Will Wolf-Enacted Budget Violate Law?
Law Requires Gov. to Veto Spending Above Official Revenue Estimates
July 11, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Governor Tom Wolf yesterday announced he would allow the $31.6 billion budget—which the Legislature sent him without a revenue package to pay for it—become law, despite the fact that legally, the governor must veto spending that exceeds official revenue estimates.
The Pennsylvania Administrative Code states, "The Governor shall item veto any part of any appropriation bill that causes total appropriations to exceed the official estimate plus any unappropriated surplus." The $31.6 billion budget exceeds the Independent Fiscal Office’s latest revenue estimates by more than $1.1 billion. No additional revenue bills have been enacted since that estimate.
While bills funding Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and other "nonpreferred" appropriations have not yet reached the governor, the $30.9 billion in SB 1073 exceeds revenue estimates by more than a half billion.
"Our state constitution requires that the General Assembly’s budget appropriations ‘not exceed the actual and estimated revenues and surplus available,’" commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy for the Commonwealth Foundation. "By sending the governor a budget that spends more than available revenue, without any means of paying for it, the Legislature may have acted unconstitutionally. By law, Gov. Wolf must correct the Legislature’s mistake and veto any spending above official revenue estimates."
In the last two budgets, Gov. Wolf and Gov. Corbett used not only the line-item veto to eliminate funding for certain programs but also the item-reduction veto, which lets the governor replace an appropriation in the budget with a lower spending number.
"Gov. Wolf may not want to reduce spending, but he is legally obligated to reject unfunded spending in the Legislature’s unbalanced budget," Benefield continued. "By using the line-item veto and item-reduction veto, the governor could ensure the budget enacted is, without question, balanced. This is more than a matter of fiscal responsibility; it’s a matter of law."
Nathan Benefield and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.
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