PA Stuck in Historic Budget Gridlock

PA Stuck in Historic Budget Gridlock

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania government will set a modern state record for budget gridlock on Tuesday when Gov. Tom Wolf sends lawmakers a spending proposal for the coming fiscal year with no full plan in place for the current fiscal year that began back in July.

The first-term Democrat will deliver an approximately $32 billion plan for 2016-17 to the Republican-controlled Legislature as he tries again to break down resistance to a $1 billion-plus tax increase that has held up passage of a budget for the current year.

Billions of dollars for prisons, hospitals and schools are in limbo, and the governor is warning that schools may be forced to close and local governments may have to raise taxes if the impasse is not ended.

Wolf wants the money to close a long-term deficit that has damaged Pennsylvania's credit rating and to boost aid to public school systems that have among the nation's biggest funding gaps between wealthy and poor districts.

Republicans, who have amassed their largest legislative majorities in decades, have agreed to boost spending on public schools. But with legislative elections looming this fall, rank-and-file House Republicans blocked a tax increase even after the governor made concessions on GOP policy priorities.

Negotiations have been further complicated by the competing priorities of House and Senate Republicans.

The only other state with such budget gridlock is Illinois, where first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is battling the Legislature's Democratic majorities.

In a Monday statement, Wolf gave a preview of what he will tell lawmakers.

"We have a choice," Wolf wrote. "We must choose a path that funds our schools, eliminates our deficit, and puts Pennsylvania back on track. It is time for us to finish the job and restore Pennsylvanians' shaken faith in their government. It is time to fund our schools. It is time to face financial reality."

Failing to do so, Wolf warned, will require budget cuts.

"This path will lead us into a dismal future of shuttered schools, higher property taxes, and lower bond ratings that lead to higher borrowing costs for state and local governments," Wolf wrote. "The consequences of such action are grim. These consequences cannot be ignored."

Part of Wolf's objective has been to erase Republicans' deep, budget-balancing cuts in aid to schools in 2011-12, the brunt of which was borne by the state's poorest school districts.

He is also looking to lift Pennsylvania's credit rating. A persistent deficit spurred five credit downgrades in the three years before Wolf took office, raising the cost of borrowing money.

(KA)