Wolf has always built his budget proposals around bigger government, more bureaucracy and huge tax increases to support them. Had his first budget proposal been enacted, the state would have taken more than $12.5 billion from taxpayers by now.

Thankfully the legislature has resisted his efforts to dig deeper into taxpayer pockets, allowing Pennsylvania's families to keep more of their hard-earned dollars and decide for themselves how to spend them.

Unlike previous years, Wolf didn't ask for massive tax increases this time around. He did ask for more spending, but the legislature cut his request by nearly $300 million.

The Legislature increased state spending by $560 million to $32.7 billion. They claim that's only a 1.7 percent increase over last year's budget.

Others argue that it's really a 2.2 percent increase on account of their adding $159 million in "2017-18 spending enacted in 2016-17" to the baseline. If you can follow that, your credentials as a policy wonk are unquestioned.

The main reason it's a point of argument is that one figure falls below the limit that would be imposed if the state had the spending limitations of a proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights, while the other is higher.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights wasn't part of the budget discussions, but it's already passed the House and is primed for action by the Senate.

Had Pennsylvania taxpayers had the protections against profligate spending the constitutional amendment would afford, every family would have thousands of dollars more in their bank accounts right now.

The budget provides more money for education -- from pre-K to colleges, pension payments, raising the cap on the popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and even a payment to the state's Rainy Day Fund.

The best news is that this was accomplished without any tax increases or new taxes.

As House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor summarized, "This is a fiscally responsible budget that provides for the needs of the citizens of this commonwealth without increasing taxes."

There was some budgetary can kicking, though. That means next year's budget will be tougher.

In addition to covering about $350 million in Medicaid payments with one-time revenues, millions more were moved off budget for now. Additionally, bonded indebtedness payments for PlanCon and the Tobacco Settlement Fund, which begin to come due in the next fiscal year, will provide added pressure.

While every budget travels a bumpy road, this year's was made a lot smoother because the revenue flowing into the commonwealth is significantly ahead of previous years.

What's causing the strong revenue this year and the equally robust projections for the next?

There's no denying that a large part of it comes from the tax cuts enacted with the recent tax reforms and tax cuts at the federal level.

It's additional proof that a rising tide truly does lift all boats. When people have more of their hard-earned money to spend, it stimulates economic growth. With a growing economy comes additional tax revenue. Decreasing marginal rates of taxation actually increases revenue into both state and federal coffers.

Thank President Donald Trump and Congress for this one.

There's still some clean-up work to be done. There's a series of budget-related bills and the fiscal code which are the "operating manual" for the budget.

That will be taken care of pretty quickly, summer vacation can get underway for the Harrisburg folks, and we can get back to the fact that it's an election year.

PennLive Opinion contributor Charlie Gerow is the CEO of Quantum Communications in Harrisburg. His "Donkeys & Elephants" column appears weekly opposite progressive commentator Kirstin Snow.

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