GOP, Dems Spar Over Pa. Budget Impasse

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Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania are blaming each other for the state's failure to pass a budget. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on state funding are closing their doors.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.

Among the states that were supposed to pass budgets by July 1st, two have still failed to do so. Lawmakers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania have not been able to agree on how to cope with huge revenue shortfalls. Were going to hear from both states now.

First, from Pennsylvania where Scott Detrow reports that Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other, while nonprofits that rely on state funding are being forced to close.

SCOTT DETROW: On August 10th, Megan Shreve typed out a letter to the 108 employees in her Gettysburg office.

Ms. MEGAN SHREVE (Executive Director, South Central Community Action Programs): After we pay health insurance for September and staff salaries on 8-22, SCCAP will have less than $5,000 in the bank.

DETROW: Shreve is the executive director of South Central Community Action Programs, an umbrella network that oversees food pantries, child care services, homeless shelters and other outreach efforts she says help 23,000 people each day.

Ms. SHREVE: With that in mind, all SCCAP staff will be laid off on 8-22-09, and our programs will close at the end of business on Friday, 8-21. When a budget is passed and money from the state starts flowing, we will begin opening programs back up. Im so very sorry.

DETROW: State funding is critical for SCCAP and it stopped coming when Pennsylvania entered the new fiscal year without a budget. Heres the problem, like most states, Pennsylvania took in less tax revenue than expected last year, leaving a $3.2 billion deficit.

The state constitution requires a balanced budget. Republicans who control the Senate want to rollback last years spending by a billion dollars, while Democratic Governor Ed Rendell favors raising taxes and increasing spending over the 2008-2009 total.

The figures get murky because of federal stimulus dollars. Both parties would use the money in different ways, leading to all sorts of mathematical claims. Rendell, for instance, insists hes dropped $2 billion from his original spending plan.

Governor ED RENDELL (Democrat, Pennsylvania): So far, weve given - myself and the House and Senate Democrats - weve given, given, given, given and all theyve done is take, take, take.

DETROW: The Senate Republican leader, Dominic Pileggi, has a much different view on the impasse.

Senator DOMINIC PILEGGI (Republican, Pennsylvania): When the governor of a major state can stand in public and say that he cut a budget by over $2 billion and yet everyone can see that the budget is spending $900 million more than it spent last year, the math doesnt add up.

DETROW: The Senate Republicans are holding the line against any new levees and have already stifled Rendells plan to raise the income tax rate by 16 percent. The governor and the Democrats who control the House have countered by holding a parade of press conferences, pending a doomsday scenario of what would happen if the budget were scaled back.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified People: Do your job. Do your job.

DETROW: The impasse meant state employees worked through July without pay. And after the second skipped paycheck, they were rallying at the Capitol.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified People: Do your job. Do your job.

DETROW: Thats when Rendell signed a bare-bones bridge budget that keeps most state agencies running and sends paychecks to state employees. But theres still no funding for education, social services and a host of other programs, including Pennsylvanias student loan agency.

That means many college students are heading back to school without the loans they had factored in to their budgets. Neither party is budging. Democratic and Republican leaders both insist theyre in the right and are prepared to wait as long as it takes for the other side to cave in.

So Megan Shreve will lock up her Gettysburg office today. Private donations and loans will keep the homeless shelter and the food bank operating with skeleton staff, but 80 percent of her workers will out of a job.

Ms. SHREVE: You hope almost that its that they dont know and that hopefully our raising awareness will start to help people see what this is causing. Or on the other side it said it doesnt matter and that were just pawns in a political battle. And thats just so hard to fathom.

DETROW: Some lawmakers say the impasse could end by Labor Day. Others fear it could drag on for months. In the meantime, Megan Shreve will be waiting.

For NPR News, Im Scott Detrow in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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