GPNP Leaders in the Post-Gazette: "End the Impasse in Harrisburg"

On September 17, 2015, Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership Advisory Team Chair John Lydon and GPNP Public Policy Committee Chair Susan Rauscher published the following opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

End the Impasse in Harrisburg

By GPNP Advisory Team Chair John Lydon and GPNP Public Policy Committee Chair Susan Rauscher, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 17, 2015

Pennsylvania should not emulate the mess in Washington; it's time to negotiate a final budget deal, not settle for stopgap measures

Pennsylvania’s budget impasse is creating unnecessary uncertainty for the commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents and the nonprofit service providers that keep them healthy and safe.

Why is this happening? Because Pennsylvania’s elected officials missed their constitutionally mandated June 30 deadline to approve an annual budget, leaving our constituents to wait for a resolution while the politicians cover up their constitutional irresponsibility with political rhetoric.

Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians with critical, persistent needs are the first to feel the impact of a late budget. Child-abuse reports continue to pour in, mental health crises and substance abuse are on the rise, many Pennsylvanians remain hungry and without permanent housing, seniors need a helping hand to age in place with dignity, our collective responsibility to serve and support veterans endures, thousands of disabled people want to enter and remain in the workforce, domestic violence continues unabated. These problems should motivate our state leaders to negotiate vigorously and compromise respectfully to produce an annual budget.

Instead, a stopgap measure to provide financial relief to human services agencies and school districts while the final budget is negotiated was introduced Wednesday in the state Senate. This is progress of a sort, but a stopgap measure is no substitute for a final negotiated budget.

A stopgap measure may seem appealing. It would release state funds to support certain vital services, make money available to school districts and ease some of the impasse’s burden on nonprofit agencies that have been drawing on lines of credit to continue services. Some believe a stopgap measure would give service providers room to breathe as Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature continue to negotiate.

Perhaps, but it also would take the pressure off the governor and legislators to reach agreement on a final budget. If money starts to flow, will they remain at the negotiating table? Will their breathing room lead them away to other issues?

The federal government provides a clear example of the downside of stopgap funding. It has been funded by continuing resolution after continuing resolution for years. Important choices have been deferred without resolution, leaving any person or institution that receives federal funding – which is just about everybody – unable to make long-term plans.

Pennsylvanians shouldn’t be subjected to this. They are counting on our elected leaders to negotiate and compromise.

Some legislators have told us that a stopgap measure could reflect funding levels from the 2014-2015 fiscal year. But the legislative majority disagrees with the governor on 40 percent of the budget line items. Will these items be funded at 100 percent of the prior year level?

Both parties agree that additional funding will be needed to balance the budget. But how long will they ignore this issue with stopgap funding?

The difference between stopgap funding and the constitutionally mandated budget is uncertainty.

Nonprofits and local governments need predictable funding streams to efficiently execute the services for which government hires them, to properly mobilize financial resources and to fully participate in the economy by paying local vendors and keeping their taxpaying employees paid.

Nonprofits leverage state funding to attract other resources so they can expand their capacity, increase efficiencies and upgrade facilities and services. Without certainty in funding, these plans end up on hold indefinitely.

Resolving the state budget impasse will require negotiation, long-term thinking, pragmatism and compromise. Let’s get on with it; a stopgap will not do.

The Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership will continue to advocate for a negotiated annual budget that provides essential funding for human services, education, community development and the other services that maintain and improve our commonwealth’s quality of life. The Pennsylvania Constitution got it right by mandating an annual on-time budget. It’s past time for the governor and Legislature to get it done.

John Lydon is CEO of Auberle, a Catholic faith-based nonprofit organization that helps troubled families and children, and chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership’s Advisory Team. Susan Rauscher is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and chair of GPNP’s Public Policy Committee.

 

**UPDATE**

On September 24, Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) quoted GPNP's op-ed during his floor statement against the proposed stopgap budget. Video of his floor statement follows below.