Budget bill heads to governor, without funding
HARRISBURG — The main spending bill in a $32 billion bipartisan budget package is past the Pennsylvania Legislature on the state fiscal year’s final day, although lawmakers don’t know how it’ll all be funded.
The House voted 173-27 on Friday, hours after the Senate voted 43-7. The package was unveiled a day earlier, after being negotiated in secret. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports it, but has yet to say whether he’ll sign it if lawmakers can’t figure out a spending plan.
Both chambers recessed until at least Wednesday, and lawmakers say they’ll try next week to find $2 billion-plus to cover the shortfall.
The governor’s office says spending is virtually flat under the package. Counting the amounts above the last approved budget of $31.5 billion, the increase is nearly 3 percent. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to universities is awaiting passage until lawmakers pass a revenue plan.
Using the last approved budget as a baseline, it authorizes an extra $870 million over two fiscal years above that, including $400 million going on the just-ending fiscal year’s books.
It carries more money for schools, pension obligations and services for the intellectually disabled. It demands belt-tightening across government agencies and in Medicaid, and counts on savings from a shrinking prisons population.
State Sen. Scott Wagner, a Republican from Spring Garden Township, was among the no votes. He described the budget approach as "backwards from how families and businesses plan their own budgets."
“Today, the legislature decided how much money taxpayers should spend before figuring out a way to pay for it all — that’s completely irresponsible and backwards from the way families craft budgets around a kitchen table,” said Wagner, who voted against last year’s state budget package for similar reasons.
Wagner, in a statement, said new state spending is irresponsible when the commonwealth has a budget deficit in excess of $2 billion. The 2017-18 budget could further harm the state's financial footing, and credit rating agencies may downgrade the state's credit rating, he said.
“The state is playing a very dangerous game of chicken with the major financial rating agencies," he said. "The pension ‘reform’ bill is said to have no impact on whether or not the state gets downgraded and this spending plan only further complicates our fiscal stability.”
State Sen. Mike Folmer, a Lebanon Republican who represents part of York County, voted for the package.
“The budget bill falls in line with Senate Bill 7, which is Sen. Folmer’s taxpayer’s protection act,” said Fred Sembach, Folmer's chief of staff.
Sembach said Folmer's main concern was to limit state government spending to the average change in personal income for the next three years, or limit state government spending to the average inflation rate, plus the average percentage change in state population over the next three years.
— York Dispatch reporter Jana Benscoter contributed to this report.