Aument: Serious Constitutional Questions Raised in Senate Hearing

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HARRISBURG – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) today participated in a joint public hearing conducted by the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee regarding the expenditure of funds during the recent budget impasse.

“Today’s hearing was sobering,” said Sen. Aument. “We found out that for months and months the Governor and State Treasurer have been spending billions of dollars without any authority by law on programs and services that they thought deserved to be funded.”

The Senate hearing focused on the State Treasurer’s role in approving warrants (requests for payment) from state executive agencies during the time period when no legal authority existed for payments to be made.

“When Governor Wolf vetoed the General Appropriations Act in June, and subsequently signed, but line-item vetoed over $6 billion in Act 10-A of 2015, he decided to eliminate funding for these services and programs,” said Sen. Aument. “However, we have come to learn that nearly all of those programs and services continued to be funded by the State Treasurer whenever the Governor requested payments to be made.”

The Treasurer’s Chief Counsel told the Senate Appropriations Committee and Finance Committee that the authority for the State Treasurer to make these payments, once requested by the Governor, was consistent with providing for the “health, safety and welfare” of the people of Pennsylvania.

“The fact is that Governor Wolf and his State Treasurer have directly usurped the power of people of Pennsylvania – through their elected General Assembly – to decide how much we spend,” said Sen. Aument. “Article III, Section 24 of the Pennsylvania Constitution is clear: No money shall be paid out of the treasury, except on appropriations made by law and on warrant issued by the proper officer.”

Sen. Aument noted that absent legal appropriations, the State Treasurer has been colluding with the Governor to continue funding certain preferred areas of state government under the “health, safety and welfare” standard while ignoring other vital programs and services, including critical access rural hospitals, programs in the Department of Agriculture, and public education.

“I questioned the Treasurer’s Chief Counsel directly, ‘Did Governor Wolf or the Secretary of Education ever request payments on behalf of Pennsylvania’s public schools?’” said Sen. Aument. “The answer was, ‘no.’ I think this says all that needs to be said about this unconstitutional scheme, because public education is the one item in our Constitution which we must and should fund.”

Also testifying at the hearing was Michael Dimino, Sr., a constitutional law professor who raised serious questions about the process being used by the Governor and State Treasurer to advance monies absent legal authority.

“I agree with Mr. Dimino and all those who believe that our Constitution still matters,” said Sen. Aument. “The fact that the Governor and State Treasurer are willing to spend billions of dollars without authorizing appropriations is an outrageous abuse of executive authority. If they can spend money they do not legally have, what’s next, taxing people more through the Department of Revenue without legislative approval?”

This issue is also being highlighted by a recent lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. “I wish the school districts the very best in their litigation,” said Sen. Aument. “If this issue is left unchecked, it most certainly will severely disrupt the balance of powers among the branches of government, to the detriment of the people of our Commonwealth who elect their General Assembly to make decisions regarding taxes and spending.”

Sen. Aument noted that this is just one of several examples of executive overreach, which is most severe in the federal government, but now is taking roots in state governments.

“The peoples’ legislature cannot – and should not – be pushed aside by an executive who finds convincing them to support public polices inconvenient,” said Sen. Aument. “Our Constitution specifically provides for the General Assembly’s authority to be a central figure in these consequential decisions.”

CONTACT: Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420