ISSUE | PA. BUDGET STALEMATE

Time for a mediator

Because there appears to be no discernible process working in the Pennsylvania budget negotiations, I sent a letter on Nov. 23 to Gov. Wolf, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody urging them to use a mediator. Given that negotiations have extended over the past five months and continue today, the assistance of a mediator is warranted.

That does not mean I am unappreciative of the negotiators' time and effort. But it is time to approach these negotiations differently, as constituents urge me, to find the necessary compromise that will address the structural deficit and fairly and predictably fund basic public education and critical human-services programs.

I can recommend a well-respected former federal court judge as a potential mediator. Known for his intelligent, well-reasoned decisions on the bench, he has mediated more than 1,500 cases.

Mediation is a productive way to help parties hear one another, to minimize the harm that can come from disagreement, to maximize any area of agreement, and to find a way of preventing the areas of disagreement from interfering with the process of seeking a mutually agreeable outcome.

|Pamela A. DeLissio, state representative, Philadelphia

Soon: School closings

It was naive to think the state budget framework would come to fruition. It could be unraveling over property-tax relief.

Although the governor yielded in setting aside a severance tax on natural-gas drillers, he has opposed Republican plans to privatize liquor sales and enact meaningful pension reform, instead advocating a plan for new employees that would save only $10 billion over 30 years for a system that is $50 billion in debt.

While the state Senate is considering the removal of the attorney general, it is tragic that the public is powerless to recall the "leaders" who have inflicted suffering on so many people and agencies as they failed to enact the budget by the June 30 deadline.

School districts, squeezed by a man-made funding crisis, will soon be shutting their doors. That may be the only way to produce the outrage that will compel our elected officials to do their jobs. I advocate voting out all incumbents, including the governor.

|Oren M. Spiegler, Upper St. Clair, Pa.

Sales-tax increase would cripple Manayunk

Gov. Wolf and the state legislature are aligning on a state budget based on raising the sales tax. Raising one tax instead of negotiating a bipartisan budget that funds all of the state's needs seems too easy.

From Manayunk, it's a short drive across the bridge to Montgomery County, where the 6 percent sales tax is 2 percentage points less than in our town. A 54 percent increase in the sales tax in seven years, to 9.25 percent, would be insanity.

As a district, we've had an exceptionally difficult time trying to establish new retail businesses in a once-vital business fabric. Simultaneously, retailers are struggling to remain viable in the world of online sales, with goods being shipped into the commonwealth from all over the United States tax-free.

Raising the sales tax to 9.25 percent would give Philadelphia the second-highest tax rate in the country, a virtual death knell for businesses within the city limits. We implore City Council and the state legislature to reexamine the potential impact of such a drastic action.

|Martin Pulli, Philadelphia

Vulnerable citizens are in danger

A public health institute serving more than 350,000 people annually in Pennsylvania, Public Health Management Corp. has been fortunate to weather the financial storm caused by the lack of a state budget.

But for many of our colleagues and partners across the state, the strain of taking on additional debt has dealt a crippling blow. Critical programs, such as behavioral health services for the mentally ill, social services for pre-K children and families, and support services for foster children and families at risk, hang in the balance. As a result, hundreds of thousands of our region's most vulnerable individuals and families will be kept from services that keep them healthy and safe.

PHMC asks:

That our government work to conform all contracts so that once the budget is resolved, payment can be expedited.

That to prevent this crisis from happening again, our government add social and behavioral health services to the list of essential services so we can continue to provide these programs.

We are your partners in building and sustaining healthy communities. Don't tie our hands.

|Richard J. Cohen, president and chief executive officer, Public Health Management Corp., Philadelphia

Legislators should feel the pain, too

I wish it were in my power to gather all the state legislators, lock them in their chambers, and keep them there until a budget is reached. A little incentive: no pay, no food, no water, no sleep.

Why should everyone, especially our children, suffer and not them?

|F.C. Davis, Philadelphia