Wolf threatens veto of GOP’s spending bill in budget fight
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf threatened Wednesday to veto a fresh piece of spending legislation that Republicans offered as an end to an eight-month budget fight, but that the Democrat criticized as “irresponsible and unbalanced” without a tax increase.
The partisan standoff has left billions of dollars in limbo and the state operating on a $23.4 billion budget, nearly $6 billion less than last year. Public schools are borrowing to stay open while Penn State has threatened to shut down agricultural extension offices across the state.
Meanwhile, the state is funding prisons and Medicaid costs without legislative authority two-thirds of the way through the state government’s fiscal year, while a projected deficit of approximately $2 billion looms next year.
“Despite repeated efforts by my administration to work with Republican leaders to find compromise, including over the last couple days, Republican leaders are once again insistent on passing another irresponsible and unbalanced budget that does not fund our schools or fix the deficit,” Wolf said in a statement.
Wolf issued the veto threat just moments after the Republican-controlled Senate passed a $6 billion spending bill, 31-18. Every Republican and one Democrat supported it.
Approval in the GOP-controlled House was expected within hours, and the bill could arrive on Wolf’s desk by the end of Wednesday.
Tax-averse Republicans said they were advancing the spending measure as a way to resolve the budget fight before schools close or hospitals and universities resort to mass layoffs to get by without state aid.
It was designed to be part of a $30 billion total spending package, increasing spending from the state’s main bank account by about $870 million, or 3 percent. The Republican plan would deliver half of the public school aid increase, $200 million, or 3.5 percent, that Wolf had initially sought last year.
In the House, Democrats cooperated Wednesday in authorizing about $578 million for five state-subsidized universities — Penn State, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school. The money required a two-thirds vote of approval and had stalled in the House, where Democrats have backed Wolf’s opposition to GOP spending plans.
The university funding represented a 5 percent increase. It remained unclear Wednesday whether Wolf would veto the legislation.
Going into the fiscal year, Wolf had sought a multibillion-dollar tax increase to resolve a long-term deficit that has damaged Pennsylvania’s credit rating and to begin wiping out 2011’s budget-balancing funding cuts to public schools.
A bipartisan deal collapsed just before Christmas after House GOP leaders pulled support. That $30.8 billion spending plan would have required a $1 billion-plus tax increase. Republicans subsequently sent a $30.3 billion plan to Wolf, and he vetoed billions of dollars in subsidies for schools, prisons and Medicaid.
With the current fiscal year nearly over, Wolf is seeking a $2.7 billion tax increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1. However, top Republican lawmakers have said they are committed to resolving the deficit without a tax increase.