When last we visited, Pennsylvania did not have a 2015-16 fiscal year budget, and there were numerous issues gumming up the prospects for completing the job, which was six months late. Lots has changed in recent weeks, so we’ll get right to it.
Not only do we still not have a budget, it’s now six months and eight days late, and there are even more issues gumming things up. Instead of a budget, we have a measure that provides emergency funding for social services and schools, which began as an earlier Republican no-frills budget that Governor Wolf customized by chain-sawing a few billion more out of it and then christened it an “exercise in stupidity.”
It was not a complete buzz kill, however, as it did manage to open up the ol’ PA fiscal spigot a bit as $3.3 billion in emergency funds began flowing. The emergency allocation included money for film tax credits as well, which a Post-Gazette editorial pointed out creates jobs and injects more income and tax revenue than the credits cost.
On the other hand, some observers said the release of emergency funds lessens what little leverage existed to finish the task in the first place, thus creating the possibility that we will double our pleasure by working on two spending plans at the same time as winter morphs into spring.
How did it come to this? Well, an outfit called the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership undertook a national review of state budget rules and found that Pennsylvania is unique in that there are virtually no consequences for failing to pass a budget on time. Or apparently at all? Hmmm. You’d think that six months of snarky commentary in the news media across the state would constitute some level of consequences.
Well, maybe there are SOME consequences. With only 18 days before nominating petitions begin to be circulated, a significant number of legislators are choosing not to seek reelection. Several of those who have announced their decision acknowledge that the budget stalemate has been a contributing factor.
Among the more prominent lawmakers bowing out is longtime Republican Rep. Bill Adolph, majority chair of the House Appropriations Committee. By our count, at least a dozen more have either announced or are rumored to be thinking about hanging up their cleats, and it appears that the number will grow as Petition Day draws near.
Meanwhile, a hundred miles to the east, inauguration festivities were Monday’s order of the day. Jim Kenney is now officially Philly’s 99th mayor, and he and City Council marked the day with a series of celebratory events. Looking at the year ahead, Council President Darrell Clarke listed affordable housing, better schools and jobs at the top of the city’s agenda.
One of the mayor’s first acts was to restore Philly’s status as a “sanctuary city,” meaning that local police are not obligated to cooperate with federal immigration agents by providing information about undocumented immigrants.
Also in Philly, Eagles’ owner Jeff Lurie killed coach Chip Kelly’s buzz, firing him before the last game of the season and saying that Kelly just couldn’t seem to connect with people. Fans, current players, Deshaun Jackson and even Mayor Kenney expressed their satisfaction with Kelly’s dismissal. There were no flags for piling on.
Montgomery County Commission Chair Josh Shapiro remains mum on the subject, but all of Pennsylvania expects him to become a candidate in the Democratic primary for attorney general, joining Stephen Zappala, Dave Fawcett, John Morganelli and Jack Stollsteimer. Incumbent Kathleen Kane would make six – still not enough to require a kids’ table – and it appears that Republican John Rafferty has the GOP side all to himself after winning a couple of straw polls late last month.
On the national front, President Obama signaled that he’s ready to relax and coast through the last year of his presidency, turning his attention toward a mundane, noncontroversial initiative to tighten gun control laws without consulting Congress. An Adams County lawmaker responded by introducing a bill that would render guns manufactured and sold in Pennsylvania exempt from the president’s rule changes.
The PA Department of Environmental Protection caused a stir in launching more stringent regulations for oil and gas drilling. Speaking on the buzz kill side of the issue, the Marcellus Shale Coalition said it was not consulted, and the new regulations will cost the industry an additional $2 billion per year.
This week’s installment of We Can’t Make This Up finds us at a California Pizza Hut, where employees posted video of themselves smoking dope while working in the restaurant’s kitchen on New Year’s Eve. On its website, the company said, "There is no tolerance for this kind of activity at any of our restaurants. The local franchise owner took swift action and the employees involved will no longer work for Pizza Hut." Now that, friends, is a DOUBLE buzz kill.
So that should bring you up to date as we rush headlong into the new year! From all of us at Triad, have a great weekend, and we’ll see you back here next week!
The Triadvocate is a publication of Triad Strategies, LLC, a bipartisan lobbying, public affairs, strategic communications, grassroots advocacy, issue management consulting firm located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh