Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf relents after 9-month budget impasse |

Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf relents after 9-month budget impasse

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

HARRISBURG — In an about-face from his veto threat, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday let a supplemental budget bill become law without his signature, bringing an end to a nearly nine-month impasse that threatened to close schools.

Wolf is effectively approving a $6 billion bill that completes a $30 billion budget for 2015-16 approved by lawmakers in December. It was due, by law, last July 1. About half of the new funding is for Pennsylvania school districts.

“School districts will no longer be on the brink of financial disaster,” the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials said in a statement.

The final budget won’t contain Wolf’s signature because he says the funding is insufficient and the “math just doesn’t work.” The end result is no different than a signature: the bill becomes law.

The first-term Democratic governor faced a potential veto override in the GOP-controlled legislature if he again vetoed funding that included basic education money. Wolf vetoed the funding in December to retain leverage in the budget dispute.

“This is a responsible budget that holds the line on spending and taxes,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall. “We put responsible budgets on his desk in June, September, December and March.”

“We’re very happy the governor let the impasse come to an end,” said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County.

Lawmakers in Wolf’s party would have needed to cross party lines for a veto override. It’s not clear that would have happened, but Democratic lawmakers had been urging Wolf to veto line items only rather than use a full veto, said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

Wolf “was forced to allow the spending plan to become law because Democratic senators and House members were going to vote with Republicans to override his veto of the spending plan,” said Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said House Democrats were holding firm behind the governor.

Asked whether he reversed himself because of a potential override, Wolf said he did not.

“I’m doing what I think is the right thing for Pennsylvania,” he said.

Wolf became the first governor since the late Democratic Gov. Milton Shapp in 1976 to let a bill become law without his signature.

“I can’t in good conscience sign this bill,” Wolf said at a news conference.

Wolf said there’s not enough revenue to support the budget and it will add to a looming $2 billion deficit.

Turzai said the opposite: By spending $750 million less than Wolf wanted in December, “it puts us on better footing for 2016-17.”

Wolf said he was allowing separate legislation to fund state-related universities — including the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State — to become law without his signature as well.

The governor said he would veto a fiscal code bill, a companion bill to the budget. Legislative leaders said they have not had a chance to analyze the impact of that veto of legislation that sets funding formulas.

But passage of the state’s 2015-16 budget removes an obstacle toward dealing with the budget for the next fiscal year, Dermody said.

The key obstacle of the impasse is opposition by Republicans, especially conservative GOP House members, to any tax increases. Wolf sought higher spending in many areas and contended a tax increase was needed.

“Senate Republican Leaders and Gov. Wolf have very different philosophies of how to govern,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County. “While the governor looks at raising taxes as the first course of action to close the budget deficit, we look at reforms as a first course of action. Before asking for more of our constituents’ hard-earned dollars, we should be sure that government is doing all that we can to operate efficiently.”

Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, minority chairman of the appropriations committee, said Republicans “chose not to compromise.”

Wolf in February proposed a $32.7 billion state budget for 2016-17 that seeks to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on public education and relies on a personal income tax increase to balance the budget and close the deficit.

“What are (Republicans) going to do differently this time?” Hughes asked.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.