Analysis: State Budget Delay Cloaks Politicians in Shame
Bumsted, Brad, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
HARRISBURG -- It took 101 days to pass a state budget, longer than the Battle of the Bulge and more time than it took the Marines to capture Iwo Jima during World War II.
There was no heroism, though, in the state budget battle of 2009.
Several legislative leaders apologized to citizens, Gov. Ed Rendell called the delay "unconscionable," and former state senator U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester County, a candidate for governor, on the 100th day of the standoff last week called it a "national embarrassment."
Tens of thousands of state employees faced delayed pay checks in July. At least eight day care centers closed specifically because of the budget impasse, according to the Department of Public Welfare. For small social service agencies like the Domestic Violence Service of Fayette County, it was "a balancing act every day" without state funding, said director Jacquie Albert.
Rendell on Friday signed a $27.8 billion state budget. A tax bill passed with it increases the capital stock and franchise tax on business and raises the state's cigarette tax 25 cents per pack. A new gross receipts tax will be levied on Medicaid managed care organizations.
Rendell, Republicans and Democrats hailed the fact there had been no major tax increase, such as income or sales taxes.
Critics had said any tax hike in a recession would be unsound policy.
"Businesses across Pennsylvania are closing or downsizing. ...Taxes are not the answer for these folks," said House Minority Leader Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney.
The budget relies on $2.6 billion in federal stimulus funds. It spends $1.1 billion less than Rendell proposed and at least $400 million less than last year's budget.
It's not finished. Legislative leaders and Rendell this week will attempt to reach agreement on legislation to legalize table games at casinos, which will produce $200 million. Funding for Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities is being withheld until table games are approved, said House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D- Hazleton.
Asked about the 101-day delay, Rendell said, "The process is screwed up, and the system is broken."
All the while, most lawmakers racked up per diems at $158 per day for food and lodging. The tab exceeded $532,000 for July and August, records show.
There's no penalty for legislators or the governor if they don't meet the June 30th deadline when a budget is required by law. …