Pennsy faces yet another stalemate on state budget

July 05, 2007

Can anyone forget Pennsylvania's previous budget showdowns between Gov. Ed Rendell and the legislature? Not us.

Local school districts were faced with the need to borrow money to meet their own budgets because they didn't know when - or if - money in the state budget would be released for their use.

Well, here we go again. And it sounds as if the fallout might be worse this time. The state's elected officials need to find a way to fund essential services while they debate whether to cut or add dollars to specific programs.

So far, judging from reports from The Associated Press, statesmanship is in short supply in Harrisburg. Lawmakers are talking about furloughs of state employees and forcing thousands of the state's citizens to cancel their vacation plans.


AP reports there hasn't been a furlough of state employees since 1991, but the governor and the legislature are far apart on this year's budget.

The short version of what's happening is that the Democratic governor wants to spend a bundle for new roads, mass transit and alternative energy programs, but the Republican Senate would like to spend less money and more time analyzing the governor's spending plans.

Without an agreement, the list of things that could happen include:

The furlough of 25,000 to 40,000 state employees, beginning Monday, July 9.

With no Revenue Department workers on duty to see that the state gets its fair share of casino revenues, Pennsylvania's five slots parlors will close, possibly forcing casino workers out of their jobs.

The offices that issue driver's permits will close.

About 5,500 campsites at state parks will be cleared and campers' reservations for those spots will be cancelled.

Some essential services - state police, health care and cash assistance to the poor - will be unaffected, but there is no doubt that a shutdown would hurt the state's economy and the pocketbooks on individual state employees.

Debates such as these often become focused on which side wins or loses, instead of on the consequences of the failure to agree.

Both sides here have a responsibility to consider who will really be hurt if they don't find a solution.

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