Legislature Sends Another Budget to Gov.’s Desk

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

With the looming threat of layoffs at hospitals and educational institutions as a result of the budget impasse, the General Assembly attempted yet again last week to resolve unfinished portions of the 2015-16 budget by sending Gov. Tom Wolf a budget bill that would bring total state spending for this fiscal year to $30 billion, without raising taxes. House Bill 1801 passed the House in a 128-63 vote, with 115 Republicans and 13 Democrats voting in the affirmative. The Senate passed the bill in a 31-18 vote along mostly party lines.

House Bill 1801 would result in the state spending 3 percent more than was spent in 2014-15 – about $238 million less than the budget plan that the General Assembly passed in December and Gov. Wolf line-item vetoed. The sentiment among lawmakers who voted “yes” on H.B. 1801 was generally that spending increases that were agreed-to last year can no longer be put in place, as it’s the last quarter of the fiscal year. The new plan sets education funding levels at $5.93 billion – an increase of $203 million over 2014-15 – but still about $175 million less than the governor wants. The budget plan provides for a 5 percent increase in funding for the state’s 18 public universities and the 14 community colleges.

Given that his 2016-17 budget plan relies on more hypothetical revenue from the final 2015-16 spending number, Gov. Wolf not surprisingly announced an intent to veto the legislation. Moments after the Senate passed the bill (with all Republicans and one Democrat supporting it) the governor issued a statement saying that the plan simply doesn’t spend enough: “In its current form, I will veto this budget, and I urge Republicans in the legislature to … negotiate a final budget that funds our schools and eliminates the nearly $2 billion deficit. I look forward to working with both parties in the legislature to finally end this impasse, fix our schools, and eliminate the deficit.”

However, there is a growing possibility that the legislature could have the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto this time around. According to a story in Pennlive, between 13 and 28 House Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans on Wednesday to approve the various funding bills. A veto-proof majority would require a minimum of 16 Democratic votes, and GOP leaders have said they will schedule an override vote if the governor vetoes the legislation.