Government that works and government that doesn't; Pennsylvanians saw both this week
Pennsylvanians recently got to see the two sides of Harrisburg.
First, the positive side. Months after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, a large bipartisan majority of representatives were able to use the persistent pressure and advocacy of thousands of patients and families to finally pass a similar bill in the House.
Success came only after supporters were able to overcome months of obstruction by a few powerful legislators who opposed the bill. It was a great example of legislators working in a bipartisan fashion to pass commonsense -- and in this case compassionate -- legislation that will relieve suffering and benefit tens of thousands of Pennsylvania citizens.
Important work remains to be done; the House and Senate versions of the bill still have to be aligned before the governor signs it, but Pennsylvania finally seems ready to enact a legal, well-controlled and effective medical marijuana program that will allow many doctors to provide the help their patients need.
Unfortunately, the latest budget action this week also demonstrated the worst side of Harrisburg…the part that increasingly seems broken.
Back in December, the House and Senate were hours away from taking the votes necessary to finalize a state budget that not only would have provided the funding needed for schools and human services, but also would have laid the foundation for sustained funding in future years, paid our bills and begun to fix the state's $2 billion structural budget deficit. As everyone remembers, that didn't happen; the speaker of the House decided to send everyone home and Republicans in the House and Senate passed an inadequate budget that was $350 million out of balance before they left.
Fast forward to this week. After three weeks of talking about compromise during the 2016-17 budget hearings, Republicans held votes on another 2015-16 spending plan they introduced without input from Democrats or the governor. This plan provides even less funding than the December spending bill and is still hundreds of millions of dollars out of balance.
It's clear the standoff needs to end. School districts across the state are starved for cash due to years of underfunding in previous budgets. Those same budgets have also made more borrowing too expensive or impossible. Several schools may be forced to close early.
House Democrats are still willing to work with Republicans and the governor in any way we can to keep schools open and meet the other pressing needs of Pennsylvanians. But we do not believe Pennsylvania can afford to enact another unbalanced budget that doesn't pay the bills and that further aggravates the structural deficit, forces more cuts, and drives school property and other local taxes higher for the foreseeable future.
As we close out a week that highlighted the two very different versions of Harrisburg, the next few weeks will be crucial in determining which one prevails over the next several years.