July 2009 - It's Time to Think

July 2009 -- It’s Time to Think


Judy Schwank


Dear Friends,


As I write this message (July 9), the Commonwealth does not yet have a budget in place for 2009-2010. Unless you just emerged from a cave somewhere outside of Penn’s Woods, you know the budget should have been passed by June 30th and the negotiation process between the Administration and the State Legislature has been extraordinarily contentious.

It’s interesting to watch the budget process from the Harrisburg perspective. Every special interest has been lobbying like mad to save their slice of the state funding pie. The prevailing message to the budget protagonists seems to be –don’t cut my programs, cut the fat in the budget somewhere else and by the way, don’t even consider a tax increase! State employees who could be facing a blank paycheck very shortly are ratcheting up the rhetoric too. They can’t be blamed for wanting to get paid for their work and they are letting everyone know it.

Citizen response to the cuts and the proposed income tax increase is noteworthy too. Most are reacting with indifference to the cuts (unless they have a special cause) and there is an almost visceral negative reaction to the tax increase. Small wonder in this economy.

The budget process is shaping up to be a battle royal.

We had a good discussion at our last 10,000 Friends Board meeting on how we should position ourselves on the budget. Should we be lobbying to save our favorite programs? How can we be most effective at conveying our concerns to the administration and the legislators?

After much thoughtful discourse our Board Chair, Eric Menzer, summed it up best when he remarked, “It’s time to think, not react.” His point was that no matter how the state budget finally shakes out, it’s a given that there will be significant cuts in funding to most of the programs we follow. As an organization that prides itself on being positive and proactive, 10,000 Friends must review the state budget through a different lens. Rather than clamoring about specific cuts, we should be advocating for a bi-partisan, reasoned, and most importantly, strategic approach to how we deal with the most significant financial crisis in the commonwealth that many of us can remember.

Yes, there is probably less than effective spending in almost every budget line item. It is troubling, however, that our lawmakers appear to be using a hatchet rather than a scalpel to determine where the cuts should be made. It also appears that budget cuts alone will not resolve this problem. What are the options on how revenues can be raised? Aren’t there enough budget analysts in Harrisburg to figure that out?

We elected our legislators to make hard decisions. Instead they’re engaging in political gamesmanship and, in effect, passing the buck to county and local governments. It’s important to note that many of the budget cuts being considered at the state level will mean reduced revenue for counties, municipalities and school districts – and, ultimately, higher property taxes. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to raise taxes. The buck stops at local government.

As a former county commissioner, I have made that tough vote to raise taxes. Its gut wrenching knowing that your vote will cause considerable hardship for many of your constituents. However, the alternative, cutting essential services or programs that you believe are truly cost –effective and making a positive impact, is equally unpalatable.

Someone in Harrisburg has to make the hard decisions too.


Judy Schwank
President and CEO
10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania 

Please feel free to contact me in the Harrisburg at the central office of 10,000 Friends. My email is jschwank@10000friends.org, or call me at 717-234-6070.