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Politics & Government

Amid PA's Current State Budget Impasse, A Flashback To 1991

Twenty-four years ago, in late July, Joyce David was running out of patience.

The commonwealth's budget was five weeks late, and David's husband, a state auditor, hadn't received a paycheck in a month.

"The paralysis stems from a potential tax increase," reported The Associated Press in 1991.

David didn't much care what was causing it. She had three young kids at home. The family was almost out of money. So she decided to do something.

"I packed my children and I drove to Harrisburg for answers," said David in a recent phone interview. "I'm not exactly sure that I had a plan when I left. I was just angry and wanted answers."

The drive from her home in Grove City, Mercer County to Harrisburg took more than four hours. David did it with three kids under the age of nine. Her aim was to speak to then-Gov. Robert Casey.

"We went to the governor's mansion; they wouldn't let us in. We went to his office; he didn't want to let us in there. So I knocked on every door that I could," said David. "Every senator, every representative that I could find ... got a visit from me."

David wasn't alone in her frustration. State employees were already at the Capitol protesting the late budget that was snarling their paychecks. They hoisted signs in the rotunda and mocked lawmakers with their chants. They set up a soup kitchen on the Capitol's front steps.

The news reports that month were peppered with stories about the effect of the late budget. State prison guards who hadn't been paid in weeks were keeping watch over inmates who continued to receive their pay. Some state workers applied for food stamps.

David had questions for lawmakers.

"'Tell my kids why they don't have any food to eat,'" she would ask. "'When do you think you might be able to do your job?'"

The David family remained in Harrisburg for a week, camping out in their station wagon.

"I actually parked the car right across the street from the governor's mansion," said David. "I wanted him to see me every day when he went to work."

Late budgets haven't held up state workers' paychecks since 2009, when a court decision ruled that the state had to pay employees during an impasse. But social service providers and some schools will feel the pain of halted state payments if the standoff continues through August.

David has little sympathy for the politicians who justify tardy budgets as the result of holding out for the best deal.

"They have an entire year to pass this budget," David said. "In the end, the ones who are being hurt are not the guys making the decisions."

Pennsylvania's 1991 budget impasse ended shortly after David schlepped her kids to Harrisburg. The spending plan was signed in early August.

This year, no one in the Capitol expects a budget to be settled so soon.