Pennsylvania governor to veto latest budget as stalemate drags on

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2016 6:26 PM

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said on Wednesday that he would veto the latest Republican budget as lawmakers continue their months-long struggle to set a spending plan.

The Pennsylvania Senate passed a $30 billion supplemental budget for fiscal 2016 on Wednesday, and the House is also expected to approve the same bill.

"In its current form, I will veto this budget, and I urge Republicans in the legislature to stop the partisan games and come back to the table to negotiate a final budget that funds our schools and eliminates the nearly $2 billion deficit," Wolf said in a statement.

Using the Republicans' own math, he said, the budget creates a deficit that would prompt big cuts to education and social programs and lead to higher property taxes.

Though Wolf introduced a fiscal 2017 budget on Feb. 9, the state still has only a partial spending plan for this fiscal year, which began July 1. That makes a full 2016 budget nearly nine months overdue.

During the impasse, school districts, colleges and social service agencies have all had to make due without state funding.

The partial budget Wolf agreed to in December finally sent the first six months of aid flowing to schools, but by then they had gone almost that long without any state money.

School districts borrowed a collective $1 billion across the state - incurring up to $50 million in interest and fees - to stay open through December. They are now warning, again, that they could soon have to consider shutting without state funds.

The spending plan passed on Wednesday by the Senate does not raise sales or income taxes but restores most of the $6 billion in funding Wolf eliminated in his line-item vetoes in December.

The bill would provide $5.95 billion for basic education, a $200 million increase from the previous year. It would also restore higher education funds, including for community colleges, The Pennsylvania State University and Temple University.

Wolf took office in January 2015 pledging to restore the previous administration's cuts to education funding. He wanted to pay for it in part with a tax on natural gas extraction, which some Republican legislative leaders have opposed.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Sandra Maler)