excerpted fromChris Palmer, Philadelphia Inquirer, Harrisburg bureau.
Boosting education funding. Changing the state’s pension systems. After six months of back-and-forth negotiations – and, often, gridlock – all of those issues remain unresolved.
Wolf’s line-item veto Tuesday of a more modest GOP budget proposal than he wanted left no obvious path for lawmakers to approve a full spending bill at the start of 2016 – let alone tackle peripheral legislative priorities that have lingered in the Capitol for years.
“It’s hard to have a lot of confidence, given the trench warfare that we’ve seen through much of the fall,” said Christopher Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College.
That trench warfare forced school districts to borrow $900 million to stay open, nonprofits to stop paying for basic utilities or staff, and county governments to hold back payments to the state.
The infusion of cash from Wolf’s partial veto should help: about $2.5 billion in basic education funds will be released, and more than $9 billion for human services.
But those figures are just a portion of the typical annual allocations. Wolf, a Democrat still fighting for his biggest policy victory as governor, hopes the half-baked budget will help push forward continued negotiations on a full-year plan.
Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, said the partial budget approval simply puts school districts back on the clock, waiting to see how long they have until their coffers again run dry.
“We can’t get to June and still be talking about” an incomplete budget, he said. “Districts won’t make it that far.”
Himes estimated that schools on the brink in December might be able to remain open for an additional 60 days. The lion’s share of local property-tax revenue is collected in the fall, and most districts already have burned through that cash – and more.
“We’re going to be right back in this same situation, with districts going through this hand-wringing process . . . in a much shorter period of time,” he said.
Lawrence Feinberg, a longtime school board member in Haverford Township, Delaware County, noted that most districts soon have to start budget planning for the next school year – even though they have little to no idea how much they’ll receive for this year.
“This only injects more uncertainty into planning and budgeting for the future,” he said.
Wolf, for his part, has laid the blame squarely on legislative Republicans.
Along with House and Senate leaders, the governor before Thanksgiving announced a tentative $30.8 billion budget agreement that would have given Wolf the $350 million boost he wanted for schools while enacting changes to the state’s pension and liquor systems – both long-held Republican priorities.
But the so-called framework derailed in December as the House and Senate battled over taxes and pensions, then hastily approved a smaller budget plan before breaking for Christmas.