Montgomery County's elected officials agreed Thursday to cover the state's bills for another month -- but not without expressing growing anger that the counties, schools, and other organizations who rely on state funding do not appear to be a consideration in the now four-month-long budget impasse.
"Do the legislature, the governor, either or both, feel pressure from counties that are not backstopping the human services needs?" asked Republican Commissioner Bruce Castor. "I'm wrestling with the question of whether we are enabling the governor and the legislature to continue with their impasse by making sure that the funds are available for people who need it in our county."
Montgomery County, as of Oct. 1, was owed more than $20 million in reimbursements for drug and alcohol treatment, mental health, elder care, homeless programs, and other state-funded human services.
Democratic Commissioner Josh Shapiro said he also was troubled by the lack of urgency in Harrisburg, but didn't believe Montgomery County's vote would make a difference either way.
"Bottom line is you've got Montgomery County, which is pretty large, paying their providers, and Philadelphia, which is even bigger, not paying their providers, and the result is the same," Shapiro said in answer to Castor's question. "We don't have a budget. I'm not sure that added pressure is going to get them going."
County Finance Director Uri Monson said his conversations with state staff indicate that "it's not even a discussion point, whether we're funding or whether people are going to go without."
"I had thought the schools would be a bigger issue and would force action," said Monson. He cited children going without textbooks and "a number of school districts where teachers are working without pay, and that didn't seem to have any impact on Harrisburg. I don't know what will." That's not to mention the auditor general's report Monday that school districts have already taken on $346 million in debt, and could hit $1 billion if a budget isn't passed by Nov. 1.
Last month Shapiro, a former state representative and close ally of Gov. Wolf, called on lawmakers to return to Harrisburg before the end of the summer recess and get a deal done. They did not.
"I think they are at a real impasse. I'm not optimistic that this is going to be resolved any time in the near future." Shapiro said Thursday. "I find it troubling that many in our legislative delegation in Montgomery County – and not just Montgomery County, but across the state – seem to spend a lot of time on Twitter, either bashing the governor or bashing the legislature, as opposed to actually rolling up their shirt sleeves and making the tough decisions."
Commissioner Val Arkoosh, a physician and interim Medical Director for the county, said if the county can't continue paying the state's bills come November -- and Monson said he is not sure it will -- "this will start a very short clock ticking for the survival" of small, nonprofit service providers.
"We've been hearing from providers who took out loans the last time there was a very delayed budget in Pennsylvania," she said. "No one reimbursed them for the interest on those loans, and many of those organizations are still paying back the interest on those loans."
Gov. Wolf in June vetoed a proposed Republican budget, and on Tuesday vetoed a stopgap spending measure that he said would undercut the more important negotiations.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) said he would bring Wolf's proposed budget, which includes tax increases, up for a vote Wednesday, if only to prove that it doesn't have the votes to pass.