by Barry Shutt
My name is Barry Shutt. I’m a nobody. Just an old retired guy trying for the last two an a half years to draw attention to Pennsylvania’s growing pension debt crisis with the hope that someone in Harrisburg would rise up and do something that would address the problem.
In 2014 I was very hopeful. After watching for most of my adult life, individuals from both sides of the political aisle running for office to “change Harrisburg,” but then seeing very little change as they “became Harrisburg,” I was hopeful that in 2014 with the election of Two Guys from York, change would finally come.
One drove a Jeep, the other flew around in a helicopter. Both were multimillionaires, which should have been a good thing because neither needed the positions for which the ran; and neither should therefore be intimidated by party leadership or lobbyists whose campaign dollars control the leadership in Harrisburg, and by extension, the policy agendas which have created and allowed to fester, Pennsylvania’s pension crisis.
But I was wrong. Rather than change Harrisburg, it is clear that in just two years, the Two Guys from York have adapted well to structural morass that continues to paralyze the Commonwealth and threaten its economic future.
One of the Two Guys from York, seemingly realized upon taking office that to finally get Pennsylvania’s fiscal house in order new revenue was needed. The accounting gimmicks of the past, which had only masked Pennsylvania’s growing fiscal crisis had to stop; and with the realization that cuts in discretionary spending have become all but impossible for generations of pols in Harrisburg, new revenue was needed to finally address the unpaid bills of the past. For families across the Commonwealth who’ve allowed credit card and other debt to a overwhelm their family’s finances and threaten their future…those families know that new revenues are needed. It’s not rocket science and for those families “new revenue” usually means a part-time job to pay down that debt. So for the state, the part-time job is arguably a temporary tax increase…one with a sunset provision and dedicated to paying off the debt.
Unfortunately, that Guy from York erred when the easily demonstrated need for new revenue was tied to new spending. It did not make sense. Not only did the idea of spending more tax dollars to fix a debt problem have a history of failure, it made no sense to families in Pennsylvania trying to pay off their own debt; families who realize that new spending was out of the question until past debts have been repaid. So from his first day that Guy from York, became the Harrisburg he campaigned to change.
The other Guy from York was not much different. Emboldened no doubt by an historic write-in campaign victory he soon began singing that all too familiar limerick, “Harrisburg doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem,” which in the past has meant…and still does, “Harrisburg spends too much on things I don’t like, and not enough on things I do.” And that’s where the other Guy from York began to make no sense.
Couched in the rhetorical and historical rhyme of “waste, fraud, and abuse,” his publicly released list of things to cut or eliminate from state spending are little more than the things he has never liked.
But conspicuously missing from his list are the things he has always liked…or at least those thing his partisan colleagues have convince him to like, or at least accept without public challenge. So early in his tenure the other Guy from York became the Harrisburg he too campaigned against.
Sadly, few of us now living as adults will suffer from the continuing inaction in Harrisburg over Pennsylvania’s unfunded pension liability…now exceeding $70 billion. But our children and grandchildren will.
I say that because the Two Guys from York, like a scene from the “Body Snatchers,” have succumbed to the partisan bickering, name calling, finger pointing that has stifled progress in Harrisburg for most of my 69 years. And with one of the Two Guys from York seated as Governor with the other already running to take that seat, I am confident that will change in the next two years. And by time the new Governor, whoever that is, takes office in 2019, Pennsylvania’s unfunded pension liability will exceed $80 billion.
To the Two Guys from York, please don’t say you’re worried about the future of Pennsylvania if you’re not now serious about paying down the debts of the past.
Kicking the can down the road on the most pressing issue threatening the state’s economic future has become an art form in Harrisburg. And it’s so disappointing that the two of you, in two short years, have so mastered that craft.