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Pennsylvania Counties Respond to Month-long State Budget Stalemate

News Date: Tuesday, August 1, 2023

State Capitol
The sky might not be falling yet, but we have to prepare for what could be a grim reality.
This week, Pennsylvania marked the end of its first month without a state budget for this fiscal year.

For many Pennsylvanians, this occasion does not even merit a blip on their radar screens - as far as they can tell, it is business as usual.

But for our county officials who bear the weight of responsibility to make sure services are available to their residents, this occasion looms large. This would be the time counties would expect the first of the fiscal year’s quarterly payments from the state for things like child welfare, mental health services, substance abuse services, homeless programs and other community supports.

Because Pennsylvania still doesn’t have a state budget, though, those funds aren’t arriving, and counties aren’t sure when they will.

But after years of underfunding these services, the system is already at its breaking point. Providers have closed, waits to access services have increased to months, and then may only be available far away. The financial uncertainty of not knowing how these services can be sustained without funding from the state creates even more stress, fear and worry that simply isn’t necessary.

What residents don’t see is that their counties are going to do everything they can do make sure they don’t suffer as a result of the state’s inaction. But even though those state funds will eventually come through once a budget is passed, bridging the gap until then will come with a cost. Some counties who find themselves with a surplus or reserves may be able to leverage those funds - forgoing other projects or services for which those funds might have been otherwise used, or missing out on interest investments. At some point, counties may face the prospect of taking out loans or tax anticipation notes, and with taxpayers footing the bill for the fees and interest.

For our state partners who don’t have to dig through the couch cushions and raid their piggy banks, who don’t have to consider the extra costs their taxpayers are going to bear, and who aren’t the ones who have to actually figure out how to make this work without putting critical services in even more jeopardy, it might be easy to look around and say the state budget impasse is no big deal at this point. Counties know better. The sky might not be falling yet, but we have to prepare for what could be a grim reality.

The state has the means to prevent this. One missed payment is one missed payment too many. We call on the General Assembly and Governor Shapiro to work together to end this impasse as quickly as possible.