Pennsylvania may be staring down a $2 billion chasm in next fiscal year’s state budget, but the Legislature is doing just fine for cash.
The legislative surplus stood at $161 million as of last June, according to an annual audit report released Monday after a couple of delays.
The report was prepared by private firm Mitchell & Titus. The Legislature isn’t subject to the state auditor general’s oversight. For years, private auditors have used these reports to urge lawmakers to put a maximum on how much can be kept in reserve.
This year was no different.
“It’s very hard for I think people in Pennsylvania to engage in shared sacrifice when their elected officials are hanging onto $160 million in their back pocket,” said Eric Epstein, a reform activist and mainstay at the annual audit report meetings. “I still don’t understand the need … for a $160 million surplus.”
Lawmakers say the reserve is a necessity, providing a way to keep the Legislature going in case of a late budget. But Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry, chairman of the committee that receives the audit, said GOP leaders have not responded to his suggestions that they put a ceiling on the legislative reserve.
“We should have some type of number that it should be,” said Keller. “What that number is, I can’t tell you.”
Excluding legislative agencies, the House and Senate together had $126 million in reserve as of last June, according to the report. But Keller pointed out that the figure is out of date by several months, and the present surplus may be much lower than the reported figure. After last June, Gov. Tom Corbett vetoed $65 million from the Legislature’s own coffers and canceled another $7 million in pet projects.