Harrisburg Happenings: The Budget Impasse Continues

Category:  News & Politics
Wednesday, August 5th, 2015 at 7:30 AM

Five weeks… and counting. Thirty-five days ago Gov. Tom Wolf sent the Pennsylvania budget bill back to the General Assembly to restart the negotiating process, and since that veto, both chambers of the General Assembly have convened for legislative session without considering any budget specific bills.

So where are we? Still at the proverbial square-one with only a series of closed-door meetings on which to hang our legislative hats.

Leadership in all four caucuses has indicated that negotiations do continue while mainstream media continues to beat the drum of a ‘budget impasse’ and a ‘budget stalemate.’ How stale those conversations may be remains to be seen, but they do look to be quite chewy as the weeks drag on.

At the core of the impasse lies a true philosophical difference in how the Commonwealth spends its money and makes its money. It is similar to a disagreement in a household as to how and when the bills should be paid and who will be working at what job to garner the necessary income.

Gov. Wolf has made it abundantly clear since taking office earlier this year that he will not accept “business as usual” in constructing a spending plan and any plan to be considered must include a number of priorities: a severance tax to fund our schools, an atypical formula specific to property tax levies, and a plan of attack for the unfunded pension liability of the Commonwealth by modernizing the state-controlled liquor system.

Republican leadership continues to fail in sharing those priorities while rebuking the Governor at every turn. When one has an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate, one can do that. But those rebukes have led to 35 days and beyond.

Shortly, there will be sweeping consequences to this impasse. State funding for critical social service programs will stop flowing, forcing many to enact contingency plans.

As we all know, many of the smaller agencies have a tough enough time keeping the lights on and the payroll obligation met each month and contingency plans are only a dream. What happens then? Do those organizations then find a source of income in the form of a loan or do those services continue to operate without any revenue? Or does this community and communities all across the Commonwealth find themselves without vital human services?

Shortly, there will be sweeping consequences to this impasse. State funding for critical social service programs will stop flowing, forcing many to enact contingency plans.

School districts will also be in the same predicament when students return to the classrooms in just three weeks. How long can a school district like Erie’s Public Schools survive without state funding? I mentioned not having a crystal ball in my July column, and I still don’t have one, but one is not required to see that this Commonwealth is on the precipice of a crisis.

The voters in this Commonwealth made their priorities clear by changing leadership in the Governor’s office and rallying behind a necessary fresh start. The General Assembly, elected by the people to do the people’s work, needs to actually listen to the voice of the voter where those voices are singing a chorus of property tax reform and increased education funding though a tax on natural gas with lyrics that include a government that works.

What we are doing is not working. And I say we loosely, but I am lumped into the same batter as my colleagues across the aisle who continue to bury their heads in the sand, as we all make up the General Assembly.

The Senate is not scheduled to return to voting session until the middle of September, but it remains under the call of the President Pro Tempore to initiate session earlier. Every move, every step, and every conversation needs to be strategic in ending this deadlock. It is not an exaggeration to say that lives depend on it.

Senator Sean D. Wiley can be contacted at SenatorWiley@PaSenate.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @SenatorWiley.

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