As the state budget impasse wears through its fifth month, service organizations and some of their funders are calling on state lawmakers to take action before services and programs statewide face more delays in funding.
The Pittsburgh Foundation partnered with the United Way of Allegheny County to launch a social media campaign using #PAPeopleCount. The groups are asking service providers, nonprofits and residents to let their digital voices be heard.
“Mostly what we’re asking them to do is to tell their stories,” said Maxwell King, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation. “Their stories are compelling. They help a lot of people who have disabilities or are elderly or have special needs, who need programs to help them to get to work… to do a whole wide variety of critical things.”
The goal is to impress upon lawmakers how the budget impasse is affecting some of the state’s most vulnerable people and the organizations that help them, King said.
State lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf reported this week that budget details are finally coming together. While the first-term Democrat and legislative Republicans deadlocked in June on a potential Marcellus Shale severance tax and an increase in state sales tax expected to steer more money to faltering public schools, other agencies have had to reduce services or cut staff hours to compensate for the delays.
“We’re not jumping into the middle of the budget fray and taking a bunch of positions on different issues," King said. "We’re just asking that in the future, the state government not hold the most needy hostage and we’re asking that real attention is paid to the need for full funding of health and human services.”
The groups are also calling on lawmakers to reform the budget process. King said he’d like to see a system in which all government operations stop if a budget is not passed by July 1.
“Not just programs for the poor and the needy, but I don’t think state employees, legislators (or) members of the administration should get paid,” King said. “I don’t see why liquor stores should be open. I don’t see why programs for the needy get cut back, but liquor stores are an essential service that stays open.”
King said he and others understand and respect the difficult position lawmakers are in.
“They have to represent both their own feelings about what is an appropriate budget, and they have to represent their constituents, but they don’t have to hold the poorest and the most vulnerable in the state hostage while they do it.”