Robinson-McMillen: PA Counties Taking Action to End Budget Stalemate

CLEARFIELD – County commissioners across Pennsylvania have not only authorized counsel to explore options to end the current six-month state budget stalemate, but also to prevent future threats to key human services programs provided at the county level, reported Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen, chair, at Tuesday’s meeting.

She said county commissioners from across the commonwealth unanimously adopted a motion by County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania’s (CCAP) Board Chairman Jeff Haste of Dauphin County to have legal counsel research potential litigation against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, specifically, requiring the release of commonwealth and federal funds for essential services.

She said that counties also authorized CCAP’s counsel to investigate the legal ramifications to counties and their officials of ceasing to remit funds, collected at the county level on the state’s behalf, during a stalemate and allowing those funds to be used for essential local services.

Robinson-McMillen read Haste’s statement that he provided when presenting his motion, “… This budget stalemate has lasted long enough.  Counties have, to the best of their abilities, kept critical services available for children, seniors and many of the most vulnerable in our communities.

“They are suffering from the lack of action in Harrisburg. The governor and legislature do not fully understand the scope and nature of the harm, and they do not seem to share our view of the crisis in services … this must end, and our counties and those vulnerable citizens we represent and our local taxpayers must be made whole. And, this must never – never – never happen again.”

Robinson-McMillen said the Clearfield commissioners would like to urge citizens to call their legislatures and the governor’s office to express that the state budget stalemate has gone on long enough. Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said CCAP authorized the appropriate action; however, he wanted to issue a “stronger challenge.”

“They should remain in session over the Thanksgiving holiday and settle this budget,” he said. “They have been messing around for too long. Yes, we are into the holiday season now, but they haven’t performed their duties to get a budget passed and signed by the governor. It’s time for them to stay in Harrisburg and let them feel some of the pain that our service providers are feeling.”

Robinson-McMillen said from what the commissioners are hearing, the legislature has agreed to make school districts whole for any interest or expense that they incur during the state budget stalemate. “They also need to make any counties whole,” she said. “Many counties have had to go out and get lines of credit or tax anticipation notes.”

She said that as of yet, Clearfield County hasn’t had to get a line of credit or a TAN. She said, “Fortunately, we have very little debt, and we had a fund balance that we were able to dip into to pay [the county’s] foster parents and employees and its portion to their vendors. We have not paid the state’s portion to our vendors, other than to our foster parents.

“If it goes much longer and I understand they were very close, but things are falling apart quickly in Harrisburg, it’s not out of the question. If this goes into the New Year, Clearfield County will not be in that position.”

McCracken added that it’s falling apart in Harrisburg because they continue to play games and bring up other bills to vote on rather than dealing with the budget problem at hand. “… It shows an inability to lead and govern – across the board – in Harrisburg,” he said.

“The bottom line is we need a budget,” concluded Commissioner John A. Sobel.

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