Five Ways to Avoid Another Budget Hostage Crisis

The state budget impasse may be over, but Pennsylvanians are still reeling from Gov. Wolf’s budget vetoes.

The Times-Tribune reports the Women’s Resource Center of Scranton, which serves domestic violence victims, couldn't fill three open positions during the impasse and has paid thousands of dollars in interest fees on a line of credit.

School districts did not escape unscathed either. According to the Auditor General’s office, districts borrowed $1 billion and incurred $40-$50 million in interest and fees. The totals could be higher when the office issues a new report on borrowing costs later this month.

Acknowledging the needless disruptions causing headaches around the state, the governor approved some funding back in December, saying, “We're now at a point where I don't want to hold the children of Pennsylvania hostage….” But the damage was done.

Logos Academy, a private school serving primarily low-income kids in York, was forced to start a fundraiser to replace the funds they lost as a result of the governor’s indefensible delay of EITC scholarships.

Unfortunately, under current law, politicians can use non-profits and schools as leverage to advance their political agenda. This needs to end. People should not be used as political pawns.

Before 2016-17 budget negotiations heat up, lawmakers should prioritize one of the following bills to protect Pennsylvanians from the consequences of another budget stalemate:

  1. HB 1410 – Provides appropriations based on the amounts authorized in the previous year’s budget.
  2. HB 232 – Amends Pennsylvania’s Constitution to provide appropriations based on the amounts authorized in the prior year’s budget.
  3. SB 807 – Authorizes funding for education on the payment schedule agreed to in the prior year. (A Senate committee passed SB807 on a bipartisan basis yesterday.)
  4. SB 326 – Amends Pennsylvania’s Constitution to require the state to maintain 80 percent of General Fund appropriations if a budget is not signed by the June 30 deadline.
  5. SB 1129 – Provides a monthly appropriation to the human services and education departments. Travel would be restricted while this law is in effect, and a moratorium placed on per diems and expense reimbursements.

In addition to protecting Pennsylvanians, these “default budget” options would prevent any governor from creating and using a budget crisis to ignore the Pennsylvania Constitution and state law.

When the Department of Corrections ran out of money to operate state prisons, Gov. Wolf requested spending above what was appropriated. Likewise, the administration distributed large amounts of education funding to a handful of struggling urban districts in direct violation of the law.

Governing on a whim is irresponsible, and if left unchecked, could set a precedent for future governors who believe the law is an inconvenience to be ignored rather than instructions to be followed.