Budget process reforms can prevent a budget impasse

With just 30 days until the June 30th State Constitutional deadline, PA lawmakers are no closer to a budget agreement than they were at this time last year. Read the latest news article on the PA budget: Revenue shortfalls hold up budget, by Jan Murphy, Sunday Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA) 5/30/10.
Last year’s 101 day PA budget impasse devastated hundreds if not thousands of 501(c)(3) nonprofits that contracted with State and County agencies to provide crucial community services. Without a state budget this year, these same nonprofit contractors will again not receive timely payment for services rendered. On October 8, 2009, David Ross (PANO), Sharon Ward (PA Budget and Policy Center) and others held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda. We said “we can never let this happen again”.  Now a budget impasse could be happening again, because nothing has changed since last year.  A solution does exist though.  It’s called Budget Process Reforms.  All it needs is public support.  Some of our proposals are listed below.  You decide…

What really happened in 2009?

In 2009 the Pennsylvania General Assembly failed to pass state budget legislation to authorize taxing and spending for Fiscal Year 2009-2010 until 101 days after its June 30 Constitutional deadline. For three and a half months, State Government in Pennsylvania operated without a taxing and spending plan, asserting that it lacked the authority to pay on its contracts and grants.

While the debate centered on spending priorities, thousands of organizations that relied on billions of dollars in state funding to serve their communities were forced to make the impossible choice of cutting services to the needy, laying off staff, or closing their doors altogether. Nonprofits, counties, and schools continued to provide vital services in the absence of funding– often at their own expense.

The Budget impasse devastated many of Pennsylvania’s nonprofit service providers. Bridge loans must be paid back with interest; furloughed workers may never return; and late fees and business interruption costs deplete scarce charitable resources. The vast majority of nonprofits lack the reserves to absorb the cost of late government payments. The 2009 Budget Impasse demonstrated that the budget process must be reformed if nonprofits are to continue serving State funded contracts or grants- and survive.

What has happened since then?

Since October 2009, a group of dedicated nonprofit professionals have worked tirelessly to compile the many bills and proposals that would reform the State budget process. Our goal was to propose recommendations for discussion, research, and introduce several bills that would reform the state budget process to prevent an impasse in the first place. We believed — and still do — that we can improve the Commonwealth’s budget process through legislation without requiring a Constitutional Amendment.

What are the proposals?

1. Common Cause of PA Proposal: Provides standing committees with authority to determine spending levels for Departments, and provides for input from rank and file legislators. It also includes a series of interim budget deadlines and fines legislators $100 per day that these interim deadlines are not met. Furthermore, if the budget is not approved by June 30, all members of the General Assembly, the Governor and Cabinet forfeit their salaries and as of July 1, their per diems are suspended until the new budget is enacted.

2. Interim Deadlines and Penalties: (SB1068)(Sen. Mike Brubaker) Imposes a protocol of interim deadlines on the budget process, as well as placing penalties on legislators for failure to pass a budget. Legislators would be required to forfeit their pay check and per diem for not meeting deadlines. In addition, a physical presence would be required in the Capitol until the deadlines are met.

3. Last Budget Governs Until New Budget Passes: Based on Joint Resolution (HB1952)(Rep. Bryan Barbin). Seeks to Amending the State Constitution to ensure that if a budget is not approved by June 30, then government agencies and contractors will operate on the prior fiscal year’s appropriation until the new budget is enacted.

4. Emergency Essential Services Fund: (Sen. Kim Ward) Provides that if the State budget is not enacted by July 15, the State Treasurer must periodically transfer unappropriated, unrestricted available General Fund moneys, to a newly created “Emergency Essential Social Services Fund” administered by the Treasury Department.  The Treasury would then transfer the funds bi-weekly to designated nonprofit institutions and agencies at a level not to exceed eighty five percent (85%) of the level at which those operations were authorized in the prior year’s budget. The Secretary of Revenue would determine if sufficient revenues have been received to cover the disbursements. Once the budget passes, payments would be adjusted pursuant to the program’s appropriation in the enacted budget.

5. Prompt Payment Resolution: (SR 200)(Sen. Mike Brubaker/David Ross) In the event of a budget impasse, this Resolution requests that once a budget does pass the State Treasure release funding for nonprofit organizations as quickly as possible to ensure the continued operation of and the least possible injury to nonprofit and charitable organizations.

I thank all who contributed to the research and writing the proposals.  For more information contact David A. Ross, J.D. at dross001@yahoo.com or at (717) 576-3689.

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HB2279 (PN3277) State Budget bill for FY2010-2011 Referred to Appropriations, March 24, 2010

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National Dog Bite Prevention Week Should Recognize Tethering

National Dog Bite Prevention Week. (May 19-26, 2010)
 
After experiencing as many as 7,000 dog bite injuries to its letter carriers in a single year, the US Postal Service partnered with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other interested parties to teach people how to avoid dog attacks and how to protect themselves if an attack occurs. 

Mail carriers nationwide record nearly 3,000 dog bite-related injuries each year. The most frequent victims of dog attacks however are children. In fact, children are nearly 900 times more likely to be bitten than letter carriers. Of the more than 4.7 million people bitten each year, small children, the elderly, and letter carriers (in that order) are the most frequent victims of dog bites. Of these 4.7 million victims each year, 2 million victims are children.  
 
Please note that under “How to Be a Responsible Dog Owner,” the USPS press release includes the following statement “Dogs that haven’t been properly socialized, receive little attention or handling, or are left tied up for long periods of time frequently turn into biters.”  This statement should mention tethering
 

Chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to attack humans than dogs that have not been chained — even greater for un-neutered males. Dogs are by nature social animals.   When isolated by tethering, dogs become fearful, stressed and aggressive.  Last year, 30 people died in the US from dog attacks. This year could be another 30 fatalities.  A statewide anti-tethering law would go a long way to help reduce a significant cause of dog attacks– dogs that are neglected and poorly socialized due to long-term tethering.   Such a law would help to identify owners of chained dogs, educate them that long-term tethering is a dangerous and risky practice, and encourage them to either build a fence, build a reasonable pen, bring their dog indoors, or find the dog a new home.

Next year will be another National Dog Bite Prevention Week.  Ask the US Postal Service, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to include tethering in their materials as a significant cause of dog attacks.   

New Dynamic for Higher Education

(3/13/09) State college tuition games, Blackstone Valley Tribune, by Kristina Reardon.  Barbara Fritze of Gettysburg College describes a new dynamic for higher education. Read the article on page 4, http://www.theheartofmassachusetts.com/pdf/BLA.2009.03.13.pdf.

‘Glimmers of Hope’ for Grads

(5/24/10) ‘Glimmers of Hope’ for Grads, by Steven Greenhouse, New York Times.

The latest study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that less than one quarter of this year’s college graduates who applied for a job prior to graduating, have one waiting for them after graduation. This is actually up 5% from last year. That said, salaries for graduates with liberal arts degrees fell 8.9%  from last year to an average of $33,540.  The glimmer of hope is for those in the tech and finance fields. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/business/economy/25gradjobs.html?src=mv

Are we in a recession from which we won’t recover? (Colleges must change to survive.)

(3/3/10) Jobs for Graduates in the Knowledge Economy?

Here’s an insightful article about the relationship between higher education, the economy and the job market.  Read this excerpt and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

“We are in a recession from which we won’t recover in the usual sense: We won’t return to economic vibrancy with the same distribution of employment opportunities as we had even a couple of years ago. Technology is now pervasive and has changed both the nature of knowledge and the ways we use knowledge in our jobs. It is time to replace classroom experiences with high-impact learning experiences, because right now our curriculum is out of step with the preparation our students need right now, this year, and next year and into the future.

College faculty in four-year colleges, universities, and research institutions in the U.S. traditionally have not expected to gear their teaching approaches with undergraduates to the specific needs of a job, even in the professions. Rather, undergraduate education has been perceived as preparing students to go into a field or into graduate school. But how that happens hasn’t seemed to be the concern of college faculty in the past. Course planning has traditionally not started with research into what kinds of work graduates are actually doing and how to teach your course to match that kind of work. Why not? We faculty have believed that teaching students job skills is too shortsighted. We thought we needed, instead, to focus on higher-level thinking skills and we needed to pass on disciplinary knowledge. Adjusting our curriculum to changes in the economy at the undergraduate level was not in the job description. Besides, graduates have always found jobs so what’s broken?”  

(3/3/10) Jobs for Graduates in the Knowledge Economy?  By Trent Batson. http://campustechnology.com/articles/2010/03/03/jobs-for-graduates-in-the-knowledge-economy.aspx.

IRS Still Scrutenizing Executive Compensation, Related Orgs & UBIT of Nonprofit Colleges.

(5/7/10) IRS Compliance Project (a.k.a. Investigation) Continues to Scrutinize Executive Compensations, Related Organizations, and Unrelated Business Income Taxes (UBIT) of Nonprofit Colleges and Universities. The Interim Report concludes that more colleges and universities reported engaging in taxable activities than actually paid taxes on these activities. Lois G. Lerner, Director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division stated, “We need to understand if this apparent disparity is appropriate or whether it indicates a broader compliance concern in the unrelated business income area.” Read the Interim Report at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/cucp_interimrpt_052010.pdf

Robert Egger’s Gettysburg College Address

 Watch the official video of Robert Egger’s commencement remarks at Gettysburg College (5.16.10).  It’s 13 minutes and 7 seconds of pure inspiration.  http://www.gettysburg.edu/commencement/2010/egger.dot

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