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Politics & Government

With End Of 'Payless Paydays,' Budget Stalemate Could Stretch On

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AP Photo/Chris Knight
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Gov. Tom Wolf points out details of a budget plan last week at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Some see the state Capitol deadlock over a state budget as political dysfunction or theatre. But it's also a social experiment: this is the year Pennsylvanians will see how a court decision ending "payless paydays" affects the budget negotiations.

In 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled commonwealth employees must be paid, even if a political stalemate delays the approval of a state spending plan.

The decision removed what was arguably the biggest source of pressure on lawmakers and the governor to reach a deal - thousands of angry people working without paychecks.

"There's no penalty, no price to pay, for lawmakers and the governor for failure to meet the deadline," said Franklin & Marshall pollster Terry Madonna. "Services get provided, the state workers get paid. Life goes on for Pennsylvania residents."

There hasn't been a real budget stalemate since 2009. But divided government and intense ideology on both sides is shaping up to make this year different.

In this post-"payless paydays" world, pressure to approve a budget is expected to intensify sometime in late July or August, when nonprofits and schools face the prospect of running out of money because they're not receiving state funds.

"It's going to take some kind of a serious disruption of services to have constituents begin to put pressure on the lawmakers and the governor to resolve the budget," said Madonna.

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature are still sparring with TV ads, tweets, e-mailed memos, and press statements. The state spending plan is more than a week late -- with no compromise in sight.