It’s that time of year again in Pennsylvania: a time of autumn leaves, football games, and local governments scrambling desperately to find the money they need to operate
That last item shouldn’t be on the list.
The state budget was supposed to be done before the Fourth of July. By now, school districts and county governments were supposed to be getting the billions the state dispenses each year in subsidies for health, education, social services and myriad other services.
Supposed to, but — once again — it isn’t happening. This year the fight is over how to fund the $32 billion budget the legislature passed and Gov. Wolf signed into law months ago.
House and Senate Republicans, who each have huge majorities in their chambers, cannot agree over how to raise the money needed. They are about $2.2 billion short.
As a result, the flow of subsidies to local governments will slow to a stop, and the governments will have to reach into reserves or borrow to keep their operations running.
That’s what local governments and school boards had to do in 2005, the year of the last budget impasse. That deadlock cost them more than $12 million in interest payments and money they had to advance for local operations.
Wall Street is onto the situation. Last week, Standard & Poor’s lowered the state’s credit rating due to a “chronic structural imbalance dating back nearly a decade, a history of late budget adoption, and our opinion that this pattern will continue.”
Wall Street knows it. Local governments know it. Taxpayers know it. Only the Republican legislative leadership doesn’t know it.
House Republican leaders, in the thrall of their most anti-tax members, say they are on a mission to stop tax-and-spend government. So far, though, it looks like they have stopped thinking. And governing.
It takes a certain kind of brass to vote for a plan to spend $32 billion this year, but do nothing to raise the money needed. There are many words to describe this tactic, not all of them printable, so we’ll have to settle for hypocrisy.
There are Republican legislators who believe tax increases are needed to fill the hole they created, but not enough of them to force action. The center of the party has collapsed. They anti-tax right wing is at the helm. They are heroes among the Grover Norquist tea party loyalists, but as the stream of state aid slows, we have to wonder if they will be heroes to their local school superintendents, borough and township councils, workers in child welfare agencies and women’s abuse shelters – the list could go on – who are having to shut down, curtail services or borrow money to keep running.
What we have on the state level is a failure to govern – beginning with the governor, who prefers being a bystander to a leader — down to the back benchers in the legislature.
It is a ship of fools, sitting dead in the water.