There has been plenty of reaction — mostly from lawmakers — to Gov. Tom Corbett's decision today to use his line-item veto power to scale back certain legislative funding as he signed the 2014-15 budget.
Here are some comments:
• Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland):
“I’m 100 percent with the governor on the urgent need for state pension reform, and I voted for it. I am also pleased he has finally signed the pro-taxpayer, fiscally responsible main budget we sent him on time last week. I am, however, disappointed that instead of focusing his energy on changing the minds of the Democratic and specific Republican legislators who are siding with special interests and public sector union bosses, the governor has chosen to lash out indiscriminately at the General Assembly as a whole. I’m concerned he might be needlessly alienating himself from even those of us who are fighting for reform and diminishing his ability to successfully negotiate critical issues on behalf of the hard-working taxpayers we represent.”
• House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) said:
“The governor is simply unwilling to face the reality that his policies have not worked and his time is up. It’s his fourth year in office and the state is in terrible financial shape.
“He cut a billion dollars from education in his first budget, and then locked in those cuts three years in a row. The $3 billion he cut from public education directly led to higher property taxes in almost every school district in the state.
“Tom Corbett made this mess. He owns it. It’s time for a fresh start.”
• House Democratic Whip Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) said:
“It’s clearer than ever that Governor Corbett sees public-sector workers as the enemy. Good people doing important jobs are not the enemy — they are regular Pennsylvanians and they have earned the right to a secure retirement.
“By seeking to punish teachers, nurses, law enforcement officers, janitors and every other public worker for problems they did not cause, the leaders of the Republican Party continue to show how disconnected they are from the everyday reality of Pennsylvanians.”
•Democratic Appropriations Chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said:
“Governor Corbett has failed to propose anything on pensions that would provide budgetary savings for the state or school districts without greatly increasing our long-term debt.
“He pushed for and got $2 billion in business tax cuts at a time when the state could not afford it. He cut billions from public education. If Governor Corbett has his way, Pennsylvania will go further into pension debt just to help balance his election-year budget.”
• Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25), Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-34) and Senate Majority Whip Pat Browne (R-16) have issued the following statement in response to Gov. Corbett’s veto of State Budget lines and program cuts:
“Today the Governor unilaterally eliminated funding in the state budget, which was timely passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on June 30, 2014.
“The Governor’s line item veto included operating funds appropriated to the legislature. These cuts were disproportionately directed at the Senate. We have serious concerns with the ability of the Senate to function as a central figure in the legislative process with $30 million being stripped from our reserves.
“Over the past three years the Senate has taken a proactive role limiting operating costs and reducing legislative reserves, while preserving the ability to serve our constitutional role as a separate and independent branch of government. Throughout this period the Senate has shared in the responsibility to decrease spending by returning over $27.2 million to the state.
“Today the Governor also announced that he has cut, eliminated or placed in budgetary reserves several state programs directly, and through the unprecedented, and likely unconstitutional step of a line item veto to sections of the Fiscal Code bill. It is horribly concerning that the Governor has elected to cut or withhold funds for items that include hospital programs for low income individuals, educational programs across the state, arts & cultural programs, job training programs & biotechnology research programs.
“The state budget process is not a game to be played and vital government programs should never be placed in jeopardy. Putting the needs of Pennsylvania residents ahead of politics has always been, and continues to be our top priority.
“Reforming public pension benefits is an important goal that Senate Republicans have been engaged in for months. On June 30, 2014, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 922, which takes an important first step to move all elected officials, including members of the General Assembly, out of a defined benefit public pension plan to remove this financial burden from taxpayers.
“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. However, we will not close our eyes to the needs of Pennsylvania residents, and we look forward to continuing to work with the House of Representatives and Governor Corbett to make Pennsylvania a stronger state.”
• State Sen. Mike Stack today released the following statement regarding Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget statement this morning:
“What Pennsylvania needs right now is serious leadership willing to stand up for education, the environment and middle-class families.
“Instead, we have an indecisive governor using political maneuvers to mark up a budget already filled with gimmicks and patches and destined to become unraveled long before next year’s deadline.
“The pension solution offered by the administration would have no short-term affect on the budget and could actually increase the long-term liability. Insisting that this thinly disguised attack on working families be linked to the constitutional mandate of budget passage is short-sighted, stubborn and destined to fail.
“With every passing day of inaction, with every half-hearted threat and political maneuver, the people of Pennsylvania — especially the parents of Philadelphia school children — lose a little more faith in the administration’s ability to function and uphold its constitutional obligations.
“What we have seen over the past 10 days is an administration in chaos, unable to even articulate realistic priorities let alone rally a majority of the legislature behind those priorities.
“The extortion of Philadelphia school children failed, now they are trying to make teachers the scapegoat for the pension and education funding problems. Teachers and state workers have always contributed everything we asked of them to the pension funds. They never missed a payment.
“The real problem is the Corbett administration’s $1 billion cut to public education in 2011, and their failure to support revenue sources that could improve our budget by generating money for education to help our students, middle-class families, and middle-class workers.”
• State Sen. Rob Teplitz issued the following statement today on the governor’s decision to veto select line items in the FY 2014-15 state budget, specifically, $5 million in funding from the Department of General Services that was intended to be used toward leasing parking spaces for state employees in the City of Harrisburg:
“It’s outrageous that the governor would put the city’s financial recovery plan — developed largely by his own appointed receiver — into jeopardy. This funding is a critical piece of the entire puzzle that was carefully assembled last year in order to move the city toward financial stability.
“I am grateful to the governor and my legislative colleagues for the fact that the state budget still includes full compensation to the city for providing fire protection and emergency services to the 40 tax-exempt state-owned buildings in the Capitol Complex, but Harrisburg’s recovery plan still depends on the state living up to its financial obligations under the parking leases. Although the governor may wish to believe that the legislative reserves will be tapped to fund the leases, and while I would support such a transfer, the reality is that is unlikely to happen.
“It’s time for the governor to demonstrate the leadership necessary to work with the House and Senate — where his own political party holds majorities — in order to finalize the state budget. The capital city, which is on the right track but still in a precarious financial state, must not be a casualty in this dysfunctional process."
• Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said Gov. Tom Corbett should have vetoed the entire 2014-15 budget because it is unsustainable and fails to improve schools. He issued the following statements:
On veto of entire budget:
“As the state’s chief fiscal watchdog I can appreciate the governor’s careful review of the budget before taking action, but he should have vetoed the entire spending plan because it is based on overly optimistic revenue projections and one-time funding sources.
“I am concerned that this budget is not sustainable and that threatens to create an enormous budget deficit that will become evident in six to nine months.
“What Pennsylvania needs is a bi-partisan, fiscally stable budget that doesn’t rely on one-time fixes.
“I guarantee that by the mid-year budget review, everyone will regret this budget becoming law.
“I will continue to keep a close watch on the state budget and spending as the year progresses.”
On education funding:
“The new state budget does not address the basic education and charter school funding issues that our audits routinely show are affecting school districts across the state. We need real reforms in public and charter school funding so schools can prepare students for the future.
“Our audits frequently illustrate the financial pressures on local school districts because of the 2011 elimination of more than $224 million in charter school reimbursements, other state funding cuts and growing pension contributions. Our students and taxpayers will end up paying the biggest price as the majority of school districts across the state expect to eliminate more academic programs and raise property taxes in 2014-15.
“Claiming the 2014-15 budget spends more on schools than ever before is like saying a family is spending more on groceries than ever before. It may be true because costs are going up, but it doesn’t mean the family is eating more or better.”
Gov. Corbett’s decision today to line-item veto funding for the state legislature highlights the fact that every effort to address the $50 billion-and-growing pension has been stopped in its tracks by special interests.
“Today, the governor identified the special interests that oppose any kind of fiscally responsible pension reform: government union leaders,” commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation. “That Gov. Corbett feels a line-item veto is needed to force action on this issue illustrates the immense power these government union executives wield in Harrisburg.”
“As pension payments begin to displace spending on other government services and spur property tax hikes or teacher layoffs around the state, taxpayers will be asking who is to blame. Without pension reform, taxpayers could see nearly $1,000 in additional taxes per household, or nearly one of every three teachers would have to be laid off just to make additional payments on pension debt.
“The governor has made it clear that pension reform must be a priority and those standing in the way will no longer be able to hide in the shadows.”