The wheels of government are continuing to turn in the state Capitol through what would have been summer recess. The General Assembly is meeting (albeit on an abbreviated schedule). Legislation is being approved. And the governor is signing bills.
But there's been little talk and no movement on The Bill, otherwise known as the state budget. Pennsylvania and Connecticut are the only states still struggling to pass budgets.
As Pennsylvania heads into its seventh week without a spending agreement, Gov. Rendell held another in a series of regular events to urge legislators to send him a budget that preserves funding for health care, education, and the elderly.
"This battle is over Pennsylvania's future, and the future is embodied first and foremost in children," said Rendell, speaking a news conference surrounded by child-care advocates.
Rendell said that he had cut as deeply as he could in his proposed spending plan without causing serious pain for the most vulnerable and that it was time for Senate Republicans who have resisted any tax increases to compromise.
Late last month, after vetoing most of its provisions, Rendell signed a partial budget totaling $4 billion in order to resume paying state workers and authorize funding for a few critical public-health and safety services.
Child-care providers said that rather than accepting the Senate Republicans' budget proposal, they would seek emergency donations to stay open or close their doors - as some have said they would have to do by the end of August.
"However hard it is for us now, we cannot accept cuts put forward by the Senate," said Sarah Dye, director of Seton Hill Child Services in Westmoreland County.
The Republican plan would reduce, by half, funding for prekindergarten and Head Start, and cut funding for programs that provide subsidized child care for low-income workers. In all, these child-care programs serve 135,000 children and families statewide, Rendell said. Significant funding reductions would mean thousands of children already enrolled in these programs would be shut out and their parents could lose their jobs, advocates and the governor say.
But Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) yesterday accused Rendell of holding child-care providers hostage in order to seek leverage for a $2 billion increase in education spending, which Pileggi said would require a broad-based tax increase.
"The governor has to engage in something other than using people who depend on government services for a tax that otherwise has no support," Pileggi said, adding the governor's veto of nearly the entire Senate Republicans' budget was what was depriving child-care providers of funding.
Informal budget talks continue among legislative leaders, Pileggi said, but there is no indication when the formal conference committee meetings will resume.
Rendell said that if closed-door budget talks between legislative leaders Sunday and yesterday weren't successful, then "it's time to get the conference committee back up and running."
The six-member committee is charged with reaching a budget compromise plan, which would go to the House and Senate for up-or-down votes. So far it has met twice, but not since July 30.
In future committee meetings, Republicans should be forced to explain how their proposed cuts, like the ones dealing with child-care subsidies, would affect the public, Rendell said.
"Right now, the Senate Republicans have had a pretty easy job because they go around and tell people, 'We don't want to raise your taxes,' " Rendell said.
"Cut, cut, cut, cut. We can get out of this budget crisis by just cutting," the governor added, mimicking the GOP budget mandate to date. "But the answer is, you can't."
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania State Library in Harrisburg is eliminating staff and reducing hours because of state budget cuts. A spokesman for the library - one of the state's largest research facilities and home to a valuable collection of rare Pennsylvania history books - said yesterday it had reduced its days open from six to three and was reducing its overall hours by more than half.
That news comes a week after Rendell announced that 21 of 51 library staff members would lose their jobs because of cuts Rendell proposed in the state budget he presented to lawmakers in February.