York County commissioner wants to form state budget negotiation team


A York County commissioner is thinking outside the box — or outside of Harrisburg,at least — to get a state budget passed.

President Commissioner Steve Chronister is proposing a bipartisan mediation team, led by a former U.S. congressman, to bring Republican and Democratic state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf's office to the table along with county commissioner representatives and business leaders from across the state to end the three-month-long budget impasse.

"York County and the 66 other counties in Pennsylvania are kind of at the mercy of the budget impasse," he said during a Monday morning press conference on the steps of the county's administration building in York City.

As of Monday, the 90th day the state has been without a budget, Chronister hadn't reached out to anyone in Harrisburg about his idea. He was hopeful press publicity would get their attention, and he plans to contact state officials about his plan.

Unlikely: But it's unlikely state government officials will take Chronister up on his proposal.

"I appreciate him trying to help," said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, in a phone interview. "County commissioners aren't responsible for state budgets."

Democratic lawmakers and the Wolf administration have been in a stalemate with Republicans since the end of June, when Wolf vetoed the entire GOP-drafted $30.2 billion budget. GOP lawmakers in August failed to garner the votes needed to override the veto to enact parts of the spending plan.

Late last week, the House approved along party lines an $11 billion emergency spending plan to provide funding for social service agencies, school districts, and other recipients that need it. The bill is intended to cover four months of funding, retroactive to the start of the fiscal year through Oct. 31, and would release $24 billion in federal funds.

Wolf, a Democrat, vowed to veto it — but he hasn't yet.

If the bill sits on Wolf's desk for 10 days, it would automatically become law. Grove said he's hopeful the governor does nothing with the bill, allowing it to become law.

"That's our message: Do nothing," Grove said.

But Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for the governor, said Wolf still intends to veto the bill.

Mediation team: But if the stopgap bill is vetoed, county governments, school boards and non-profit agencies could be facing difficult decisions in the coming weeks, if not days, as lines of credit become depleted.

Chronister said that's exactly what he wants to avoid by putting together a negotiation team, of which he would be a member.

Philip English, a former U.S. representative from the western part of the state who now is a senior government relations advisor with the Washington D.C-based law firm Arent Fox, would head the team.

Chronister was inspired to create the team after reading a news report about Cumberland County considering shuttering some of its services if a budget isn't reached by Nov. 1.

"I think it's (the team's) a good idea. I help they (state officials) do," Chronister said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.