Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Editorial: Hostage negotiations

LAST WEEK, local government officials across the state decided they had had it with the long budget impasse in Harrisburg.

LAST WEEK, local government officials across the state decided they had had it with the long budget impasse in Harrisburg.

The statewide organization of county commissioners said it was considering filing a law suit against the state for withholding needed state funding for local programs, especially for social services.

Better yet, we like what the county commissioners in Bucks did.

Rather than wait for a lawsuit to make its way through the courts, they decided to withhold local payments from taxes and fees due to the state and use them to pay for services to the poor, homeless, elderly, and those with mental and physical disabilities.

In Bucks County, government collects between $4 million and $5 million a month meant for the state, including its share of the real estate transfer tax and fines and fees collected by the county courts.

The next day Delaware County officials stepped forward and said they were considering taking the same action. As County Councilman David White said: "How can the state keep our state parks open and our liquor stores open and not fund services to our young victims of abuse the neglect?"

It's an excellent question.

As this month proceeds, more and more counties and school districts will have to sharply curtail or shut down programs unless a new state budget is agreed to. Many, including the Philadelphia School District, have already borrowed money and incurred interest costs to keep running so far.

A court ruling of a few years ago declared that essential state services should keep operating without a budget - that's why all legislators and state employees are being paid. But, the billions the state distributes are being withheld because the state lacks the statutory authority - in the form of a new budget - to spend it. (Seventy-two cents of every tax dollar sent to Harrisburg is returned to local governments and school districts in the form of subsidizes.)

While we have no objection to the county commissioners' organization suing the state in court, we vastly prefer the actions taken by the two suburban counties. Rather than sue the state, make the state sue them to collect the money due.

Counties should be holding onto that money and using it for local programs usually subsidized by the state. They can settle up later, after a state budget is passed.

At the county level, elected officials are frustrated because they have a job to do. They haven't got the luxury of engaging in the politics of paralysis.

The root of this problem is in the legislature - specifically, among Republicans in the Senate, who would rather see the government shut down than compromise in any way, shape or form.

Last week, they came close to blowing up the tentative budget deal worked out by Gov. Wolf and legislators by pushing a radically different plan that would raise the sales tax and the income tax in order to eliminate local property taxes.

That measure came close to passing the state Senate. It failed by a narrow margin.

Having failed in that gambit, the question is: Will these legislative bomb throwers still try to wreck any bipartisan attempt to resolve the budget stalemate?

Like the county commissioners, the citizens of Pennsylvania - of all parties, in all regions - should send a message to Harrisburg: Enough is enough.