Auditor general adds up costs of budget impasse, says deal must be done soon

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The pain of the state’s budget impasse is finally being felt and folks are finally complaining about it.

Four young adults with physical disabilities held a news conference Tuesday to voice concern about funding for a program that would help them get jobs after high school. Josie Badger of Pittsburgh said she speaks for tens of thousands of worried teens across Pennsylvania, “who want to work, they need to work and they deserve to work.”

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D) is the state’s fiscal watchdog. He has a bully pulpit and he used it in a news conference of his own. He brought attention to the plight of school districts across the state, several of which are forced to borrow money as the impasse drags on.

DePasquale said 17 school districts have borrowed nearly $400 million. Taxpayers have spent more than $11 million in interest on those loans. That’s wasted money, DePasquale said, and the number gets higher by the day.

He spotlighted Steelton-Highspire which is broke and has failed repeatedly in its attempt to secure loans from banks.

“Right now, Steelton’s being worked over by the state,” DePasquale said forcefully and bluntly.

The York native called on both sides of the budget squabble to get a deal done quickly.

Senator Scott Wagner (R-York) interjected himself into DePasquale’s news conference to blame fellow York Countian Governor Wolf for vetoing the stopgap that would’ve funded schools. Wagner pointed toward Wolf’s office and said, “he’s the guy holding school districts hostage.”

Wolf shrugged off Wagner’s criticism.

“I think it’s a little bit disingenuous, actually it’s a lot disingenuous, to blame me for this,” the governor said.

But Wolf did veto the GOP stopgap budget Tuesday. That means schools and social services get no money while the impasse continues. It’s now 91 days late.

“I want to fight,” Wolf said. “I want us to actually have a budget that works and I’m willing to stand up. I think that’s why I was elected, not to put up with the same old smoke and mirrors in the past that has taken Pennsylvania to not a good place.”

But DePasquale said Pennsylvania’s not in a good place when taxpayers are paying interest on loans while money sits in their treasury. The state continues to collect income and sales taxes. He pointed to a map of financially floundering school districts and said the time for finger pointing is over, it’s long past time for deal making.

“Because if we don’t, that map will look a lot worse when I’m back here in the middle of October, and I guarantee I’ll be back here in mid-October if it isn’t solved,” he said. “I don’t care if it puts anyone in an uncomfortable position.”

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