EDITORIAL: Nothing gained from budget impasse

York Dispatch
  • Gov. Wolf won't sign the budget - it will automatically go into effect Monday
  • The $6.6 billion appropriations bill completes the $30 billion spending package without a tax increase
  • Wolf contends the budget remains out of balance and underfunds crucial needs

Gov. Tom Wolf relented on his veto threat and passed the latest $6.6 billion GOP appropriations bill, ending a nine-month impasse that hampered schools, nonprofit organizations and local governments.

Gov. Tom Wolf, center, delivers his budget address for the 2016-17 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate, as the speaker of the state House of Representatives, state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, left, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, right, listen at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)

The spending package becomes law Monday, putting to bed a long and contentious partisan fight that got us nowhere and caused a considerable amount of damage.

Allowing the spending measure to pass completes a $30 billion budget package that's similar to what Wolf previously vetoed.

The budget is a 3 percent increase in spending without the multibillion-dollar tax increase Wolf was seeking to deliver record aid to school districts and eliminate a damaging $2 billion structural deficit that compromises Pennsylvania’s credit rating.

The budget includes $200 million for school aid — half of what Wolf initially sought. Additionally, the spending package provides $578 million — a 5 percent increase — for state-subsidized universities including Temple, Penn State and Pitt.

The spending package also comes at the expense of local school districts, social services agencies and county governments having to spend millions of dollars borrowing money to cover their costs during the impasse.

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Wolf called allowing the measure to become law "the right thing to do," even though he refused to sign the document. He insisted that the budget remains out of balance and under-funds crucial needs, and that the state continues to need a major tax increase to wipe out a damaging long-term deficit.

Republicans lawmakers continue to push back against any tax increases. Meanwhile, critical pension reform is being neglected.

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The budget debacle and collateral fallout have been a painful reminder of the perils of partisan gridlock.

We understand there are two political, philosophical, moral and fiscal lenses through which lawmakers on each side of the aisle view the process of policy making.

Once again, we elect our state representatives to reconcile these differences by compromising in order to meet somewhere in an acceptable middle ground. This type of compromise — an especially difficult concept in an election year — requires concessions from all parties but could put the state squarely on a path to fiscal well-being.

It requires statesmanship, diplomacy, finesse and political gravitas.

We may finally have a budget, but we don’t have it through healthy compromise and we don’t see a clear path to healthy state finances — those things we elect our lawmakers to achieve. And it’s almost a year late, which has unduly stressed agencies, governments and organizations — and the people they serve.

It’s now time to get to work on the election-year 2016-17 budget.

While we’d like to believe critical lessons were gained on both sides of the budget impasse that can inform this next round of negotiations, we’re far from optimistic.