How Pennsylvania’s budget could impact area seniors and children

The budget stalemate in Harrisburg last year hurt Mercer County seniors and schools

sharon schools budget

MERCER CO., Pa. (WYTV) – Budget talks are at a stalemate again in Pennsylvania. Legislators have a plan for how they’ll spend money, but they don’t have a plan for where the money will come from.

They are undecided on how to fund $1.5 billion of the $31.5 billion budget.

Republicans in the House want to expand gaming and liquor sales, and increase the tax on certain tobacco products. Democrats in the Senate would like to see a consumption tax on natural gas, and not as much from gaming proceeds or a tobacco tax.

“At least there are discussions going on and for a long time last year, there simply weren’t even talks,” said Representative Tedd Nesbit.

The spending plan Pennsylvania’s House and Senate came up with this year will allow senior programs to stay steady, and Sharon Schools should see a 4.5 percent increase from the state.

Even though they are further along than they were this time last year, legislators must come to an agreement on how to fund the budget by Monday.

“I don’t expect to see a repeat of last year where it extended for a long period of time,” said Representative Mark Longietti.

Nonprofit organizations and schools were hurt by the budget impasse last year and while they’re not expecting as much of an impact this year, they won’t know for sure until the budget is decided upon.

Between 85 and 90 percent of Mercer County’s senior centers are dependent on lottery funds, according to Sam Bellich with the county’s Area Agency on Aging.

The budget stalemate in Harrisburg last year hurt Mercer County seniors for months.

“What really got hurt was our meals program and our senior centers. We had to close all four of our senior centers,” Bellich said.

Having no budget also caused a lot of problems for Sharon Schools, one of the highest-poverty districts in Pennsylvania.

“In Sharon, we’re almost 70 percent state-funded…because it’s all based on your poverty level,” said Superintendent Michael Calla. “It’s a pretty dramatic impact when we don’t have a state budget for us.”

The district was not able to fill an opening for a new teacher or buy materials it needed.

“For the last five years, the budgets have been based on smoke and mirrors. They move the money out of one fund and into another,” Calla said.

Both Nesbit and Longietti want a compromise for Pennsylvania’s young and old residents.

“Those are the folks that we, as a society, have decided need help,” Nesbit said.

“As one of my more moderate Republican colleagues has said, ‘It’s not fiscally responsible to be a deadbeat,'” Longietti said.

Any agreement needs to be on Governor Tom Wolf’s desk by Monday.

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