The only other state without a budget is Illinois' opposite: Pennsylvania

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner enters the Illinois House chamber for his first budget address last year.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner enters the Illinois House chamber for his first budget address last year. Associated Press File Photo

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with reporters at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with reporters at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Associated Press File Photo

By Mary Hansen
Posted2/8/2016 5:45 AM

This week, a first-term governor facing lawmakers of a different party will try to present a new balanced state budget even though last year's work remains unfinished.

In Pennsylvania.


As Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner continues his fight with Democrats here over a state budget due last summer, 550 miles east on I-80, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf prepares to address lawmakers Tuesday in Pennsylvania, where the budget fight has lasted about as long.

Rauner and Wolf share a title and an alma mater (both attended Dartmouth College), but experts say their similarities end there.

"They're mirror opposites," said Joe McLaughlin, director of Temple University's Institute for Public Affairs.

Wolf has been pushing for higher taxes to cover a revenue gap and increased education spending. Rauner has criticized Democrats in the legislature here for suggesting tax hikes while refusing to pass what he sees as business-friendly reforms.

McLaughlin, citing a series of papers he and researchers at Temple published on the Pennsylvania state government, says divided government and the need for more revenue are the most common reasons for late budgets.

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Another contributing factor for these two states is a newly elected governor learning how to work with the legislature, says Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

"You get that once every four or eight years. Hopefully, they'll figure out how to work together," he said.

Late state budgets are not rare. For this fiscal year, 12 state legislatures extended their sessions or called special sessions to pass a spending plan, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states, including Pennsylvania and Illinois, began the fiscal year without enacting a budget.

Eight months into Illinois' fiscal year, it and Pennsylvania are the last holdouts in the U.S. In Illinois, the historically long stalemate has led to a deteriorating social safety net and some state universities threatening layoffs and closure.

"These are anomalies. One would hope that this doesn't lead to more situations like this," Mooney said. "We can't live like this. It frays the body politic."


Mooney says a major distinction between the two states is that Rauner is tying his budget negotiations to non-budget issues, like collective bargaining. That makes compromise more difficult.

"Budgetary places are classic for compromise, but you can't do that with term limits or right to work," Mooney said. But he doesn't blame only Rauner. "Neither side is moving on the core issues. That's what it's going to take," Mooney said.

Pennsylvania has made some progress. In December, Wolf signed parts of a budget to fund education and social services through March.

Before the partial budget passed, school districts in the state had taken on nearly $1 billion in debt to keep schools running through the fall. The Pennsylvania School Board Association is suing state officials to recover that money on behalf of districts.

In Illinois, Rauner dodged a similar crisis by signing the Democrats' school budget in the summer. The move avoided a question of whether schools would open in the fall, relieving a key pressure point and perhaps lengthening the impasse.

Similarly, in Pennsylvania, court orders have kept some money flowing to social services and helped ease pressure. This is much different from budget stalemates past, said McLaughlin.

"It used to be, when you didn't have a budget, nobody got paid, no checks went out. It was ugly, but also an enormous amount of pressure," he said.

On Thursday, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger said spending mandated by consent decrees and court orders on social services could cost Illinois up to $1.2 billion more than the previous year by July.

But, in both states, observers say the lawmakers will likely not do anything too controversial to resolve the crisis until after the primary elections. For Pennsylvania, that's not until April 26. In Illinois, it's March 15.

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