Where’s the Budget? Impasse continues to bring pain to PENNCREST

By Austin Brown, news editor

Pennsylvania is now nearly half a year into a budget impasse with taxes being the main dilemma for legislators. Many people are frustrated with the delay in the state budget. Rep. Scott Petri (R., Bucks county) said in a recent interview, “You feel like you’re left in the dark.” He also noted that he was unsure if the briefing memos he was given by caucus leaders matched those given to his Senate colleagues.

Petri`s frustration stands in contrast to the optimism that Gov. Wolf and Republican leaders have tried to project to the public. After saving their assumed framework, which included major sales tax increases to pay for the increased funding of education, from collapse, the two sides put together an agreement that would change the distribution of money by boosting school spending by $350 million and reforming the state’s pension and liquor systems.

But the details, such as the framework of those changes and the manner in which school aid would be raised and distributed, still remain unanswered. “The devil is in the details,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks) in an article in the Inquirer (Harrisburg Bureau). “And we haven’t gotten details.”

After a tentative deal to end Pennsylvania’s budget impasse fell apart for the second time recently, the Pennsylvania House and Senate moved towards a showdown over competing spending and tax plans on Monday, Dec.7, with the fate of suffering counties, schools, and social services agencies hanging in the balance of the stalemate. While the Senate has passed a $30.8 billion spending plan which could come with a full-year tax increase of more than $1.2 billion, the House separately proposed a competing $30.3 billion budget bill that contained hundreds of millions fewer dollars going towards education and human services.  The main issues which lawmakers are fighting over have included differences on expanding the state sales tax, repairing the state’s pension systems, loosening state control of the sale of alcoholic beverages, and the amount of state aid to school districts.

While legislators have been arguing over these main issues, Pennsylvania has been dealt a crippling blow without a budget. “It’s just gone to hell,” said Maxwell E.P. King, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation. King, who is a former editor of The Inquirer, said his organization as well as over thirty others have agreed to come together to determine if they can somehow prevent future budget stalemates such as this one through lobbying for new budgeting rules or exploring various types of legal action.

Of course, the impasse has also affected PENNCREST school district. Mr. Michael Healey, PENNCREST superintendent said, “It (the budget impasse) has caused not only myself, but other superintendents to make crucial decisions. We have needed to adjust priorities in order to stay fiscally solvent. Keep in mind the business portion of the schools. We have to pay for the light, water, and sewage bills.” Healey noted that the district has secured a loan in the amount of 5 million dollars to assist, if necessary, with its financial and contractual obligations.

In addition, the possibility of closing schools after the Christmas break is also being discussed not only for PENNCREST schools, but also for schools across Pennsylvania. On Dec. 10, the Meadville Tribune reported that Greenville and Sharpsville School Districts are both considering closing after the holidays until possibly mid-February in order to save funds.  

PENNCREST`s options will be discussed at the school board meeting tonight, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. at the PENNCREST administration building in Saegertown. To keep up to date on the latest budget developments, visit pennlive.

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