Corbett blue lines chunk of legislature’s funding, war seems on in Harrisburg

Governor Tom Corbett signed the overall budget Thursday, one day before it would automatically have become law. State government will go on mostly uninterrupted.

But Corbett, a Republican, escalated a growing feud with the legislature, controlled by Republicans, after he vetoed a chunk of their funding.

The governor blue lined $65 million of the $320 million legislative appropriation. He also cut another $7.2 million from lawmakers’ wish list, including $5 million for staffers to park in Harrisburg.

“While the rest of state government was cutting back, we had the General Assembly adding to its budget, adding to the budget in terms of line items, like the parking,” budget secretary Charles Zogby said.

Lawmakers also have a taxpayer-funded legislative reserve of $150 million. Corbett suggested that legislators tap that reserve to pay for their parking and make up the money he eliminated.

“Pennsylvania doesn’t have a reserve,” Corbett said with increasing agitation. “We don’t have a rainy day fund, but the legislature does?”

But blue lining the $5 million for parking is a bit puzzling because it was part of the Harrisburg recovery plan that Corbett’s team negotiated.

The source of the governor’s frustration was a lack of progress on pension reform. He didn’t call the General Assembly into a special session, as many thought he would, but he strongly suggested lawmakers come back and fix a pension system that’s gobbling up alarming amounts of taxpayer dollars.

He also took a shot at a legislature that traditionally leaves for vacation in late June and wasn’t scheduled to return until September 12. After that, there are only 12 session days left before the end of the year.

“Pennsylvania’s legislature is a full-time legislature,” Corbett said with emphasis on the word “full.”

“The General Assembly left Harrisburg earlier this month with unfinished business. They need to come back and enact pension reform.”

The House did call a session day for August 4, likely to consider legislation to boost Philadelphia school’s funding through an increased cigarette tax. It’s unclear if the legislature will try to override Corbett’s veto, but it is clear they are unhappy with his blue lining and his caustic remarks.

Senate Republican leaders issued a joint statement that concluded: “We are not aware of, and the Governor has not explained the link between the elimination of funding for these programs, along with the legislature and achieving our mutual goal of public pension reform. While we share the desire to enact statewide pension reform, linking pension reform to punitive program cuts is not a successful strategy.

“We are disappointed that the Governor has not, to date, been able to work effectively with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to address important fiscal issues impacting our state.”

House leaders were also critical.

“The governor’s actions today seem to us to be about politics and not the hard work of governing,” majority leader Mike Turzai said.

Turzai said over the past three years, the governor’s expenses have increased 16 percent while the legislature’s increased just four percent.

“I’m not sure I understand the strategy of it,” Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland) said. “If you’re tying to get the legislature to work with you to come up with a pension bill, poking them in the eye probably isn’t the best strategy.”

But Corbett’s strategy seems clear. The incumbent governor, who’s 22 points behind challenger Tom Wolf, is painting himself as a protector of average taxpayers battling Harrisburg’s established politicians. He said Thursday he’ll make that case directly to the state’s voters.

“I’m asking the citizens of this great state to join me in this fight and demand that the members of the legislature stand up to the public sector unions and address the most important fiscal challenge facing Pennsylvania,” he said.

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