4-H clubs the next to suffer in budget saga

March 20, 2016
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

The pain keeps trickling down in Pennsylvania’s never-ending budget saga.

A little more than a year after Gov. Tom Wolf introduced his first budget, he and his Republican adversaries in the state Legislature continue to bicker over major parts of the spending plan, and that is holding key programs hostage.

The two sides begrudgingly agreed to a small portion of the spending plan for basic education and human services, but the governor line-item vetoed many other parts that have left numerous government agencies in limbo.

The battle continued last week as the Republicans once again sent the Democratic governor a budget they knew he would reject.

The continued political antics have prompted growing concerns from more groups that rely on state funding. The latest one to sound the alarm of impending financial doom is the Penn State Extension and the 4-H clubs it oversees.

Joseph Conklin, the extension’s district director for Greene, Fayette and Washington counties, said the organization will be forced to shut down July 1 if the two sides cannot agree on a spending plan in the next few months. The extension should have a budget of $50.5 million this fiscal year, but without proper funding, it has been forced to take a $32 million loan from Penn State University, and that money is quickly dwindling.

The closure of Penn State Extension, even if just temporary, would have disastrous consequences for important programs such as those involving 4-H students and the Master Gardeners that are so prevalent in rural communities.

Conklin, who noted they’re still continuing their normal programming with the help of the loan, sounded the alarm to the Greene County commissioners last week about the impending closure if there isn’t a resolution of the state budget impasse soon.

“The budget needs to be passed in some shape or form, or we’re going to disappear,” Conklin told the commissioners Thursday.

“The clock is ticking, and the money is running out.”

Local families are now also raising concerns about how the continuing impasse will affect the long-held tradition of livestock sales at county fairs.

“People are starting to get nervous since it’s dragged on,” said Christina Becker, the 4-H’s educator in Greene County. “Families are worried.”

Randy Naser, a Washington County Fair board member and leader of Vankirk Friendship 4-H Club, said the fairs will go on as scheduled regardless, but the children who raise animals might be the biggest losers in this budget debacle.

“I think it’s going to affect a lot of the kids,” Naser said. “All the kids pay in to join a 4-H club.”

Predictably, Republicans in the House and Senate are blaming the governor, while he’s pointing the finger at legislators.

This petty blame game has been going on for too long, and it is raising serious questions whether the state government can actually function. It’s becoming increasingly clear it cannot and a major shakeup is needed from top to bottom.

Fortunately for the governor, he’s not on the ballot in this upcoming election.

The same can’t be said for all of the state representatives, who must run for office every election cycle, and half of the senators, who hold four-year terms in office.

We hope the voters will remember the political games that have been played with the budget over the past 12 months when they head to polls in one month for the primary election April 26.

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