Pennsylvania: Governor signs a temporary solution to the long-standing budget feud
On Dec. 29, 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1460, a partial budget, into law, albeit with numerous line item vetoes. The legislation represents a stopgap measure to keep the lights on while lawmakers continue to fight over what should be the state’s budgetary priorities. In the governor’s press release announcing his action, he highlighted the fact that he was vetoing the Republicans’ plan to cut $95 million from education, along with other items that “they don’t pay for.” This press release went on to explain that if the governor approved the budget in the form passed by the legislature, based on current revenue estimates, Pennsylvania would end the year with over a half billion dollar deficit, with a structural deficit of over $2.3 billion.
The vigor with which the governor attacked the Republicans shows how combative the situation has become in the Keystone state. In rejecting the budget Republicans put forth, Gov. Wolf asserted in his press release that he was “expressing the outrage that all of us should feel about the garbage the Republican legislative leaders have tried to dump on us. This budget is wrong for Pennsylvania. And our legislators – the folks we elected to serve us – need to own up to this. They need to do their jobs. This budget is wrong for so many reasons, but especially because it does not balance, increases our deficit and fails to invest in our schools and our future.”
The Tax Foundation observed that the $30.26 billion budget is 4.2 percent more than last year’s, and that $540 million remains at issue. Among the vetoed items are $3.1 billion for education, which the governor justified because the proposed budget had cut education by $95 million and had also eliminated $2 billion for Medicaid. Both of these areas are covered in the short term by way of emergency funding. In addition, the Pennsylvania Treasury has begun distributing $3.3 billion in back payments to school districts, counties, and social service organizations.
Of course, lawmakers must resolve these and the other budgetary matters, and the sooner the better. Philly.com revealed that Gov. Wolf sent a letter to House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, the two GOP caucus leaders, contending that “[t]here is no reason why the House and Senate shouldn't be called back into session, to get back to work and implement the bipartisan budget agreement.” In his press release, the Governor blamed Republicans for walking away from that bipartisan agreement and passing “an irresponsible budget so they could return home to their districts and take holiday vacations.”