Wolf budget announcement Tuesday
HARRISBURG — Lawmakers waited Monday for Gov. Tom Wolf to take action on the budget bill on his desk and saw no clear way to resolve their differences as Pennsylvania’s record-long impasse approached its seventh month.
Wolf scheduled a news conference Tuesday morning in the Capitol to discuss the budget. His press secretary declined to say what Wolf would announce.
Members of legislative leadership reported no progress over the weekend in efforts to revive a bipartisan compromise budget after it stalled last week.
“I guess at this point, the ball’s in the governor’s court,” said Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler, the House GOP’s caucus administrator. “We’re waiting to hear from him.”
With lawmakers rushing to leave town for Christmas, the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday sent Wolf the main appropriations bill in a last-ditch, $30.3 billion budget package that had been written by House GOP majority leaders.
However, it lacked hundreds of millions in additional dollars that Wolf had sought for public schools and social services, and it veered from the bipartisan compromise he had struck with House and Senate leaders in November.
Besides signing or vetoing it, Wolf has other options. He could let it become law without his signature after Sunday night, or he could eliminate some of the individual spending items in it, whether thousands of dollars or billions of dollars.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said he would urge Wolf to veto it and that Senate Democrats would not help override a Wolf veto.
“I want to see the implementation of the full budget agreement that we had in place,” Costa said. “I think that was something we need to do.”
Even if Wolf signs the budget bill, questions about it remain unanswered.
For instance, companion legislation directing the distribution of nearly $6 billion in public school aid is still pending in the House. Legislation to send an annual subsidy of nearly $600 million to Penn State, Temple, Pitt, Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school also remains in the House, and will require a source of money to pay for it.
In November, Wolf and House and Senate leaders agreed to a budget deal framework that revolved around $30.8 billion in spending, a 6 percent spending increase, and a $1-billion-plus tax increase. Wolf had sought the money to reverse post-recession cuts to public schools and human services and to narrow a long-term budget deficit.
But House Republicans revolted against the size of the spending and tax increase and on Dec. 8 passed the $30.3 billion budget bill. Wolf later claimed he had secured enough support from House Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass the spending and tax plan he supported.
As a result, some House Republicans turned against legislation to restructure pension benefits that Senate Republicans had linked to their support for the budget deal with Wolf. House Democrats maintained their longstanding opposition to the pension bill, and it failed, 149-52, in what many viewed as a proxy defeat of the bipartisan budget agreement.
Senate Republican leaders pulled their support from the deal with Wolf and turned to the House GOP’s pared-down spending bill as Christmas closed in.
Ellis said it may be necessary to unhitch pension legislation from efforts to pass a budget.
“Obviously, a lot of the votes the other day were not against the pension bill, but they were against the framework,” Ellis said.