This was the week of the budget that wasn’t. Just in time to meet the deadline, the general assembly sent H.B. 218 (Saylor, R-York) – a $32 billion state spending plan for the 2017-2018 fiscal year – to Gov. Wolf for his signature on June 30. While that allows us to check the box for an “on-time budget,” the legislature failed to send the Governor any measures necessary to raise the revenue to cover the cost of that bill.
However, Pennsylvania has a built-in budget buffer – the constitution allows the Governor to hold any bill for 10 days before affixing his signature or sending it back to the general assembly as vetoed. Failure to act either way will allow the bill to become law without the Governor’s signature. Accordingly, Governor Wolf held the budget bill until July 10, giving everyone some time to figure out exactly how to pay the tab on the state spending plan, an especially difficult task given that we’re rolling into the new fiscal year with a sizeable deficit. But July 10 came with no such agreement in place, and the Governor let the bill become law without his endorsement. By July 11, we were still in the midst of a legislative logjam and with nothing to vote on, legislative leadership sent their members back to their districts with the warning that they could be called back to Harrisburg with as little as six hours’ notice.
It’s hard to say right now if we’re on the road to yet another months-long budget stalemate or if members and the Governor are working in earnest to wrap up the state budget in short order. Hopeful that it’s the latter, we can report that there are enough legislative vehicles in place – bills amending the state Tax Reform Code, the Public School Code, the Human Services Code, the Fiscal Code and the Administrative Code – that when an accord is reached, it could all be finalized in relatively short order. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, the general assembly did send some other bills to the Governor’s desk. On July 7, Wolf signed H.B. 239 (Toepel, R-Montgomery), establishing the Rare Disease Advisory Council. Other bills awaiting Wolf’s signature include H.B. 1494 (Rapp, R-Warren), which would provide for forestry cooperative agreements; S.B. 144 (Yaw, R-Lycoming), which would allow for the use of alternative systems in sewage facilities; and S.B. 624 (Scarnati, R-Jefferson), which would exempt planned subsidence caused by bituminous coal mining operations as a source of pollution to waterways. S.B. 527 (Aument, R-Lancaster), which establishes the Independent Office of Inspector General, is also on the Governor’s desk and Wolf has promised to sign it. Special fund bills that provide appropriations to certain self-funding boards and commissions are also awaiting the Governor’s signature.
A Look Ahead
Without the benefit of tea leaves, tarot cards or a crystal ball, it’s hard to say what’s ahead. As mentioned, the General Assembly could return any time to wrap up the business of the budget. In the meantime, no committee meetings have been posted.
In Other News
- Former First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at the 14th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women in Philadelphia in October.
- Governor Wolf announced that Clarion University will establish an online Opioid Treatment Specialist certificate program, the first of its kind in the state.
- Attorney General Josh Shapiro unveiled an initiative to supply drug deactivation pouches to counties hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.