Gov. Wolf Abdicates Constitutional Responsibility to Correct Legislature’s Error
July 12, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Today is uncharted territory for Pennsylvania. Despite multiple balanced budget mandates in the state constitution and state law, Gov. Wolf allowed the Legislature’s unbalanced budget to become law at 12:01 this morning. This comes after Wolf repeatedly demanded any budget must be truly balanced.
"Governor Wolf had the opportunity and the obligation to act responsibly and lower this budget’s spending level to match revenue," commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy for the Commonwealth Foundation. "After weeks of demanding a balanced budget and years of touting a ‘government that works’ it is disappointing that the governor abdicated this responsibility and allowed the Legislature’s error to become law."
As recently as July 7, Wolf said he would not sign the budget proposal because it lacked the necessary revenues to balance, noting, "We cannot spend money we don’t have." Just five days later, Wolf proved those words were mere rhetoric.
Soon after Wolf announced his decision to let the budget—which spends more than $1 billion beyond revenue—become law, Standard and Poor’s put Pennsylvania on its CreditWatch list, sending a warning that a long-term unbalanced budget could negatively impact the state’s credit ratings.
"This sets a dangerous precedent for future budget negotiations and puts our state in a precarious fiscal position," Benefield continued.
In addition to the state constitution’s balanced budget mandate, the state’s Administrative Code says, "The Governor shall item veto any part of any appropriation bill that causes total appropriations to exceed the official estimate plus any unappropriated surplus."
Chapter 71, Section 4105 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes also states, "The Governor shall certify that any appropriation bill does not cause total appropriations to exceed revenues plus any unappropriated surplus."
"For the first time in recent memory, the state is operating outside its constitutional mandate for a balanced budget," said Benefield. "This is a direct result of the Legislature’s flawed spend-first, pay-later approach to this year’s budget. Lawmakers are now scrambling to come up with a grab-bag of tax increases, including cigarette taxes, taxes on digital downloads and lottery winnings, and revenues from gambling expansion, all to fund their addiction to overspending.
"Rather than raising taxes on overburdened Pennsylvanians, lawmakers should fix this problem by passing a supplemental appropriations bill that revises spending levels and eliminates wasteful programs like corporate welfare subsidies to truly balance the budget."
Nathan Benefield is available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.
# # #
The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.