Pa. Senate leaders sue Corbett over budget vetoes
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Senate leaders of both parties have sued Gov. Tom Corbett and other state officials over the governor’s line-item vetoes of spending as the state budget was enacted this summer.
The lawsuit filed late Tuesday argued that the Republican governor did not follow rules for providing public notice of vetoes, put the money in an unlawful reserve and used the line-item veto on legislation that did not involve the approval of spending authority.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Minority Leader Jay Costa asked Commonwealth Court to invalidate the vetoes and the use of the reserve.
Pileggi, R-Delaware, and Scarnati, R-Jefferson, issued a statement saying the governor’s actions set a “dangerous precedent for how legislation can be altered by the executive branch,” and Costa said in an interview that he viewed the matter as “an institutional issue that violates the separation of powers.”
“If we allow the governor to do this without challenging it, at the end of the day, in any piece of legislation the General Assembly passes, a governor would have the ability to alter or modify or change the intent of the legislation,” said Costa, D-Forest Hills. “That’s not the way the system is set up.”
The defendants include Corbett, members of his Cabinet and state Treasurer Rob McCord, an elected Democrat.
Corbett’s spokesman and legal office said Wednesday the lawsuit was being reviewed and had no immediate comment.
A letter about the dispute sent to McCord this summer by Corbett’s general counsel, Jim Schultz, argued that all of the contested vetoes involved approvals of spending authority, called appropriations.
“The only constitutional implication of the governor’s item vetoes is to honor the checks and balances upon which our system of government and the constitutional precept of separation of powers are vitally dependent,” Schultz wrote in the Aug. 4 letter.
McCord’s lawyer responded to say the treasurer had “serious reservations” about the line-item vetoes.
McCord spokesman Gary Tuma said Wednesday the “whole matter certainly raises important questions that call for clarification regarding the powers of co-equal branches of government.”
Corbett issued vetoes this summer for $72 million intended for a variety of purposes, including legislative operations and earmarks. His administration said the cuts were necessary to enact a balanced budget. The lawsuit pertains to line-item vetoes in legislation changing the Fiscal Code but does not challenge Corbett’s blue-lining of the general appropriation bill’s $65 million in legislative operations.
Costa said the timing of the lawsuit, filed the day Corbett lost a bid for a second term, held no special significance.
A House Democratic spokesman said that caucus supported the lawsuit but opted not to participate because of the potential cost. A House Republican spokesman said governors do not have authority to use the line-item veto power on Fiscal Code legislation, but House Republicans felt there was limited value in litigating the matter.