Governor Tom Corbett made it a campaign promise to have his budgets completed by the June 30th deadline, but has he made good on the promise?
“From a policy standpoint I would say it’s yes – with an asterisk,” said Leo Knepper with the conservative group Citizens Alliance for PA.
Corbett’s general appropriations bill for the 2013-2014 FY was signed into law with hours to spare, yet fifteen days later negotiations continue over budget-related bills. The House is set to take up the state’s Fiscal Code Monday in a special session of the legislature before they recess for the summer.
The continued back and forth begs the question: to what degree can proponents truly say that the budget was done on time?
“It would be done if everything is wrapped up within a day or two. Beyond that it would be fair to say that it is not on time,” said Sharon Ward, Director of the left-leaning PA Budget and Policy Center.
“They have to certify the revenue and they cannot do that unless the fiscal code is done. You need to have everything in place for the efficient operation of government.”
Democrats challenge Corbett’s campaign-style boast of three years of on time budgets. They point to the legislature’s failure to pass all of the budget’s components before the deadline not only this year but last year as well.
“Last budget [in 2012] this happened,” said House Democratic caucus spokesman Brett Marcy. “Corbett signed general appropriation bill with time to spare, but had not signed accompanying trailer bills. He has not had a complete and finished budget in two years.”
Nate Benefield is the Director of Policy Analysis at the conservative Commonwealth Foundation. He rejected the charge that the budget was not on time.
“From a purely legal standpoint, you can’t spend money in the next fiscal year unless the general appropriations bill is passed,” he said.
Asked if it is fair to say that the budget is on-time, but incomplete, Benefield said no.
“They can start spending money from the budget now, its not like the budget isn’t done but if they don’t get the other bills passed they need to come back and adjust it.”
Corbett emphasized his goal to sign budgets on time largely in response to his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
Rendell passed only one on-time budget during his eight years as Governor. The longest impasse lasted into October.
In 2010, Rendell signed a budget on a timeframe very similar to Gov. Corbett his year: he approved the general appropriations bill before the deadline but waited days before signing the accompanying code bills.
When the shoe was on the other foot Republicans clamored then, as Democrats do now that the budget was not on time.
Said Ward of the PA Budget and Policy Center said the distinction then as now is more about politics than policy.
“That it is as much symbolic as real.”
The sentiment was echoed by Knepper. He said the recurring late pattern was what dogged Rendell.
“The GOP in 2010 could point to all of the other Rendell budgets that did not pass on time with credibility. This time around I don’t think it will stick,” he said.
Marcy of the House Dems said that the current stall on the state Fiscal Code withholds $45 million in guaranteed aid for the ailing Philadelphia school district. The delay also holds up the disbursement of $95 million from the state’s Tobacco Settlement Fund for senior citizens.
“Should the legislature fail to promptly pass the Fiscal Code, it could have significant implications on commonwealth spending and revenues,” said Corbett’s budget secretary Charles Zogby said back on July 3, as reported in the Patriot-News.
Provided the state House passes the code bills Monday, the delay will have had few damaging consequences. But if the House makes changes, the state Senate would have to sign off on the final version. Then the delay could stretch until September.