Skip to content

Stopgap Budget Next Step?

Now in the third month of a budget stalemate between the General Assembly and Governor Tom Wolf, the State Senate announced plans to come back for voting session September 16, 17 and 18. The House is scheduled to come back for session the week of Sept. 21.

Senate Republicans have told ERG that the plan to start a process to move a stopgap budget while negotiations continue in fits and starts.  A stopgap budget could provide funds for counties, school districts and various human services.  The proposal was offered to the Governor earlier this week.

Governor Wolf has neither supported nor rejected the stopgap concept, but said it was a “hypothetical.”  Given his initial action to veto the entire budget rather than approving the majority of spending where there is general agreement, his signature on such a bill is highly unlikely without real progress being made on a settlement of contentious issues. 

As for the dueling mandates and actual negotiations, Governor Wolf last week sought to meet individually with GOP leaders, hoping to break through in the negotiations, to no avail.  Governor Wolf’s Secretary for Policy and Planning, John Hanger said this week they felt they were “offering major concessions to Republicans, including a 401(k)-style pension plan for new state workers.  Republicans have offered education funding increases to the $400 million level originally sought by the Governor. 

But the General Assembly remains adamant on opposing new taxes and sale of the state liquor system, while the Governor just as steadfastly is insisting on a new severance tax on natural gas, reform of the liquor system and sales/income tax hikes to support property tax reform.

Meanwhile, State Treasurer Timothy Reese this week authorized an advance of nearly $1.9 million to the House Democratic caucus in order for it to make payroll this month and continue operations. 

Treasury Chief Counsel Christopher Craig said in a memo that while there is no precedent for the situation, there is “sufficient legal justification to conclude the payment of employee salaries is lawful and correct.”  That justification sits on the fact that workers in the executive and judicial branches of state government continue to get paid, and that legislative staff are as essential to government as those other workers.

A spokesman for House Republicans questioned the action, noting, “This is an unprecedented occurrence, where you have the Treasury, without a budget or authority, transferring these funds.”