Local lawmakers lose patience on budget impasse

By on March 24, 2016
Rep. Ryan Aument

Sen. Ryan Aument

The prevailing gridlock in Harrisburg over the lingering budget impasse preoccupied local lawmakers this past week…

…Even more than usual.

Several GOP House members and State Sen. Ryan Aument sent urgent messages to Gov. Tom Wolf, warning, once again, of the possible shut down of schools and other potential consequences of the nine-month budget delay.

Those elected officials responded to the likely failure of supplemental spending House Bill 1801 that would appropriate an additional $6.05 billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Reps. Steve Mentzer and David Zimmerman both noted, “If Gov. Wolf vetoes this budget, he will be telling Pennsylvanians that he intends to let schools close for lack of money…”

State Rep. David Zimmerman

Rep. David Zimmerman

Aument, who was appointed as a member of the Senate Education Committee, filling the vacancy created by the departure of Sen. Dominic Pileggi, who recently was elected to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, said schools aren’t the only institutions in peril due to the failed budget process.

Pa. Rep. Steven C. Mentzer

Rep. Steven C. Mentzer

“This supplemental appropriation will guarantee that no school shuts down, that no prison opens its doors because of lack of funding,” Aument wrote, “that critical access, hospitals and burn centers will continue operations, and that the devastating cuts made to agriculture programs and services are restored.”

Still, Ephrata Review readers this week showed little concern on social media to a report that a school district in Western Pennsylvania has announced it’s out of money.

Teachers in the East Allegheny School District will get their last paycheck this week, unless the district can secure more funding.

Aument recently held a legislators breakfast at which both Ephrata Area School Board President Timothy Stayer and Superintendent Brian Troop had the opportunity to discuss the impasse with Aument.

Board member wolfe on Tuesday expressed his increasing alarm over the state budget stalemate during Monday’s school board meeting.

Martin, who serves as the school board’s PSBA Region IX Legislative Liaison, noted the unsustainable economic stress the impasse has caused the district, which is responsible for making payments to the school employee retirement fund, PSERS.

“It would seem that our governor is also requesting that we make our payments to PSER’s and to the charter schools on time during the impasse, but it’s OK for the state to not make any funding payments to the schools while they go without a budget,” he said.

Many school districts, such as East Allegheny, are borrowing money just to pay for operating expenses. The state’s delay in passing a budget has affected the credit worthiness of school districts, which are without guarantee of incoming state funds.

Aument and other lawmakers have warned about the ramifications of the budget impasse since the spring. He introduced Senate Bill 807 which would have provided that every school continue to be funded in the event a timely state budget is not enacted.

“On six separate occasions, I voted to appropriate funds to our schools because no school should have to borrow money to operate due to a budget impasse, nor should any school ever have to close their doors because of state funding problems,” Aument said.

Lawmakers from Lancaster County wrote to Gov. Wolf on March 17 to implore him to sign the most recent supplemental appropriations act (House Bill 1801) so that no school in Pennsylvania would have to shut its doors.

“This situation highlights the need for state budget process changes, which is why I have also introduced legislation to reform the state budget process,” Aument said.

School districts across the state have trimmed all “non-essential” expenditures while foraging for funds to keep school doors open through the rest of the school year.

Gov. Wolf announced last week that he’ll veto the latest Republicans $6.05 billion spending plan that would complete a $30 billion spending package that contains more than $3.1 billion for public school instruction and operations, which would bring the total appropriated for the year to $5.9 billion, a $200 million increase.

Wolf initially sought a $400 million increase; a bipartisan deal that collapsed in December contained $350 million. His reason for vetoing the latest budget plan is “it does not provide enough education funding or address a looming $2 billion deficit.”

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

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