The Pennsylvania Legislature sent a bipartisan, $32 billion spending plan to Gov. Tom Wolf Friday afternoon. It arrived on his desk before the end of the fiscal year — with eight hours to spare.
But it’s not yet a balanced budget. Lawmakers still haven’t agreed on where to get $2.2 billion to fill their revenue gap, and official proposals are scarce.
House and Senate members aren’t expected back in Harrisburg until the middle of the week, though leaders said they plan to negotiate through the weekend.
But the clock is ticking to get Wolf a balanced plan. He has 10 days to sign the budget — or any bill — once it’s sent to him, and it has to add up when he does so.
If not, he can veto spending to bring it in line, or let it lapse into law without a signature, which happened last year.
Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman acknowledged that passing spending without revenue is not an ideal way to accomplish passing a budget.
“I know people say, ‘Well, why would you do one without the other?'” he said. “Nothing’s perfect. When you’re dealing with big deficits, it’s not easy. But what this does is locks us in.”
In floor debates, several lawmakers expressed displeasure at what they called “backwards budgeting.”
“There’s not a family in this state that gets to operate their household in a way that they can spend money today and not know how they’re going to pay for it without being in bankruptcy court, Mr. Speaker,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Bucks.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed said he and other leaders are confident they can move past sticking points on revenue negotiation within the bill’s 10-day waiting period.
Trouble spots include whether to include video gaming terminals in bars and taverns as part of gambling expansion and whether to borrow money to help pay off the $1.5 billion shortfall from the just-ended budget year.
“I’m sure the governor’s in a position where, in his third year, he’d actually like to sign a budget,” Reed said.
The spending plan keeps funding flat for most state operations, though it does increase basic education spending and a few other programs.
The biggest cut is a nearly 10 percent spending reduction to Medicaid managed care. A small portion of those savings will probably come from the consolidation of the departments of Health and Human Services. It’s not clear where the rest will come from.