By Patricia A. Coulter

Driving across the state on the Pennsylvania Turnpike earlier this month, I became increasingly frustrated as I got closer to Harrisburg. It wasn't because of the Labor Day traffic or construction projects that never seem to end. My frustration was at what had been happening - or, rather, not happening - in our state capital over the past few months.

With Connecticut having passed its budget, Pennsylvania became the only state in the nation that was unable to produce a balanced budget. Our legislators, who were sent to the capital to represent every resident of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, apparently went from budget impasse to budget impossible.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if the men and women we elected put some guts and grit into getting a budget passed sooner. The politicians in Harrisburg know how to politick. Yet it seems that rolling up their sleeves, continuing to meet, discussing alternatives, researching the options, and reaching a compromise for the good of the people they represent has become foreign to them.

Thanks to the long stalemate, as the nation faced an economic downturn, many people throughout the commonwealth felt an added pinch. Because no budget was in place, agencies were unable to pay employees, people faced job losses, and hardworking men and women saw the resources that helped them make ends meet eliminated.

For example, the owner of a day-care center, who may rely on the small business as her primary source of family income, found no payments coming in from clients who get day-care subsidies through the Department of Public Welfare. The single mother who had finally received a subsidized day-care spot for her child, after nearly a year on the waiting list, could not enroll her child in day care. And therefore she could not begin the classes that would improve her chances of economic advancement.

Numerous nonprofit organizations provide crucial services to many of the state's most vulnerable people. Because of the budgetary nightmare, many of us turned to our bankers for increases in lines of credit, furloughed workers who run human-services programs, and gave vendors IOUs.

Then there's the havoc the budget stalemate inflicted on Philadelphia. Mayor Nutter was forced to consider putting his "Plan C" into motion, including major cuts to services and layoffs of city workers. Terms such as doomsday were being thrown around as local municipalities tried to figure out how to deal with the mess being made by legislative leaders in Harrisburg.

I cannot be the only person who believes that not enough sweat and maybe even tears have gone into getting the work of passing a state budget done. Maybe the legislature really has been working overtime - day and night, weekends and holidays - to get something done, but in that case shouldn't they have clued us in to what they were doing to get the job done?

During my drive across the state, there was no shortage of signs directing me on how to get to Harrisburg, but I wondered who was giving directions to our legislators in the capital. They have been traveling aimlessly down a road to nowhere, leaving us all in a lurch that could prove financially devastating for us - and, ultimately, politically perilous for those we trusted to do the right thing.

Patricia A. Coulter is the president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia. For more information, see www.urbanleaguephila.org.