Wolf Legally Required to Reduce Spending

Gov. Wolf has a legal responsibility to reduce spending and fix a legislative mistake. Unless the legislature passes a revenue bill today—which seems unlikely—the state budget is unbalanced.

Lawmakers sent Gov. Wolf a $31.6 billion budget (that’s what it will cost once they send him bills that fund Penn State, Pitt and Temple), without a plan to pay for it. Last night, Gov. Wolf indicated he will allow this budget to become law without his signature, even though it isn’t balanced.

Legally, Gov. Wolf must veto any spending above the official estimate of revenues. According to the Administrative Code:

The Governor shall item veto any part of any appropriation bill that causes total appropriations to exceed the official estimate plus any unappropriated surplus.

Additionally, Chapter 71, Section 4105 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, which creates the Independent Fiscal Office, puts the onus on the governor to ensure the budget is balanced, even if the legislature passes an unbalanced budget. 

The Governor shall certify that any appropriation bill does not cause total appropriations to exceed  revenues plus any unappropriated surplus as provided in section 618 of the act of April 9, 1929 (P.L.177, No.175), known as The Administrative Code of 1929. 

In the last two budgets, both Gov. Wolf and Gov. Corbett used not only the line-item veto to eliminate funding for certain programs, but the “item-reduction” veto. Using this, the governor can cross out an appropriation in the budget and write in a lower spending number.

Gov. Wolf could fix the budget by reducing the total spending. He can use the line-item veto to strike out unnecessary programs and the item-reduction veto to reduce some of the legislature’s funding increase. If he were to reduce overall spending by just 1 percent, taxpayers would save $316 million.

Gov. Wolf may not prefer to take this action and reduce spending, but he has the legal obligation and power to do so. The governor can fix the legislature’s unbalanced budget without creating another long impasse.