Representatives discuss deadlock

Local legislators explain why the state is still trying to end the longest budget impasse in its history.

Funding for Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities, including Temple, was tabled after a House session Monday afternoon.

The six-month deadlock concerning the state budget, the longest budgetless period in the state’s history, had several representatives looking for the necessary two-thirds vote.

Pennsylvania has been without a budget since the fiscal year began July 1, with Republicans and Democrats debating everything from pension reform to a potential increase in taxes, Democratic state Rep. Curtis Thomas said.

Thomas’ 181st district includes most of Temple’s Main Campus; he is also a 1975 alumnus and received an additional 70 credits in education administration in 1977.

There was a budget agreement between both parties in the House and the Senate, and the House was prepared to vote, Thomas said. He added Tea Party representatives of the House objected to the $30.8 billion budget proposal because it would result in higher taxes.

Democratic state Rep. Jason Dawkins, a Democrat serving the 179th district which covers Frankford and parts of Juniata Park and Olney, said there was a lack of bipartisan support, but not enough members were present during the most recent attempt at a vote on Nov. 24.

“The Speaker never brought the vote … to the floor and [Republican] members were leaving before the vote,” he said. “We [Democratic members] weren’t in love with the Senate version but we were content with passing the budget. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not, but it serves its purpose.”

Dawkins is also currently studying international business through a dual admission program with Temple and the Community College of Philadelphia.

The budget is comprised of multiple pieces of legislation, each covering a different component of the state’s economy, like public education, taxes and social services.

The General Fund Appropriations bill of $30.3 billion was passed June 27, said Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican representing the 171st district in Centre County. Gov. Tom Wolf line-item vetoed the House Republicans’ first budget proposal in June, and was presented with three additional proposals, all of which Gov. Wolf line-item vetoed as well, Benninghoff said.

“People talk about compromise, but it’s a two-way street,” he added.

The General Appropriations bill is the biggest piece of legislation in the budget and determines how much money is allowed to be spent.

The $30.8 billion budget is 3.5 percent more than last year’s budget, Benninghoff added.

“The reality is that in the governor’s original budget address, he was asking for more money than [some legislators] were willing to spend,” he said. “This is a time when the economy is very sluggish. … At the end of the day, you can’t spend money you don’t have.”

Pension reform has also been a topic of debate between parties. A pension reform bill was rejected by the House Dec. 19 and was considered a key part of the budget package.

“If we don’t address [pension reform], it has the ability to collapse our economy in the state of Pennsylvania,” Dawkins said, citing the state’s structural deficit of $1.2 billion. “The budget began to address some of these problems.”

The budget deadlock has impacted many different parts of the state’s economy, like education and private businesses.

Services have been restored to schools, Dawkins said, but the funding will not be enough for the long-run.

“They only have enough funding for a few months, which is why we have to get back to work and pass the budget,” he said.

Thomas said universities like Temple, University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University are awaiting support as well.

“Holding the general assembly accountable for funding public education is real important,” he said.

Thomas added that “jobs and economic development … suffers the most because of this quagmire.”

Benninghoff said while some of the charter schools are awaiting funding, most schools have stayed open, but “some of the non-profits have been hurt more.”

“Private organizations struggled and had to borrow money to keep their payroll funded and keep their doors open,” he said.

The vote in Harrisburg will seek to resolve some of these issues.

“This has never existed in the history of the legislature,” Dawkins said. “It’s not necessarily something you’re pleased to be a part of. We desperately need to put aside our partisan politics and pass a budget that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable in the state.”

Lian Parsons can be reached at or on Twitter @Lian_Parsons.

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