It’s time to change Pa.’s budget process

Is anyone getting tired of the Pennsylvania Legislature’s old, broken method of adopting budgets?

We bet most Pennsylvanians are frustrated over how their elected representatives in Harrisburg go about making critical decisions on spending taxpayers’ money.

The new fiscal years come and go, and rarely as of late have budgets been approved on time.

It’s damaging, and moreso to the Legislature itself.

Trust in government is compromised.

A few people make the most decisions behind closed doors.

When elected members of the House and Senate fail to approve a budget on time, the message they send to taxpayers is that they cannot work together, they don’t have their house in order, and they’re out of touch with the average taxpayer.

Yes, the issues are complicated.

They have long-lasting impacts.

Payments for critical services are held up.

Public education is among the victims … every year.

Local school boards rarely know what state subsidies they receive before they pass their own budget and set priorities for educating our children.

Is that really how we want to value public education in Pennsylvania?

Here we are, two months from the budget approval deadline of June 30 and Pennsylvania still has no final budget.

Even the majority Republican Party members cannot agree on a completed budget.

The Senate Republican majority approved a plan with various tax and fee increases well past the deadline.

The House isn’t scheduled to return to work until Sept. 11.

Isn’t it time to make a change? That’s just what state Rep. Pam Snyder of Greene, Fayette and Washington counties has in mind with legislation she is proposing. It’s reasonable.

“We can’t let a few lawmakers behind closed doors make all the decisions. Every citizen should get a voice. Families in our communities review every dollar they spend, so why shouldn’t our government do the same?” says Snyder, a Democrat.

Her plan would require all standing House committees to take 60 days after the governor proposes a state budget (usually in February) and closely examine each state agency’s proposed spending plan. Each lawmaker on each committee also would be able to present changes and improvements to be voted on by the relevant committee before moving forward.

Now and in the past, legislative majority party leaders negotiate with each other to arrive at an agreed-to budget package, which all lawmakers are asked to vote on, sometimes with only a few hours’ notice.

It’s a take-it-or-leave-it situation with no chance for a thorough review or change.

“Instead of legislative leaders throwing a package at our feet and hoping to have 102 members agree to support it based on trust, this new process would allow a thorough review of the package components by all members ahead of time and ask us to stand by the suggestions we’ve made to the overall spending plan,” Snyder says.

It does not matter which party has a majority in the General Assembly, the closed-door negotiations and force-fed budget process seemingly always rules in Pennsylvania.

It’s time for change. Pennsylvania deserves better.