By Jim Cawley,
and Pedro A. Ramos
Amid last week's wintry blast, Gov. Wolf unveiled his 2016-17 budget proposal, a frigid reminder of the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves as a commonwealth.
With a new fiscal year just around the corner, Pennsylvania remains burdened by the inadequate 2015-16 budget signed on Dec. 29 by the governor, in which he vetoed $7 billion in spending after prolonged wrangling with the Republican-led legislature.
Current funding levels are woefully insufficient for a properly functioning commonwealth and, barring further action in Harrisburg, could in fact threaten the education of our children and the well-being of many of our most at-risk populations.
Without a quick resolution to the failed 2015-16 budget and reforms of the dysfunctional process that led us here, we fear we may be doomed to endlessly repeat this painful scenario. Consider:
Many of the state's most vulnerable citizens, including children and the elderly, continue to suffer the very real consequences of services that are not being provided by the public or private sector.
Nonprofits are being forced to operate in survival mode rather than engage in financial planning that reflects forward thinking. A healthy nonprofit sector isn't just important to the people it serves. Nonprofits employ 13 percent of the state's workforce.
School districts, which have already been forced to take on millions in debt simply to keep their doors open, will run out of money in the next three to four months.
The commonwealth's increased borrowing costs are digging us deeper into debt and making Pennsylvania less competitive.
There's still a lot we don't know about all the consequences of the impasse, and the best way forward is not yet clear. But we do know that the situation is intolerable.
For our part, our communities have worked hard through philanthropy to invest in the social and cultural capital of this commonwealth. Pennsylvania charities and foundations alone grant more than $2 billion annually in the nonprofit sector and government to advance the region. As a group, those of us involved in philanthropy refuse to let our investments be undermined by an endless cycle of poor fiscal management.
As the chief executives of the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Foundation, and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, we have committed ourselves to the PA People Count Campaign (www.papeoplecount.org). The effort is a statewide coalition of community foundations, United Ways, and other funders (united under the leadership of the Pittsburgh Foundation and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania) to advocate full funding of human services in this year's budget as well as permanent reforms to prevent future budget delays.
To help us identify and push for the best from our government, the coalition is commissioning several pieces of research to uncover just what damage has been done by the recent impasse and make practical recommendations for thoughtful, long-term reforms to the budget process. The coalition plans to report back in three to four months to share the most promising outcomes of this endeavor.
Those of us in philanthropy are proud to play an integral role in the commonwealth but are concerned that our communities' investments might be minimized by the current situation. This budget impasse is no way to treat our citizens and fails to deliver on one of the most basic functions for which our government exists. We all have a stake in avoiding future budget stalemates.
Jim Cawley is president and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. firstname.lastname@example.org
Maari Porter is executive director of the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia. email@example.com