Thursday, December 24, 2015

Gov. Wolf Not Saying Whether He’ll Veto Republican Budget Bill

This week was one long roller coaster ride, with some loop-de-loops thrown in for good measure.  One sure thing, the often-collapsed “agreed-to” budget framework is no more.
The bottom line is Gov. Wolf now has a $30.2 billion Republican budget on his desk-- House Bill 1460 (Adolph-R-Delaware)-- he must now decide how to handle.  His statement in reaction to the Senate passing the House Republican budget gave us no clues--
“Yesterday, the House advanced a responsible budget with historic education funding and placed it on the verge of passage. It is deeply disappointing that today the Senate has caved to those same House leaders and extreme interests to continue the failed status quo and harm our schools and children by denying them these critical additional funds.
“A historic compromise budget that included the largest increase in education funding in history, reforms in public pensions, and a reduction in the deficit was within reach. It seems that the Republican legislature is intent on continuing the Harrisburg status quo and getting out of town to go on vacation instead of continuing the hard work to move Pennsylvania forward.
“Change is difficult, and clearly more so given this legislature, but we must continue our fight for historic education funding that will begin to restore the cuts from five years ago, and a budget that is balanced, paid for, and fixes our deficit.”
Will he sign it so school districts, social service providers, state vendors and landlords and funding starved local governments and nonprofits can get their funding?  Or will he line-item veto, say the General Assembly’s funding, to keep the pressure on the Senate and House to give him some of what he wants?
As Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said, Gov. Wolf still has other leverage over the Senate and House because none of the non-preferred appropriations bills were passed and cannot be passed until there is a final budget agreement.
Non-preferreds include appropriations to Penn State University (in Sen. Corman’s district), University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University.
The ball is squarely in Gov. Wolf’s court.
NewsClip: AP: No Budget Decision Likely Before Monday
What’s In The Republican Budget
The Republican General Fund budget totals just over $30.2 billion-- $600 million less than the “agreed-to” budget and $300 million more than Gov. Wolf proposed in March.  It needs no new taxes to fund it, except for the question of funding the non-preferreds of course.
On the environmental side, the Republican budget begins the process of weaning the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources off Oil and Gas Fund revenues to pay for personnel and administration costs and proposes other increases here and there.  The changes include--
-- DEP
-- Sewage Facilities Grants: $900,000 increase, zeroed out in FY 2014-15
-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission: $100,00 less - $473,000
-- Total: $4.2 million increase
-- Environmental Hearing Board: $124,000 increase
-- General Government Operations: $6.5 million less moved from Oil & Gas Fund
-- State Park Operations: $31 million less moved from Oil & Gas Fund
-- State Forest Operations: $10.1 million less moved from Oil & Gas Fund
-- Heritage Parks: same as FY 2014-15-- $2.25 million
-- Total: $47.6 million increase
-- Agriculture
-- Total: $24.5 million increase from FY 2014-15
Click Here for a copy of the House Republican budget spreadsheet for House Bill 1460.
Summary Of What Happened This Week
Here’s a summary of what happened this week on the budget for those interested in the gory details.
Act I - Pension Bill Shot Down
On Saturday, December 19, the House failed to pass a pension reform bill-- Senate Bill 1071 (Browne-R-Lehigh), a key part of the “agreed-to” budget framework, by a wide margin-- 52 to 149.  House Democrats uniformly opposed the bill guaranteeing its fate.
Pointing to that failure, House Majority Leader David Reed (R-Indiana) immediately announced the House would consider a stopgap budget bill when the full House next reconvenes, which turned out to be Tuesday, December 22.
A few minutes after Rep. Reed announced the stopgap strategy, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) told reporters his caucus will not accept a stopgap budget and it is now up to the House Republicans to come up with a 12-month budget without any new revenues.
Sen. Corman added, any new taxes are dead without pension reform; a position Senate Republicans have consistently held.
Gov. Tom Wolf agreed saying: “Let me be clear. A stopgap is not the answer. We need a full year budget.  Let’s get back to work. All of us. Let’s get this done now.”
In other words, if House Republicans acted on a stopgap and the Senate went along, they faced a certain veto, again.
Act II - House Hops Between 2 Budgets
On Monday, December 21, the House Appropriations Committee amended and reported out by a party-line vote the Senate’s “agreed-to” General Fund budget vehicle-- Senate Bill 1073 (Browne-R-Lehigh); amending it to include what House Republicans called an 11-month budget.
Jeffrey Sheridan, Gov. Wolf’s Press Secretary, almost immediately released a copy of a letter the Governor sent to all members of the House outlining the detrimental consequences the House Republican stopgap budget will have on Pennsylvania.  Sheridan said--
“As you know, yesterday, Governor Wolf announced he would veto the House Republican stopgap budget if it reached his desk. He urged everyone to get back to work to pass a full year budget now that invests in education, is balanced and begins to fix the deficit.
A stopgap budget does not change the status quo that Harrisburg has accepted for too long. It does not restore funding to our schools, and it does not begin to fix our deficit.
Here are some of the consequences of the House Republican stopgap budget:
-- The furlough of 8,000 Commonwealth employees with the biggest impact on Corrections and Probation and Parole and the State Police;
-- $455 million cut to our schools, compared to the previous year. This will lead to further program cuts and layoffs;
-- $47.5 million cut to county human service programs;
-- $100 million cut to Home and Community Services, denying over 2,150 individuals with disabilities and autism the opportunity to remain in their homes; and
-- $8 million cut to vocational rehabilitation, which will lead to the forfeiture of $30 million in federal funding.
A copy of the Governor’s letter is available online.
Act III - House Reverses Direction
In a dramatic 100 to 99 vote, the full House Tuesday, December 22 voted to do something no one expected, the House reverted to the Senate’s “agreed-to” $30.8 billion General Fund budget bill-- Senate Bill 1073 (Browne-R-Lehigh)-- and then voted 100 to 97 to move the bill up so a final vote could happen the next day.  
A block of Republicans revolted and joined Democrats in successfully getting the motion passed.  
Conservative members of the House were aghast at the success of the motion.
The vote was tainted by charges of ghost voting-- other members pushing the voting switch for House members not on the Floor.  
The alleged ghosts included: Rep. Leslie Acosta (D-Philadelphia), who was in Nicaragua; Rep. Peter Daley (D-Washington), who was out of town on business; and Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), who was in his office.  All three were voted in favor of the motion to revert to the “agreed-to” budget.
The House Rules Committee also amended the Education Code bill-- House Bill 530 (Reese-R-Somerset)-- in a party-line vote to guarantee all school districts a minimum of 90 percent of the Basic Education Commission funding formula, revert to cap provisions for charter schools to current law and makes other changes.
And the Fiscal Code bill-- House Bill 1327 (Peifer-R-Pike)--- was amended in party-line votes to make changes and corrections consistent with the “agreed-to” General Fund appropriations bill voted Tuesday in the House.
House Majority Leader David Reed (R-Indiana) told reporters later Tuesday evening House Republicans had decided they can’t vote to send the amended, “agreed-to”  General Fund budget bill to the Governor until there is a Tax Code bill to pay for it.
Rep. Reed said the House is waiting for a Tax Code bill from the Senate as well as the outcome of negotiations on a pension reform bill between the Senate Republicans and House Democrats.
The Senate then announced it was coming into voting session Wednesday, December 23  at 1:00.
Act IV - House- We’re Going Home
On Wednesday, December 23, after postponing the beginning of voting session several times into the afternoon,  Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) finally announced on the House Floor the House would adjourn without taking a final vote on any state budget bill and is going on a 6-hour call.
This led to a firestorm of protest and condemnation from many quarters, but it put the Senate in a box.  Should they go ahead moving the few pieces of the “agreed-to” budget package they had to work on and go home, do nothing and put more pressure on House Republicans, or take some other action knowing the House left town leaving the budget issue hanging.
Act V - Senate Executes Classic Reverse
After stoically clinging to the “agreed-to” budget framework since November 9, no matter how many times that framework collapsed or changed, Senate Republicans ultimately felt they needed to act before the end of the year on behalf of the school districts, nonprofit groups and many others stuck for almost 6 months without state funding.
Faced with an intractable foe-- House Republicans-- Senate Republicans did a classic maneuver-- the reverse.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) late Wednesday afternoon moved to strip the “agreed-to” $30.8 billion budget from House Bill 1460 (Adolph-R-Delaware) and revert to the House-passed $30.2 billion budget the House Republicans have been advocating for in order to get a budget bill directly to the Governor’s desk for his action.
The motion passed on a party-line vote of 31 to 19.
The Senate then passed House Bill 1460 without amendment on a mostly party-line vote of 33 to 17.  Senators Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) crossed party lines. The bill went to the Governor for his action.
Sen. Corman said it was the only way to get state money flowing to school districts and others that need it.  
At the same time, he said it doesn’t mean it is the end of budget discussions, although, he did not note, it does violate the budget framework Senate Republicans and Democrats, House Democrats and Gov. Wolf at one point agreed to, however tenuously.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Minority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it was not fair to let one of the five parties in the budget process-- House Republicans-- dictate the state’s budget.
In follow-up media interviews, Sen. Corman said Gov. Wolf still has leverage over the Senate and House because none of the non-preferred appropriations bills were passed and cannot be passed until there is a final budget agreement.
Non-preferreds include appropriations to Penn State University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University.
Act VI - Interim Final Act: Will He Or Won’t He?
The ball is squarely in Gov. Wolf’s court as he makes his decision to sign or veto all, or in part, the Republican budget bill.
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