A six-bill legislative package that seeks to reform the state budgeting process made its way out of the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday afternoon along a party-line vote.
The reforms seek to alter the current budget process by disallowing a budget to become law without the governor’s signature absent it being: balanced according to an official revenue estimate; provide limitations on the Budget Secretary’s authority over the waiver of lapsed funds; require the Budget Secretary to place funds in reserves in the event of a mid-year projected deficit; increase the disclosure of information related to the use of special funds; require the administration provide the legislature information about mandated costs and other funds used to gain federal matching funds; and require a statement of need and potential cost savings when the governor requests supplemental appropriations.
The bills, respectively, are sponsored by House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana), House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York), and four rank-and-file House Republican lawmakers.
Speaking to the bills Tuesday, Reed stated they are needed as a result of the learning experience over the last three years of the state budget process.
“There are things that can be done better. These bills represent some suggestions to make the budget process smoother and more efficient in the future, and try and make sure we are not piling up deficits years at a time,” he said. “This is a focal point of trying to get beyond the dysfunction of government and trying to reinvent the budget process along with government in general.”
All told, he said, having protracted budget-related impasses two out of the last three years has not been healthy for Pennsylvania.
“Let’s try to fix the process so that next spring, it becomes easier,” he added.
Speaking in opposition to the bills, House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) said the legislative package represents Republicans scapegoating the process, which, he argued, they should already be able to control by dint of their dominating numbers in the legislature.
“The historically heavy and large House majority needs help to budget,” he said. “I think you all remember how bad this past budget season really was. This package of bills is a screaming reminder that when we – and maybe you – can’t budget, we scapegoat.”
House Democrats are expected to offer amendments to the bills as the process moves forward.
Adding to those not thrilled with the package, Gov. Tom Wolf's press secretary JJ Abbott said these bills are not the reforms needed to change state government.
“These bills are not the reforms needed to change Harrisburg or improve the budget process like a gift ban or any measure to combat the influence of lobbyists and special interests. These are political window-dressing on a broken Harrisburg, not the kind of change that constituents deserve,” he said. “The General Assembly has failed to enact any of the real ethics and government reforms that Gov. Wolf proposed last year. Those would be real change.”
According to House Republican Caucus spokesperson Steve Miskin, the bills are expected to be brought up for consideration by the full House next week.
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg Bureau Chief of The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania’s government.