Pa. House speaker says overriding Wolf’s budget veto ‘an option’ |
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In this file photo from June 2015, House Speaker Mike Turzai listens as members debate the budget on the floor of the House of Representatives at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG — House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, said Monday that overriding Gov. Tom Wolf's veto of a no-tax-hike state budget is an option for the House to consider.

Democrats said they'll stand firmly behind Wolf.

Tuesday marks the 28th day of a budget impasse. Turzai told the Pennsylvania Press Club that Wolf has no more than 30 Democratic votes for his proposed $5 billion tax increase. He said afterward that he has spoken with Democratic members about trying to overturn Wolf's July 1 budget veto.

Wolf also vetoed a GOP-sponsored liquor divestiture bill and a bill to ban guaranteed pensions for future state and school employees.

“We haven't done any count” of Democrats willing to join Republicans, Turzai said. He said some Democrats told him the GOP-crafted $30.1 billion budget is reasonable. It spends $150 million more on K-12 schools, Turzai said.

An override is “not going to happen,” said Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights, chairman of the Allegheny County delegation. “Our members are not going to bow to pressure.” It would be a mistake by the GOP majority to think they can “wait it out,” Costa said.

Budget negotiations between Wolf and legislative leaders continue, and leaders aren't ready to press for an override, Turzai said.

“I can assure you my Democratic colleagues are not interested in Gov. Wolf's tax package,” Turzai said. An override, he said, is “a direction we'd consider, and it has to be an option.”

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, put it differently. “It's probably an avenue of last resort, just by the nature of progressing with it,” Reed said. “If it gets to that, I guess it gets to that.”

Reed said he knows there are Democrats who “would welcome the opportunity to work together on something that would balance the budget in a reasonable fashion.”

House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said an attempt to override the veto “would be fruitless and counterproductive. Other Republican leaders know that, and they have reached out to the governor and Democratic leaders for more substantive budget talks.”

Wolf's spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, said Turzai “continues to stand with oil and gas companies instead of our children and our schools” by opposing Wolf's proposed 5 percent severance tax on natural gas extraction. Sheridan said “irresponsible budgeting has led to struggling schools, soaring property taxes, multiple credit downgrades and a multibillion-dollar deficit.”

Wolf, a York County Democrat, proposed increasing income, sales and cigarette taxes. He would offset those increases with property tax reductions.

Republicans contend Wolf's package would raise revenue beyond any tax trade-off. The GOP budget relies on $220 million a year from selling the state liquor stores and privatizing wine and liquor sales.

Veto overrides are “very, very rare,” said John Milliron, a lobbyist and former legislator. Since 1990, nine veto overrides were attempted by the House or Senate. Two were successful during the tenure of the late Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey, legislative staff said.

It takes a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, rather than a simple majority vote, to reinstate a law a governor vetoes. That would require 132 votes in the House and 33 in the Senate. There's no time limit for proposing an override vote, and no limit on how many times an override can be attempted.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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