Pennsylvania has gone eight weeks without a budget. The state’s resulting failure to pay $11 million in reimbursements for state-mandated programs since July 1 led to an emergency meeting Wednesday of the Lancaster County Salary Board. Seeking to preserve funds while Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders continue to be at odds, the board adopted a hiring freeze for noncritical positions. It also discussed more drastic actions affecting county employees if the stalemate continues, including furloughs and four-day workweeks for some.
The standoff in Harrisburg has gone on long enough.
Faced with what he considers a lack of clarity on the savings the GOP’s pension proposal will produce, the governor on Wednesday indefinitely postponed a budget negotiation with Republican legislative leaders.
Republican leaders — including House Majority Whip Bryan Cutler of Peach Bottom — say the governor had a week to review the proposal. Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan says Republicans gave conflicting answers on the savings — questions he expected them to be able to answer about their own proposal. Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says the savings are about $10 million, and the Senate GOP has offered confirmation of that number from four actuaries.
One would like to be in the room to hear how these negotiations are going. The hope from outside is that the talks are going better than the two sides’ public rhetoric would suggest.
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And many Pennsylvanians no doubt would like to be in the room just to leave it, lock the door from the outside and let the negotiators out only after they’ve reached a deal.
While they continue to disagree over what are big issues — $1 billion in education funding, a natural gas severance tax and increases in the state sales and income taxes, pension reform and liquor privatization — a lot of service providers are getting nervous.
Like other counties, Lancaster County’s first reaction to the lack of a state budget was to stop paying vendors who provide services.
The service providers being denied funding include:
— Meals on Wheels.
— Foster care-placement agencies such as Bethany Christian Services, COBYS, Families United Network, Valley Youth House, United Methodist Home for Children and Pennsylvania Mentor.
— Lancaster County Children’s Alliance, which provides forensic interviews for victims of alleged sexual abuse.
— Domestic violence evaluations by TRIAD Treatment Services.
The governor and lawmakers already have heard from advocates for human service agencies regarding the human impact of their failure to pass a budget.
They need to hear from you. They need to know you’re paying attention to their inability to do their jobs. They need to know that you know people’s lives and well-being are at stake.
Our leaders in Harrisburg need to reach a compromise that funds Pennsylvania schools adequately and fairly, that reforms Pennsylvania’s underfunded pension systems, and that gets the state out of the liquor business.
Given that there should be savings on pensions and revenue from selling off the state liquor stores, moving the ball on education funding should not be that heavy a lift.
Call your lawmakers and tell them that their message to their leaders should be to reach a compromise. Call the governor’s office and tell him to do the same.
Tell them: Eight weeks late is long enough. Get back to work. Stay in the room until a deal is reached. Then, and only then, take off for Labor Day.