The pandemic has created such a strain on revenue for Pennsylvania that legislators were forced to put together a five-month budget back in May and then a seven-month budget last month. The latest spending plan didn’t pass by a wide margin and there was very evident bipartisan dissatisfaction. Even many of those that voted for it didn’t appear to feel good about doing so.
“The choices aren’t great,” Rep. Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) told me on a recent phone call. Bradford is the Democratic Chair for the House Appropriations Committee, which is very central to the state budget process. “Federal stimulus money makes it a little bit better but the reality is we’re not able to make investments. It’s a patch-work of raiding funds and things that really don’t attract a lot of support.”
Bradford was one of a number of lawmakers who were not happy that federal CARES Act money was brought in to balance the budget.
“I think it’s a real question of missed opportunity for us,” Bradford explained. “Federal money that was given, a little over a billion dollars, largely to help our Main Streets, our small businesses that are trying to weather this pandemic…the Republican majorities in the House and Senate—frankly against the wishes of legislative Democrats, and for that matter the Governor…we wanted that money to go directly to small businesses to support them in this difficult time. They used it to back fill budget holes.”
Bradford commented during one of the budget discussions last year something to the effect that the legislature doesn’t provide enough funding for programs that benefit those that need help the most.
“I believe that for the better part of a decade we’ve not been very responsible in our budgeting, but to your point, we’ve not also been as compassionate as we need to be. There are big challenges in our Commonwealth that require the state to help. Because we’ve been unable or unwilling to deal with our financial problems, I believe these problems have gotten worse and you add a pandemic in, which has exacerbated every inequity imaginable, and we find ourselves in a very tough spot.”