Republican legislators in Harrisburg are afraid to vote in favor of Governor Wolfe’s budget that includes a tax increase because they might lose their jobs. In an article published on September 30, 2015 in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Representative Nick Kotik, a Democrat, states:
“Politically, (the tax vote) is a real death knell for younger members,” Kotik said. “You’re asking new guys to cast votes that may end their careers.”
And this is a bad thing? Fewer legislators in Harrisburg would be an improvement. The available funds to run the state would immediately increase by millions if we weren’t top-heavy with elected officials.
The article goes on to say that “School districts are beginning to run out of money, and lawmakers say human service providers are calling their offices for help.”
I recently got an email from a case manager who was attempting to explain to me why services were delayed for my 22 year old son with autism. He’d like to get supported employment services. He really wants to work, but needs a job coach to be successful. She informed me that the delay was because “Currently, the state budget has not been approved; providers are not getting paid. They are taking out bank loans to pay their staff.” People with intellectual disabilities actually have to wait until someone dies before they move up the waiting list for certain types of funding.
The email was a wakeup call. I knew we didn’t have a budget, but I admit that I hadn’t been paying attention. I was distracted by Facebook. Also the Republican presidential candidate stand-up comedy tour was in high gear. Taylor Swift might have been tweeting something. Jennifer Aniston may or may not be having a baby. There was a cat playing a piano on YouTube. And Michael Vick became a Steeler.
The latter distraction generated enough local outrage that Animal Friends gave back their donated Steelers merch, and fans sold their season tickets, signed formal protests, and organized demonstrations at Heinz Field against Vick’s hiring. Signs were made. Words were exchanged. That takes some emotional and intellectual commitment!
But whether or not you are paying attention, the budget crisis affects everyone. Because it’s also about our elderly, and – spoiler alert! – you’re going to be OLD as DIRT too, sooner than you think. Supporting laws that fund services now benefits you later.
But, the budget issue is also about our children – whose schools are already struggling in all but the wealthiest districts to provide books and supplies and to keep the best teachers. It is about the quality of the air you breathe and the water you drink, the bridge that is in danger of collapsing when you drive over it, whether your street gets cleared of snow, and the fact that there are no busses in your neighborhood. It is about our entire community and our continued quality of life.
Our region has been getting tons of well-deserved attention around the world for its shiny new look. We can be proud of that! But maybe we are blinded just a bit by the light of all that media attention and can’t see that, for many residents, the hype doesn’t measure up to their daily reality.
People were so outraged over a sports figure who abused dogs that they got all activist-like over it and took a stand. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; I like animals too. Some of my best friends are animals. But where is the outrage over the fact that we are continuing to pay the salaries of legislators who are trembling behind their party lines in fear of their own jobs, while their constituents are in fear of losing their jobs or unable to access supports to GET jobs because there is no budget?
Harrisburg – get a spine. Do something that actually helps people for once, even if its a risky vote. Citizens – reach down and find your inner outrage over something that actually matters for the long haul. Then speak up. Tell your state legislator to make this budget happen now. I know advocates are afraid that the budget that finally passes will give away too much to do any good, or create additional poorly-crafted laws that will actually hurt more than they help. There will need to be compromises on both sides. But a budget must be passed soon.
This debate happens every year. In 2009, the non-profit organization I worked for lost upwards of a million dollars when the state cut their funding during another budget crisis. As a result, my job was cut to half time. And the debate is about to go national again, like it does every fall. But no matter what the rhetoric, it’s never about what’s good for America. It’s always about job security — for the politicians.
If you can manage about 15 minutes of outrage over the PA budget crisis, please speak up and contact your local elected official in Harrisburg.
Read the latest news here about how governor Tom Wolfe is working to reach a budget agreement, which will require Republican support to pass. If we’re lucky, by the time you read this article, there will be a budget. But I’m not holding my breath.
To contact your State Senator or Representative, visit one of the following:
- http://www.house.state.pa.us/ (House of Representatives)
- http://www.pasen.gov/ (Senate of Pennsylvania)
If you do not know who your State Senator or Representative is, visit the following: