Pa. budget impasse ends with a whimper

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

    Nearly nine months into the fiscal year, Pennsylvania’s budget impasse will end — or nearly end — this week.

    Gov. Tom Wolf, facing pressure from state-funded programs and fellow Democrats, said Wednesday he’ll allow a roughly $6 billion supplemental funding plan to become law, but without his signature.

    “I cannot in good conscience sign this bill,” said Wolf, speaking from a podium next to his office in the Capitol. “I cannot in good conscience attach my name to a budget that simply doesn’t add up.”

    But he is reneging on his vow to reject a Republican-crafted measure that was intended to end the state’s budget stalemate by restoring funding Wolf crossed out late last year with his partial budget veto.

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    The governor still insists the GOP’s budget handiwork is unbalanced and bad for the state, exacerbating a nearly $2 billion structural deficit projected for the fiscal year beginning in three months. But by settling the current year’s budget, both he and state lawmakers can turn their attention to their next budget deadline: July 1.

    “We need to move on,” said Wolf. “I’ve convinced myself that this is the right thing to do.”

    Wolf’s consideration period for the supplemental spending plan ends on Sunday. The bill will take effect without his signature, giving the state its first complete budget since last June.

    It was not immediately clear on Wednesday how soon funding would begin to flow to school districts, some of which teetered on the brink of shutdown without a full year’s worth of state aid. Popular agricultural programs had also threatened to close in May without a complete state budget.

    The governor said he will veto the fiscal code, which is a companion bill to the state budget (often referred to as the budget’s user’s manual). The fiscal code spells out how to divvy up education funding, among other items. Wolf said it has constitutional problems, and Republican legislative leaders are still figuring out the consequences of the bill’s rejection.

    GOP Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said, even with the fiscal code jettisoned, the enactment of a full budget means schools and others will get desperately needed state funding.

    “The money will now go to higher education, the money will now go to agriculture … the money will go to the hospitals,” said Corman. “All that money’s going to go out. So from that perspective, that’s all very positive.”

    Wolf had faced pressure this week from fellow Democrats in the Legislature, some of whom weren’t sure they could back him up on another budget veto nearly nine months into the impasse. By threatening last week to veto the GOP-crafted supplemental spending plan, Wolf had signaled he would hold out for a budget that hewed to his priorities, such as including more funding for education. But it was unclear how much more revenue could be generated for schools this far into this fiscal year.

    Jay Himes, director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, was in the Capitol on Wednesday morning calling on Wolf to approve the budget bill.

    “We are not without hope,” Himes said. “We are just out of time.”

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