Guest blogger: Peter Greene
I’ve been waiting to write a reaction to a new Pennsylvania budget just as soon as it’s passed, but I would clearly be further ahead to check weather reports from Hell for news of a deep freeze.
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As 2016 gets under way, the PA budget crisis is approaching the 200-day mark, over half a year now gone with the legislature unable to do their job, and if anything, the prospects are now worse.
The story so far is pretty simple. Governor Tom Wolf and GOP legislators negotiated a compromise budget. The GOP-controlled Senate voted for it. Then some wacky members in the House, which is also controlled by Republicans, scuttled the whole thing.
In December the House bet that everyone was so desperate that the budget that was no good in June would now be acceptable. So they submitted a budget that included a $95 million cut for education, which, if approved, would surely harm students, and no money at all for state universities like Pitt and Penn State.
The governor “accepted” it, allowing money to be turned loose for the school districts and human service providers that haven’t been paid by the state yet this year, but he line-item vetoed all but $23 billion of that budget– including about half the basic education appropriation– angrily calling the budget “garbage.”
None of this reassured Standard and Poor’s, who had dropped PA’s debt rating in September. S&P indicated that they saw no need to upgrade the still-budgetless state.
And that pile of emergency money for public schools and kids? The GOP is upset at how the governor is choosing to disperse it. The funds will save some districts from the worst financial straits, but it won’t answer the question, “How much money are we getting from the state for our budget?” That question applies both to the budget for the year that’s half over and the budget for next year, which most districts are currently trying to write because even though they have no way of knowing what the state payments will be, you have to meet your budget deadlines. Right?
The Big December fail also scuttled the latest version of pension reform (a teacher-spanking reform that some lawmakers say must have been good because ALEC liked it).
Pulling Pennsylvania schools and its students back from the brink of disaster may even harm long-term chances for a solution, as legislators may feel less urgency. It probably doesn’t help that we have entered an election year; the looming elections guarantee that politicians will be concerned about posturing, and Pennsylvania’s highly-gerrymandered map insures that political posturing means playing to the base. Social media already have a fair share of commenters who applaud the GOP obstructionism because it keeps the state from raising taxes.
Pennsylvania has one of the largest, most expensive legislatures in the country, but they have one main job that they cannot get done. This stalemate already ranks as Pennsylvania’s longest budget impasse ever (and we’ve had plenty). Can we achieve the impressive feat of going an entire year without a budget? I’m not ready to place my bets yet, but I will certainly keep checking those weather reports from Hell.
Peter Greene is a 36-year veteran classroom teacher, former local union leader, and regular blogger at Curmudgucation. He is also a Progressive Education Fellow, an avid reader, and a trombonist in a 159-year-old town band. He lives in Northwest Pennsylvania with his wife and their chocolate lab. You can follow Peter’s blog on Facebook and Twitter.