Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf Partially Vetoes Another Balanced Budget that Did Not Raise Taxes

           Liberal Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf used a line-item veto on key portions of the $30+ billion 2105 balanced budget that did not raise taxes which was approved with bipartisan support by the Republican-majority General Assembly. 

In addition to vetoing other spending, including for the Legislature and other punitive spending cuts, Wolf vetoed education spending, thus making the only cuts to education in the 2015 budget process.  He claims that the budget represented a cut to education funding, but there was an overall net increase of hundreds of millions of dollars in the Commonwealth’s budget, on top of already-record spending levels for education.  Liberals like Wolf call any spending level that is less than desired, even if it is an inflation-adjusted increase over the previous year, a “cut.”

Billions of dollars could be freed up for education or other spending or to reduce taxes if Wolf and the Legislature could agree to significant public employee pension reform.  A compromise they reached earlier in the process would have made only modest progress toward that goal. 

            By signing the rest of the budget, Wolf was able to free up funds for counties, municipalities and school districts, as well as for state-contracted social service entities.  However, funds for Medicaid and corrections were among the line items that were vetoed.  As I have posted, he could have exercised a line-item veto several months ago on the budget approved by the June 30 end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline in order to avoid the crisis the budget impasse has caused, or signed a stopgap budget into law, but he wanted to put pressure on the Republican legislative majority to give into his demands to raise taxes to fund his spending spree. 

Wolf’s recent blaming of the House of Representatives for the impasse after the Senate had approved a compromise budget was a tacit acknowledgement that he had been the culprit heretofore.  His exercise of the line-item veto, signing of the rest of the budget and freeing up of certain funds even more clearly proves that he was responsible for the crisis.  With less of a crisis atmosphere, now the Chief Executive and the Legislators can better work out a more fiscally-responsible compromise.  

The Legislature should continue to approve spending cuts to pay for any further increases for education, instead of increasing the already-high burden of taxation born by citizens and businesses in Pennsylvania.  In particular, they should enact significant pension reform without underfunding the Commonwealth’s pension obligations.  

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