HARRISBURG (KDKA) — It’s been more than 250 days since Pennsylvania had a final budget, but no more.
“To allow us to move to face the budget challenges of 2016-2017, I am going to allow H.B. 1801 to become law,” said Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday.
H.B. 1801 is the Republican stopgap budget most recently approved and sent to Gov. Wolf.
Gov. Wolf said he’d allow the budget to take effect without his signature because it was not balanced and underfunded public education.
“I cannot in good conscience sign this bill,” he said. “I cannot sign a budget that simply doesn’t add up.”
So why let this budget become law — in a word, schools.
“This means schools will stay open until the end of this year. But unless Harrisburg changes its ways, they won’t have adequate funds for next year.”
House Speaker Mike Turzai, the Republican leader who blocked a vote on a compromise budget before Christmas, said Gov. Wolf did the right thing.
“This is a huge win for the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Turzai told KDKA political editor Jon Delano. “Teachers can teach. Students can learn. Full funding for schools. No hostages any more. Government proceeds with civility and predictability. Taxes aren’t increased.”
But Senate Democratic leader Jay Costa warned it’s hardly over as Democrats continue to “fight to try to make more investments in education, begin to restore human services which this budget doesn’t do.”
“So we will continue to have declines in drug and alcohol programs and mental illness programs. We continue to have decline in job creation programs. None of that is in this particular legislation, and that’s what we were fighting for,” added Costa.
But Gov. Wolf reversed course.
Last week, at Brashear High School, this was Wolf’s reaction to the latest Republican budget plan: “I will veto that.”
But the cries of school districts running short of cash apparently got to Gov. Wolf.
Gov. Wolf decided to end the budget crisis by allowing a budget he doesn’t like to become law.
Another factor — the threat that his veto might have been over-ridden if enough Democratic lawmakers joined their Republican colleagues.
Speaker Turzai thought that was possible.
“Republicans were united. We had every single vote. I addition, we knew that many of our Democratic colleagues were thinking similar to what we were thinking. And I do think that has had a significant impact,” said Turzai.
Costa was not so sure.
Delano: “Did the Democrats blink?”
Costa: “No, I don’t think the Democrats blinked at all. We had been talking to the governor the last several days at a minimum to do a line item veto to drive resources out to the school districts.”
Costa said it was really all about the schools.
Gov. Wolf said he wants schools to stay open this school year, but he warned that failure of the legislature to raise taxes means a $2 billion deficit in the next budget.
“It only adds really to the $2 billion deficit that is looming right ahead of us in July. In other words, the money just isn’t there,” he said.
And he pleaded with legislators to get serious about the 2016-2017 budget that is supposed to be passed by June 30.
“Let’s be honest with ourselves, and with the people we serve. And let’s create a responsible 2016-17 budget and move on,” said the governor.