Nonprofits worry about ongoing state government gridlock
February 11, 2016 12:00 AM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
By Kate Giammarise/ Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — During the state’s budget impasse, many nonprofit human service agencies across Pennsylvania cut services, laid people off, took out loans, and generally struggled, cut off from state funds for nearly six months.
And after Tuesday’s budget presentation by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf — which was not well-received by Republican legislative leaders — many nonprofits say they are concerned that another prolonged budget stalemate could be coming.
“We cannot endure another budget impasse,” Delilah Rumburg, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said in a statement. “Unfilled positions remain empty. Programs are struggling to repay thousands of dollars in interest on the lines of credit they were forced to access.”
The state is operating under a partial budget Mr. Wolf signed in late December that released funds to human service agencies.
“We’re more concerned about this year than even last year,” said John Lydon, chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, and CEO of Auberle, which provides services such as foster care, emergency shelter, and drug and alcohol and mental health programs.
Auberle borrowed about $4 million during the impasse to continue to be able to serve clients, he said.
“We did slow down hiring. We deferred a lot of expenses. We had to rely on our donors and our borrowing ability,” he said. The agency is in the process of increasing its line of credit, concerned that the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, could bring further gridlock in Harrisburg.
“There is a lot of concern about the level of acrimony,” Mr. Lydon said.
Mr. Wolf, in a combative address Tuesday, unveiled a budget plan of $32.7 billion plus a transfer of $560 million in payments for the pensions of school workers. His proposal called for an income tax hike, expansion of what items the sales tax would apply to, and a severance tax on natural gas drilling. Schools and human services could face deep cuts without the additional revenue needed to close a deficit, he warned. Republican House and Senate leaders blasted both Mr. Wolf’s plan and the tone of his remarks.
The governor reiterated his arguments Wednesday during a stop at Clairton Elementary School. He acknowledged he would have a difficult time getting cooperation from the Legislature.
“I have played the game as it’s supposed to be played and now I’m going out to the people,” he said.
Peg Dierkers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said nonprofits are counting on elected officials “to solve the problem together. If the Senate and the House leadership do not like the options the governor laid out for resolving the financial crisis, I hope they will put their ideas out for public debate soon so that we can keep working toward an on-time budget” by the end of June.
Organizations such as hers are still living with the consequences of the budget impasse, she said.
“I have to figure out how to pay the thousands of dollars that we accrued using our credit line,” she said, and estimated that is the case for 50 of the 60 domestic violence programs statewide.
Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254 or on Twitter@KateGiammarise. Chris Potter contributed.
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