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PA budget must take back seat

From a 2020-21 budget-planning standpoint, Pennsylvania lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf still have adequate time to assemble a responsible spending package prior to the June 30 end of the current fiscal year, despite the challenges and uncertainties that the coronavirus crisis has heaped upon this commonwealth.

During other years when there has not been such a deadly menace at hand, lawmakers were in late March just starting to assemble the important fiscal pieces that ultimately would become a year-long spending blueprint.

Actually, in many past years, lawmakers, rather than getting down to serious budget business, still were using this time of the year to verbally bash the budget proposal submitted by the Governor’s Office a month or so earlier.

Of course, the weeks after the governor’s budget address is the time when lawmakers examine the needs and spending priorities of the various departments and agencies.

Mirror readers had the opportunity to follow some of those sessions prior to the coronavirus’ arrival in this country, albeit not within the Keystone State’s borders.

But with COVID-19’s unwanted entry into this state, even something as important as the budget has been forced to take a back seat as safety recommendations, precautions and restrictions have been put forth and the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg has been made off-limits to the public.

The future is marked with uncertainty, and so too the way this year’s budget exercise will be carried out. All considered, state residents should be hopeful bipartisanship and compromise are witnessed to a degree not seen during any previous budget-preparation process.

Fear surrounding COVID-19 will persist beyond June 30, even if the deadly assault it is guilty of inflicting in these early months of 2020 is bludgeoned to death by the national and state efforts targeting it.

Social distancing and staying home as much as possible — part of what is keeping state government from business as usual on the budget and many other fronts — appear at this time to be the best weapons against the virus’ spread, minus the existence of a vaccine or medically based cure.

From the standpoint of the state Legislature, newly approved rules enabling members of the House and Senate to conduct business remotely have good judgment as their bases. Even if lawmaker absence from the state’s governmental chambers undermines budget completion by fiscal year’s end, legislators’ health is what is most important.

Budget deadlines have been missed in the past without long-term harm to the commonwealth. A missed deadline this year doesn’t have to be catastrophic either if, again, bipartisanship and compromise untimately prevail.

Perhaps this year’s challenge will serve as a good tutorial for budget-preparation exercises, going forward.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, characterized the new COVID-19-inspired rules in state government’s upper chamber as “something we don’t do lightly,” but “unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions.”

On the House side, Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, characterized new, temporary House rules as providing the opportunity to address issues in a way that not only helps protect lawmakers but also helps state government comply with recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and those of Pennsylvania’s secretary of health.

It is vital that Pennsylvania leaders operate harmoniously, not contentiously, in their pursuit of what is best now for residents and this great state in its entirety.

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