Gov. Wolf’s Budget Reversal

In his many press conferences about Pennsylvania's fiscal future, Gov. Wolf was adamant about one thing: the state budget must be truly balanced. He lambasted the General Assembly for its refusal—in his mind—to craft and pass fiscally responsible budget proposals.

The governor was not shy about expressing his displeasure with the legislature. Here are just a few examples—all with a common theme:

  • June 30, 2015: The governor criticized the Republican budget as “unbalanced and built on one-time revenues that lead to a $3 billion deficit.” He subsequently vetoed the entire budget, setting in motion a nine-month impasse.
  • December 31, 2015: Gov. Wolf partially vetoed another budget, stating it “does not balance” and would have put the commonwealth in a $500 million hole to end the year.
  • March 16, 2016: The governor threatened to veto a bipartisan supplemental appropriations bill, claiming, “This is the third time they [the General Assembly] have attempted to pass an unbalanced budget with no consultation with the administration. This is simply unproductive and a waste of taxpayer resources.” [emphasis mine]

Wolf eventually reneged on his veto threat and allowed the budget to become law without his signature. Still, he maintained it was not really balanced—though at the time it actually was. Unfortunately, the legislature added additional spending, throwing it out of balance by the end of the fiscal year.

More recently, a week before the legislature passed a fiscally imprudent budget, the Wolf Administration made one of its priorities crystal clear:

  • June 22, 2016: Jeffrey Sheridan, Gov. Wolf’s press secretary, published a blog titled “Budget Must Close Deficit to Avert Funding Crisis.” In it, he touted all of Wolf’s “compromises” with the legislature but made it clear he would not “compromise on the mathematical reality of Pennsylvania’s financial situation.”
  • July 7, 2016: The governor stated he would not sign the budget proposal because it did not have the necessary revenues to balance. In an online video, he said, “We cannot spend money we don’t have.”

After beating the balanced budget drum for more than a year, Gov. Wolf suddenly changed his mind, opting to let the latest budget become law. This despite the commonwealth having no way to pay for the more than $1.6 billion in new spending.

But it gets worse. The governor actually has a legal obligation to ensure the commonwealth's budget is balanced. Yet, he is declining to meet this legal responsibility.

This raises an obvious question: Why the change of heart?