State Senator Lisa Baker is convinced that the 101-day state budget impasse warrants constructive action to fix a flawed process. She proposes an amendment to the state Constitution to prevent a shutdown of state services, and legislation containing a series of deadlines for action to compel adoption of a state budget on time.
“Perhaps there will never be another revenue disaster comparable to this year’s $3.25 billion shortfall, but Pennsylvanians should not have to run that risk. A prolonged budget crisis is unfair to taxpayers and to individuals dependent on state help, disruptive to state-funded and state-subsidized service providers, and toxic to public confidence in state government,” Baker stated.
The proposed constitutional amendment would, if a new budget is not approved by the end of the fiscal year, continue the previous state budget at an 80% funding level. “This step ensures the continuation of services, without opening the door to overspending. Continuing the budget takes away much of the political leverage from a stalemate, and it also works to preclude a bad budget settlement done out of deadline desperation,” she said.
The legislation would require the Senate and the House to introduce budget bills six weeks after the Governor’s budget address. By the second week of May, each chamber would have to vote on a complete and balanced state budget plan. If a budget agreement is not reached by mid-June, each chamber would have to vote on the budget sent to them.
“The Rendell Administration’s emphasis on earlier budget negotiations as the simple solution misses the point. Negotiations can take place anytime with anyone who chooses to engage. But action on a responsible balanced budget ultimately matters. This approach does not take away any options in shaping a budget, but it is designed to eliminate the ‘just do nothing’ strategy that the House of Representatives used this year,” Baker explained.
The Baker plan combines several suggestions put forward by advocacy groups over the years. “There is no shortage of ideas to choose from. The challenge is deciding on changes that are practical, that represent a real improvement, and that can attract sufficient legislative support,” Baker pointed out.
“While plans built around imposing penalties have popular appeal, there is concern that such an approach stresses timeliness over quality. By squeezing some of the political gamesmanship and brinksmanship out of the budget process, we can strike a better balance between getting the budget done on time and getting a budget that does not impose unnecessary costs on taxpayers,” she noted.
“Given the strong regional and political differences in Pennsylvania, the budget process will rarely be non-contentious. But we clearly have an obligation to put together a process that is more functional and accountable than the frustrating and indefensible dispute citizens were forced to watch this year,” Baker concluded.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson