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Democrats Reject Funding Social Service Programs As Budget Impasse Drags On

August 26, 2015

This week, House Republicans needed just a little Democratic help to fund an array of social services, stranded by the now eight week impasse over a state spending plan. They didn’t get it.

The social service programs were victims of Governor Tom Wolf’s veto on June 30 of the entire budget approved by the General Assembly. Many of the programs, including rape crisis centers, are now running out of money.  It’s a needless tragedy. Funding levels for the programs were agreed to months before. The Republican budget vetoed by the governor met or exceeded the requests the governor made on 270 line items from all the way back in his budget address in early March. It should have been obvious to put politics aside and declare a truce in the budget war for the sake of the state’s most vulnerable.

But predictably, the governor and Democrats dismissed the move by the Republicans to override the governor’s veto on just those social service line items as a stunt – the go-to characterization when the Democrats don’t get everything they want. They also deemed the vote of Governor Wolf’s budget, exactly as proposed, as a stunt back in early June. It did not receive a single vote, failing 0-193.

“It’s a tragedy to watch the House Democrats reinforce Governor Wolf’s intransigence when there is no dispute over funding these social services,” said PMA President David N. Taylor. “Because the governor needs a crisis, his partisans won’t release the hostages.”

Just last week, some hope for a budget resolution existed. The Republicans offered the governor an additional $400 million he wanted in education funds in return for substantive reform of the two public pension systems, SERS for state workers, and PSERS, for school district employees.  He said it looked like a “good offer” but as of this writing has yet to accept or reject it.

Linking pension reform with education funding is a fitting start towards a final budget agreement. It’s impossible to separate the two and remain fiscally responsible. The costs of the runaway public pension systems are not only crowding out funding for kids’ education, but driving up local taxes as well.

“School districts have said repeatedly that the number one pressure on local property taxes is the cost of covering the pensions,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus.*

The billions in extra costs today could have been avoided with real pension reform years ago. Nothing can be done about that now, but moving on it now – and giving a rest to the campaign rhetoric of phantom budget cuts under the prior Republican administration—would ease the way towards a final, responsible budget plan.