Pennsylvania’s four-month budget impasse is inching toward state history as lawmakers continue to duke it out in Harrisburg.
Following a Wednesday morning press conference at the Port of Philadelphia, Gov. Tom Wolf apologized to those doing without paychecks or services because of the stalemate. But he also reiterated his desire to find a long-term solution that includes more funding for public education and a “reasonable” severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
“I want those good things. And if we get them not just today, for this week or next week, but for the entire budget year — and budgets moving forward — that’s going to be a really good thing for the folks who are going through a hardship now,” said Wolf a day after Philadelphia elected its next mayor.
Social service agencies that run on state funding have had to lay people off or cut their pay.
School districts have borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars and at least two domestic violence shelters are no longer accepting new arrivals.
Experts say it could be weeks before a new spending plan is in place.
“You have the most conservative legislature in modern history, ideologically bound, and a liberal governor, each side insisting that they get not just 50 or 60 percent of what they want, but virtually 100 percent of what they want,” said Terry Madonna, director of Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.
Republicans have pushed for, among other things, an end to traditional pension benefits for many future state government and public school education employees. They also want to systemically shut down state-controlled wine and liquor stores.
Wolf doesn’t support either measure.
Christopher Borick, who teaches political science at Muhlenberg College, said there also hasn’t been enough public outcry about the impasse to quickly move legislators toward compromise.
Put another way, they don’t yet see a “dire political cost” to the delay.
“And I don’t see anything that changes that in the immediate future,” said Borick.
This is not the longest budget impasse in Pennsylvania history. That came in 1969 and lasted 247 days.
Madonna and Borick both said they expect a state budget to pass before the end of the year.
“But I don’t say that with a lot of confidence,” said Borick.