EDITORIAL - Budget swamp: As the casualties mount, both parties take a risk

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Every week the list grows longer. With the state nearly two months without a budget, strains are being felt all over Pennsylvania by people whose lives depend on state funding.

While some of them are among society's most vulnerable, others are the people next door -- taxpaying, school-going, job-holding Pennsylvanians.

College students don't know the size of their state aid. Services for the elderly and the disabled have not gotten state funding. Reimbursements to counties to run the courts are on ice. Some of the 8,500 day-care providers that use state subsidies for low-income families are cutting services, laying off staff or closing their doors.

The Fort Pitt Museum, Bushy Run Battlefield and other historic sites have closed. Rape crisis centers, veterans' services and adult literacy programs are struggling without state funds. And today school districts will miss their second monthly state subsidy payment, a total of $1.3 billion since the start of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, a breakthrough is nowhere in sight. Gov. Ed Rendell said Monday, "It's more important to do the budget right than to do it fast." We agree up to a point, but "fast" would have been a budget enacted by July 1.

It's encouraging that legislators are making progress, according to Mr. Rendell, toward agreement on an overall spending figure. But both sides need to accept another reality: reliance on special-interest taxes used in other states, like a higher cigarette tax, Pennsylvania's first tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco and a tax on drilling in the Marcellus Shale zone.

Without agreement to include these elements, the impasse will only drag on. It will soon be 2010, a legislative election year, and Democrats and Republicans alike will pay the price.


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