Joint Hearing Held by Senate Appropriations & Finance Committees

Focuses on Line Item Veto & Distribution of Funds in Absence of Appropriation

The Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees held a joint public hearing today to discuss the Governor’s line item veto and the disbursement of funding absent a General Budget Appropriation, according to Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne and Finance Chairman John Eichelberger.

Following the passage in December of 2015 of a General Fund Budget of $30.26 billion for Fiscal Year 2015-16 – House Bill 1460 – by the General Assembly and the subsequent $6 billion line item veto by the Governor, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been left in unprecedented territory with only a partially funded budget for the current fiscal year.

This has raised serious questions and concerns for how services critical to the safety, health and welfare of Pennsylvania’s residents will receive funding during a budget impasse or when funding is cut or reduced following a Governor’s line item veto.

More specifically, questions were asked and concerns were raised during the hearing regarding the Governor’s unilateral decision to request the Treasury Department to release state funding for those vital services without the authorization of those general fund expenditures by the General Assembly, which is prohibited under the state constitution.

“In the past, when the General Assembly and the Governor have not been able to reach an agreement on a general fund budget by the beginning of the fiscal year, payment of these costs are understood to be made under the platform of public health and safety,” Senator Browne said. “But, the question that has arisen is whether or not it is appropriate and legal for payments to be made when a fiscal year appropriations act has been approved and the payments are made in excess of that Appropriations amount for the fiscal year. This is especially important where the chief executive has unilaterally reduced the expenditure amount under line item veto authority.”

Members of the Appropriations and Finance Committee heard testimony during the hearing from Christopher Craig, Esq., Chief Counsel in the Treasury Department, and Michael Dimino, Sr., Esq., Professor of Law at Widener University Commonwealth Law School.

“This is a very serious, precedent setting situation,” Senator Eichelberger said. “The Governor’s unilateral actions disregard any measure of accountability by the General Assembly.”

While there is legitimate concern that the Federal Government will ultimately require that services related to safety, health and welfare must be funded, the question remains has the Governor overstepped his authority by asking for the funding released in absence of a General Fund Appropriation for that expenditure.

“This could establish a dangerous precedent toward the erosion of the constitutional principle of separation of powers,” Senator Browne said. “A Governor, using a subjective determination of what’s in the best interests of the Commonwealth, could use his line item veto to bypass the state legislature’s constitutional appropriation authority. It would afford himself or herself the opportunity to determine additional funding for state programs and services when there is not be a complete fiscal year budget. Furthermore, it would potentially allow for the Governor to unilaterally set priorities for spending by choosing the amount and timing of which programs to fund under the “safety, health and welfare” category of services.

Meanwhile, the legislature has started down the appropriate path to funding these vital services with the Senate Appropriations Committee passing legislation that would restore the cuts made to Department of Corrections in the Governor’s line item veto back to the levels funded through the General Fund budget passed in December. The Senate could vote as early as this week, after which it would need to pass the House of Representatives and be signed by the Governor for those expenditures to be release to the Department of Corrections.

To watch video of the hearing or read testimony from the hearing, visit either the Senate Appropriations Committee page http://appropriations.pasenategop.com/020816/ or the Senate Finance Committee page http://finance.pasenategop.com/020816/.

CONTACTS:

Matt Moyer (Senator Browne), mmoyer@pasen.gov

Patrick Schurr (Senator Eichelberger), pschurr@pasen.gov