Wolf Signs Stop-Gap Budget With Punitive Line-Item Vetoes

This morning, Gov. Tom Wolf signed the state budget on his desk, using his line-item veto (and item-reduction veto) power to cut the spending by more than $6 billion, targeting certain areas.

Calling the budget “garbage” and an “exercise in stupidity” while lambasting lawmakers because “they ran out of town,” Wolf asked for more compromise, saying, “Let’s get back to work.”

Of course, such overtures are unlikely to improve his relationship with legislative leaders.

So what did Gov. Wolf strike from the budget? Here are some notable cuts from the veto message:

  1. Reducing the “basic education” line item by $3.1 billion. Ostensibly, this provides six months worth of funding and is intended to get lawmakers back to the table. The real difference between the current budget and what Wolf wants is about $250 million in K-12 education funding.

    As we pointed out this morning, Wolf’s claim that the budget would “cut” education funding by $95 million is a lie. The budget provides a $400 million increase in public school funding. The only item being reduced is for school construction—this isn’t being “cut” but will be funded with state bonds. In fact, that proposal is part of the framework budget too, as you can see from Gov. Wolf's own spreadsheet.

    The only cut to education is the one Wolf made today.

  2. Reducing Medicaid by $2 billion and Corrections by $900 million. Wolf reduced the line items “Medical Assistance – Capitation” (Medicaid) and “State Correctional Institutions”—also to provide six months of funding.

    But these reductions don’t make much sense. Is the commonwealth not going to make Medicaid payments after January 1? Will the state stop paying prison guards in the new year? That seems unlikely—these payments have been going out already, even without a budget.

  3. Zeroing out the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC). This makes little sense—unless Wolf wants to prevent PERC from issuing analyses of pension legislation, which is a requirement for passing pension reform. Oh…I see what he did there.
  4. $69 million in line-item vetoes in the Department of Agriculture.
  5. $6 million in line-item vetoes and reductions in Community and Economic Development. This includes items the Commonwealth Foundation has identified as “corporate welfare”—we actually had more suggestions for line item vetoes here.
  6. $9 million in line-item vetoes from the Department of Health.
  7. A $31 million reduction for the Senate and $19 million reduction for the House of Representatives. I wonder who he is trying to punish with those vetoes? Wolf also vetoed $14 million from legislative support agencies.

Gov. Wolf did well to release emergency funding for schools and nonprofits. But that’s something he should have done six months ago. Wolf’s own comment, “We're now at a point where I don't want to hold the children of PA hostage,” confirms this is exactly what he’s been doing by vetoing the entire budget in June and vetoing subsequent stop-gap measures.

His signing of the budget today releases some of those hostages, for the time being at least. But his punitive vetoes show he’s not yet done playing political games.