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Pennsylvania’s Budget Impasse



It is now more than 90 days since the end of Pennsylvania’s fiscal year and the commonwealth is still without an approved 2015-16 General Fund budget. The Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf remain at odds on several key spending and policy issues.

On Wednesday, the legislature is set to allow a vote on a portion of the budget plan that includes the governor’s proposed tax increases. Observers predict the tax plan to fail, and the legislature to insist that the governor abandon his plan. The governor remains resolute in his commitment to the budget he has proposed for Pennsylvania.

What happens next really is anyone’s guess, but this tense back-and-forth pattern has been the one constant throughout the budget impasse.

Shortly before June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the House and Senate sent to the governor a spending plan that he quickly vetoed in its entirety. The legislators argued that it was a responsible on-time budget that held the line on taxes but still funded the state’s priorities. The governor countered that the plan was full of unsustainable financial gimmicks and did nothing to address the state’s long-term budget shortfall and failed to move Pennsylvania forward.

That set the stage for a long summer in Harrisburg.

At the end of September, after months of failed negotiations, the legislature passed a stopgap budget, allowing appropriations to be spent retroactively from July 1 until Oct. 31 based on the current fiscal year numbers. The governor quickly vetoed the plan because he felt it stymied negotiations on a final spending plan and, again, didn’t offer what he believes Pennsylvania needs to grow.

Gov. Wolf and the legislature’s huge Republican majorities remain divided.

As the state continues to operate without a budget, several sectors are affected, especially social service agencies --- and even some charitable food organizations. To get by as the impasse continues, some school districts, counties and nonprofit social services organizations are laying off workers, taking out loans or stopping payment on bills altogether.

Pennsylvania is one of four states, with Illinois, North Carolina and Wisconsin, without a final budget.

When the impasse may end remains unknown. But you can be sure all eyes will remain on Harrisburg this week …