I know what you are thinking: deadlines didn't work then and they won't work now. That's why my legislation will also require the legislature to remain in continuous session, meeting every day without leave, without pay, without reimbursements, and without per diems, if a complete budget is not passed and signed by July 1. The same goes for the governor, his senior staff and cabinet members. That doesn't mean salary, reimbursements and per diems will be temporarily suspended and paid out after a budget plan is passed, as is currently the case. It means they'll be forfeited. It means when the legislature and the governor don't do their job and don't meet their constitutional obligations, they get nothing.
In addition, any meetings between legislative leaders and the governor after June 30 must be open to the public. The practice of playing out the budget in "he-said, she-said" leaks to the press is certainly unproductive. It has only served to further partisan gridlock and finger-pointing. If you are going to negotiate with the peoples' money and the peoples' business, do it in front of the people.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania ought to move toward biennial budgets, as is done in almost 20 other states, to reduce the uncertainty of the yearly budget process and allow more planning and financial stability for our schools and human service agencies.
Finally, let me be clear that all sides are to blame for the budget impasse. While the aforementioned changes will no doubt be beneficial, the hardest part will be changing the culture of Harrisburg.
Dragging on a budget process to (or past) the 11th hour does not mean the legislature is working hard. It means lawmakers are falling short. We may not be able to force all involved to agree, but we can create real consequences that will shake up the status quo and give the citizens budgets on time.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman is a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania's 19th Senatorial District in parts of Chester County.
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