Editorial: Senator explains budget challenges

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a completely unnecessary and fabricated budget crisis.

On June 30th, meeting a constitutional deadline, the Legislature sent Gov. Tom Wolf a balanced budget without a tax increase. That budget included record amounts of state education funding. The governor vetoed this entire proposal, marking the first complete veto of a budget in more than 40 years. We also sent him long overdue pension reform and liquor privatization bills which would create and save more revenue for the commonwealth. The governor vetoed these proposals and insisted we pass his $4.5 billion tax increase, which received no votes in the House when proposed.

Let’s be clear about what the governor vetoed – 170 line items of the budget were exactly what the governor requested. About 100 more line items received more funding than what the governor wanted. That represents 70 percent of the overall budget. Instead of allowing these line items to receive their funding, the governor decided to veto the entire budget stopping all funding from flowing to these line items. This includes nonprofit agencies which receive state funding, school districts who just started classes and county departments who administer state programs.

I have heard from leaders of all three of these groups about the hardships that they are facing due to the governor’s decision to veto the entire budget, instead of just the lines he disagreed with like every governor since the 70s has done. They have had to lay off or reduce hours to staff, close certain programs among other tactics just to survive.

Since June 30th, Republicans have attempted three times to end this unnecessary impasse. The State House attempted to override the vetoes on many of the line items on which we completely agree. This included funding for rape crisis centers, school transportation funding, school safety programs and textbooks. This was blocked by the unanimous opposition of the governor’s House Democrats.

Just over four weeks ago, Republicans agreed to meet the governor’s requested $400 million in new funding for education in exchange for a revised version of our pension proposal. After four weeks of “consideration,” the governor rejected this offer and offered a pension and liquor proposal of his own which were baby steps in the right direction but do not come close to solving those problems.

Unfortunately, the victims in the governor’s complete veto are the schools, the agencies and the county departments not to mention all those that they serve.

Last week, in an attempt to get some funding to these folks, the Senate passed a stop gap budget that would fund the government through October. The state is still collecting revenue and state employees are still being paid; in other words the state, through court order and executive action, is still functioning. When the Stop Gap Budget reaches the governor’s desk there will be only one person that can stop this critical funding from reaching our schools, our county government and our nonprofit agencies: Governor Wolf.

He said no to this reasonable approach while we work out our differences on the bigger issues. I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Why would anyone want to use the most vulnerable among us as pawns in a budget battle? It isn’t right and I hope the governor realizes this before he issues his veto.

These are important issues we are debating in Harrisburg. The decisions we make will affect Pennsylvania for generations. Last year, the people of Pennsylvania elected a divided government with a Liberal Democratic Governor and a Conservative Republican Legislature. In the 32nd District voters chose Governor Wolf who campaigned on raising energy and personal income taxes and you chose me who pledged to hold the line on spending and keep taxes as low as possible. The people sent two competing ideologies to Harrisburg and expect us to be able to work it out.

While many issues still divide us. I would hope that the one issue that we can all come together on is that we shouldn’t be using students, nonprofits and the people they serve as pawns to win our fights. With last week’s stop gap budget vote, the legislature showed that we want to take them out of this fight. I am hopeful that the governor will do the same.