What Next for Pennsylvania State Budget?

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House passed HB 1416, a vehicle for the state budget. But that should not be taken to mean that Pennsylvania is much closer to having a budget in place, nor is the final budget likely to look anything like HB 1416 (several House Democrats claimed to be voting yes only to advance the process, not because they liked the bill).

There are two reasons for this:

First HB 1416, as it currently exists, would not be constitutional per Article VIII, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution:

Operating budget appropriations made by the General Assembly shall not exceed the actual and estimated revenues and surplus available in the same fiscal year.

In other words, HB 1416 spends $1.3 billion from a new “Higher Education Fund”, and could not become law until (or simultaneous with) passage of a revenue bill to fund that spending.  Yet no such bill has yet to be introduced, much less moved through the legislative process.

Second, the Republican-controlled state Senate is certain to amend HB 1416, likely with a modified version of SB 850.  (Just a reminders, HB 1416 spends $29.1 billion, $1.8 billion more than the Senate budget passed in May, and $300 million more than Gov. Rendell’s latest budget).

Here’s what will happen next:

  1. The Senate will sent HB 1416 back to the House after amending it.
  2. The House will vote to “nonconcur” with Senate amendments (it is possible the House could vote to concur, if enough “Blue Dog” Democrats join Republicans, but I would not bet on that outcome) and send it back to the Senate.
  3. The Senate will vote to “insist” on their amendments, which would force the bill to a conference committee.
  4. Conferees to the conference committee will be named, but typically this is just a sham.  The real negotiations will continue behind closed doors with the Governor and legislative leaders.  If and when they come to an agreement, they will tell the conference committee what to do.
  5. The conference committee will send their “report” to both the House and Senate, which can then be only voted up or down, without possibility for amendment.