State budget unlikely by Thanksgiving

Greg Gross

All hope that a state budget deal will be reached by Thanksgiving appears to be lost.

"It's not happening now," said Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township. "It seems we're not even close now."

The once-heralded framework pieced together by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and leaders of the Legislature's Republican majorities appears to be unraveling, said state representatives from York County.

The logistics of passing the numerous bills that would make up the budget by Thursday is also an impossible feat. It typically takes three days for a bill to be vetted and passed in a chamber before it's sent to the second chamber. So a bill needs at least six days to clear the Legislature, Saylor said.

"Unfortunately the framework is coming undone, and despite the dialogue there does not appear to be support or votes necessary from Republicans for a severance tax and now property tax reform," said Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City.


Wolf remarks: During an appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, Wolf said he was told by GOP leadership late last week they were having trouble lining up their share of votes for an element of the deal that would cut the property taxes that fund public schools.

Wolf said the sides must "end this nonsense" and urged lawmakers to get some version of a full-year budget — as opposed to a temporary deal while real talks continue — to his desk by Dec. 4. Asked if that meant he would sign anything that gets to him by that deadline, he replied: "I think we need a reasonable budget" and that "people have been holding out for too long."

The deadline by which a budget should've been passed was June 30.

The framework would fill a budget deficit, send hundreds of millions in new money to public schools and make significant changes to public pension plans and state-owned system of liquor stores.

"Unfortunately, that work looks like it's in peril, deep peril," Wolf said. He asked the Legislature to "please, please get this done."

He said the General Assembly could produce a budget along the lines of that framework, continue the impasse, or they could work on some sort of new plan that would have to pass in 11 days.

Sessions: Schreiber said lawmakers should be in session every day, including Thanksgiving and the first day of rifle deer-hunting season on Monday, until a deal is brokered.

The General Assembly is scheduled to have off on Thanksgiving and be on a break until Dec. 7.

Wolf's comments echoed those of top House Democrats over the weekend, although House Republicans insist they have not given up on increasing the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7.25 percent. That revenue was meant to generate $600 million to balance the budget and finance a record increase in public school aid, plus $1.4 billion in rebates for homeowners who pay school property taxes.

Saylor surmised some lawmakers would be hard-pressed to explain the tax increase to voters with the Pennsylvania primary a few months away. Every member of the House will be up for re-election next year.


One option Saylor said he'd like to see pursued is to send a GOP budget to Wolf's desk. If it's vetoed, the Legislature would then send a stop-gap spending measure that would alleviate the fiscal pain nonprofits, school districts and local governments are feeling.

"We can't continue with the way it is," he said.

Nonprofits: A couple of hours before Wolf gave his remarks, about a dozen leaders from nonprofits held a press conference, organized by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, in the state Capitol to highlight the effects the impasse has had on them and similar agencies across the state.

Since the impasse started nearly five months ago, nonprofits have gone without vital state funding, causing most to take out loans to fund operations. At least one in York County has closed its doors.

"Nonprofits are the first ones to be hit by something like this," said Joe Ostrander of the Housing Alliance.

Monday marked the first day the Community Progress Council in York City was forced to temporarily shutter its doors because of the impasse. It will be closed through Friday and again from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1.

A recorded message tells callers to the 226 E College Ave. nonprofit to call 211, a helpline that directs people to health and human services.

Hurting: The Hanover YWCA is poised to take out a loan to fund its operations after it exhausted a credit line.

“It's been meet our financial obligations,” said Jody Shaffer, its executive director. “We have been struggling, as have other nonprofits.”

The Hanover YWCA relies on the state for more than half of its roughly $1 million yearly budget. To cope with the lack of state funding, it has been making partial payments to vendors, which have been understanding, Shaffer said.

The much-needed loan would ensure it will be able to continue to serve its clients, such as those who rely on it for childcare and for help getting out of abusive relationships.

“Our priority is to still serve our clients,” Shaffer said. “It's the ones least able to help themselves who are most affected” by the impasse.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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