By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Less than two hours after Speaker of the House Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, struck his gavel to start the session Monday, lawmakers were filtering out of the chambers, through the Capitol hallways and back to their districts.
Just like that, Pennsylvania’s on-time state budget was finally complete, 15 days after the constitutional budget deadline.
If that sounds contradictory, it’s probably because it is.
Pennsylvania law requires the governor to signed a budget bill before July 1. But there are several additional bills, called code bills, directing specific spending that must be passed as well.
Until about 3 p.m. on Monday, those weren’t completed.
Whether having code bills wrapped up on time makes or breaks an “on-time budget” depends on who you ask. To Gov. Tom Corbett, the budget was on-time when he signed the 2013-2014 appropriations bill around 10:30 p.m. on June 30.
To House Democrats on Monday, it was not.
House Appropriations Minority Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, burned Republicans in the statehouse for having “so much clout, so much power and so many votes and yet they can’t do the budget on time.”
A disagreement — or, as Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, put it a “communication gaffe”— between the House and Senate caused the House to bounce back to Harrisburg to pass a bill the Senate had changed in July, a time when lawmakers are usually back in their districts.
Two days after the budget passed, House Republicans inserted language into the fiscal code bill declaring an intention to legalize payday lending businesses. The fiscal code distributes federal money throughout state agencies, including $45 million for the Philadelphia School District.
The Senate stripped out that language the next day because no one had agreed to that language in that chamber. The change forced House members to come back for a concurrence vote.
All this occurred after a budget season failed to deliver any of Corbett’s top three agenda items.
On Monday, the session lasted less than two hours, with a quick introduction of guests followed up by a committee vote to move the re-amended fiscal code bill to the floor. Both parties headed to their respective caucuses — the Republicans met for about an hour — until returning to the floor for a vote.
The fiscal code passed with a 103-85 vote, after brief remarks from several representatives. Griping was minimal, but not absent.
Markosek, the only Democrat who spoke, said the budget was 15 days late and about a billion dollars short.
“There’s no excuse for the budget to be late,” Markosek said. “The majority party controls the House, the Senate and the governor’s office.”
House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, said it was “simply not true” that the budget is late. No departments or agencies had to do without funding because of the language snafu, he said.
Maher said while what transpired with the fiscal code bill had communication problems, he thought there was “an awful lot to celebrate in this overall budget process.”
Contact Melissa Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org