Harrisburg Happenings: September 30, 2015
Partisan-fueled gridlock perpetuates the budget impasse.
Signifying the start of autumn, windows are left open for cool night's enjoyment, cider mill presses are busily working, and the leaves on the trees are beginning to turn golden yellow and deep orange. As we look forward to the full scale seasonal splendor across our beautiful Commonwealth, we should be enjoying nature's bounty without a ninety-day cloud hanging over us as a wet blanket of fog obscuring the view.
Ninety days … ninety days have passed without a genuine solution to end the Commonwealth budget impasse.
The Senate returned to voting the week of Sept. 14 and spent three days deliberating Senate Bill 1000, a "stop-gap" proposal that includes roughly one-third of the previously vetoed spending plan. This measure claimed to fund core services, like education, human services, child welfare, etc., from July 2015 through Oct. 31, 2015.
Three days were uselessly spent by the other side of the aisle pontificating about how and why this was in the best interest of the Commonwealth, all the while knowing full well that Governor Wolf would immediately veto the bill as soon as it landed on his desk. The Senate squandered precious time by not engaging in meaningful conversation and discussion about a final solution. The House of Representatives convened last week to waste more time passing the "stop-gap" measure, a true exercise in futility fueled by partisan rancor.
Senate Bill 1000 is simply a smaller version of House Bill 1192: the original vetoed budget. One-third of something that was originally inadequate is still inadequate. Both measures have failed to address the agreed-upon structural deficit of $1.3 billion and have engaged in budget tricks of shifting money around. I've written this before in previous columns specific to this issue: if you move the proverbial ball under one cup, the other cup is still empty. Unfortunately, with a pervasive business-as-usual mentality over the last several years, there are many empty cups across the Commonwealth.
Additionally, there is no provision for an alternative form of revenue specific to education funding such as a tax on Marcellus Shale drilling, not a peep about property tax relief, and nothing about necessary investments for funding human services and job creation.
Is not the definition of insanity to engage in the same behavior on multiple occasions expecting a different outcome?
Mid-way through the second day of Senate "stop-gap" deliberations, Erie's Public Schools (EPS) announced it is on the brink of closure without rapid, meaningful intervention. Much debate surfaced in the community about the potential for the "stop-gap" measure to be that necessary intervention; and at a time of crisis like that, it is difficult to articulate why such a measure isn't the right move. In that regard, I circle back to the fact that one-third of something that was originally inadequate is still inadequate.
A Band-Aid on the wound of EPS is not going to stop this type of bleeding.
This wound began with a $4.5 million deficit on day one of the school's fiscal year and continues to grow larger each passing day of the impasse. EPS stands to gain an additional $5.58 million under the budget proposal offered by the Governor, and taxpayers in the City of Erie would see $37.4 million in relief, with those paying $1,000 or less in property tax levies seeing an elimination of their bill. Additionally, the District stands to save almost $3 million in charter/cyber school costs by the Governor's 10 percent tuition reimbursement proposal which limits cyber charter tuition profit margins.
The legislature can suture this wound — and many others just like it — with surgical precision by ratifying a fair, responsible, and equitable spending plan, and restoring cuts to education, human services, and job creation.
But instead, precious time is squandered by partisan-fueled gridlock, and the doomsday clock ticks closer to closure for EPS. Our area nonprofits will begin to turn the lights off and flip their signs from open to closed, and some of my colleagues will bury their heads further in the sand.
This is what people across Pennsylvanians hate about politics. Myself included.
Senator Sean D. Wiley can be contacted at SenatorWiley@pasenate.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @SenatorWiley.