Summer is coming to a close, but the Pennsylvania General Assembly still has unfinished business. Although constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget by June 30, lawmakers in Harrisburg are still deliberating over what programs to fund and how to pay for them.As a stop-gap measure to keep state employees on the job, Governor Ed Rendell signed Senate Bill 850, but blue-lined everything except $11 billion in spending to cover “critical public health and safety services” and state worker pay. He emphasized that this is not a budget. Additionally, it is expected that furloughs of state employees are next. In all, $12.9 billion was vetoed.
What is blue-lining?
Blue-lining is a term used to describe the line item veto power of the governor of Pennsylvania. The state constitution allows him to approve some appropriations in a spending plan passed by the General Assembly, but deny or veto others.
What happens next?
Appointees from the Senate and House Republican and Democratic Caucuses will meet in a conference committee to work out the differences between a Senate passed proposal and a different House passed proposal. The two spending plans differ by $2 billion. They must decide where else to cut or how to generate more revenue through a tax increase or other means.
What is at stake in this budget?
Programs that serve the poor and others with human services needs are in jeopardy. Catholic Charities often provides services on contract with local government agencies. If state funding is not available, these services will have to be cut back or eliminated.
Students in nonpublic schools benefit from line items in the state budget that provide textbooks, materials and special services. State funding also supports transportation services that get Catholic students to and from school. The uncertainty of the unresolved budget for these items is making it very difficult for administrators and teachers to plan for the start of the new school year.
Health care providers may not get reimbursed for providing care to Medical Assistance patients. Serving the poor is at the core of the mission of Pennsylvania’s Catholic hospitals and long-term care facilities. The threat of not receiving reimbursement for the care they provide to the neediest patients will put a great strain on the entire health care system.
What can concerned citizens do to voice their opinion about the state budget?
To voice an opinion about the state budget cuts, citizens can visit, call, fax, write or e-mail their state legislators. Contact information is available on the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network page.
This article appeared in the Summer 2009 edition of PCC’s Viewpoint newsletter.