Disruptions would be few at first, but long delay could cause damage
June 30, 2015 12:01 AM
Last year’s budget wasn't signed by then- Gov. Tom Corbett until July 10, and late budgets were regular features of the Rendell administration.
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Gov. Tom Wolf has signaled he is likely to veto at least some of the GOP budget plan.
By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Republicans who control the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf are still seemingly completely at odds over a budget, with the end of the state’s fiscal year at midnight tonight.
So what happens if there’s no signed state budget on Wednesday?
Government services continue as normal, at least in the short-term. Last year’s budget wasn't signed by then- Gov. Tom Corbett until July 10, and late budgets were regular features of the Rendell administration.
Letters sent to state employees Monday from Mr. Wolf instructed them to continue to report to work as scheduled and said “there are no anticipated delays to employees’ scheduled pay.” After past budget standoffs, and some state workers enduring “payless paydays,” a 2009 court decision said state employees who work must be paid, even during a budget impasse.
“It will be, for the most part, business as usual,” said Dan Egan, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Administration, who said agencies can use federal funds or prior year funds to keep operations running smoothly.
Facilities such as state parks, county assistance offices, prisons, and PennDOT locations will remain open, according to an online budget impasse explanation from the governor’s office. Public benefit programs administered by the state, many of which are federally-funded, including unemployment compensation, cash assistance, food stamps, support for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will continue to be paid, as will health care services paid for by Medicaid.
Private human service agencies that provide services such as supports for the disabled could start to be impacted if a budget stalemate stretches into August, however.
“Any budget impasse that results in ...the state not being able to honor invoices creates a huge problem for organization like ours,” said Al Condeluci, CEO of Community Living and Support Services, which provides care to people with disabilities.
“If we don't provide services to them, they may not get up, they may not get fed, they may not be able to get their medicines,” he said. About 90 percent of his organization’s funding comes from the state, Mr. Condeluci said.
A budget standoff that could hold up funds for his agency would be particularly frustrating, he said, as services for the disabled aren't part of any disputed budget issues such as funds for education or a natural gas drilling tax.
“The services we offer are not part of any bargaining, or any deals, they are ongoing services ... the things we do have been long-standing,” he said.
Stephen Christian-Michaels, president and CEO of Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, said in anticipation of a budget dispute, six weeks ago he took steps to increase the agency’s line of credit.
“I've been through this a couple times,” said Mr. Christian-Michaels, whose organization provides a number of services, such as mental health and substance abuse programs, and services for families of people who are incarcerated.
School districts, for the most part, won’t start to feel a budget pinch for at least a few months.
“Most school districts can get along just fine without the state dollars for the first few months [of the fiscal year],” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, which represents school superintendents.
The state pays school subsidies in late August, but schools also are funded by local property taxes, which wouldn't be impacted by state budget wrangling.
In 2003, when the state’s education budget wasn't approved until December, many districts had to borrow money and some were even threatening they would have to shut their doors.
“We've told people there will absolutely be a budget stalemate,” said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. Mr. Himes also said many districts likely could not hold out until December for funds like they did in 2003.
In 2003, “we didn't [just] have five years of really disruptive financial circumstances...getting to Christmas then was financially feasible. Getting to Christmas now is not financially feasible for a lot of school districts.”
Mr. Himes added, “If this situation prolongs into August and people can't anticipate that they will have an August subsidy payment, it will create some level of panic for districts that don't have enough reserves, it will be very disruptive, it will come just as school is opening, it will have people scurrying to make adjustments that they are obviously not used to making.”
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