You might think of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as a fiscal miniature of the federal government.
The turnpike has seen its debt triple since 2007 to about $7.8 billion with little hope in sight of reduction, despite the commission's plans to raise tolls annually.
It wasn't always that way. The concrete stripe across the bottom of the state used to turn a profit and provide the state with millions each year in revenue. It still provides the payments, though it can't afford it.
State Auditor General Jack Wagner didn't need complicated formulas to work out at least part of the commission's fiscal dilemma. The $450 million the commission pays the state each year since it was mandated by a 2007 law is a significant part of the problem. Coupled with some other inefficiencies, the turnpike, like the federal government, is likely routed to a "fiscal cliff."
Should it fall victim to the tumble, you can guess who will be picking up the tab.
Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly have some decisions to make. They can relieve the Turnpike Commission of its annual contribution to the state transportation fund that pays for a myriad of other projects from Erie to Philadelphia, or they can continue to watch the train wreck.
However, the state is already strapped for transportation funding, even with the forced contribution of the turnpike. Removing $450 million from the fund would likely necessitate an increase in the state gasoline tax or a significant reduction in transportation construction and rehabilitation projects.
We didn't say the answers are easy or inherently popular.
As in virtually all government spending decisions, it comes down to how much are you willing to spend, and how much are you willing to give up? Few of the options appear immune to complaint.
As Mr. Lincoln said, "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time."