BLOG: Secret Spending, Special Interest Favors Snuck Into Fiscal Code

By: J.J. Abbott, Deputy Press Secretary

March 25, 2016

By now you’ve heard that Governor Wolf will allow the Republican budget to become law this weekend. After months of seeking fiscal responsibility from leaders to address Pennsylvania’s deficit crisis, Governor Wolf is moving on – because the bigger crisis is the looming cuts to schools and senior programs if we do not address the 2016-2017 deficit.

Governor Wolf isn’t, however, letting political perks get snuck into the fiscal code.

What’s the fiscal code? Well, the fiscal code is supposed to be a fairly straight forward document that directs how money in the budget is spent. However, over the last few years, it’s been used by the legislature to play political games and dole out pork-barrel spending for their districts and special interests.

Here’s just a few of the things Republicans tried to sneak in the fiscal code in the 2015-2016 budget:

  • Guts Environmental Protections for Water and Land: Abrogates and restarts the process for the Chapter 78 natural gas regulations relating to conventional drillers. These regulations are currently being considered by IRRC and have been in process for five years and have generated over 30,000 public comments, the overwhelming majority of which have been supportive. This would be a significant setback to the DEP’s efforts to enhance environmental safeguards for natural gas development.
  • Furthers Inequitable School Funding: Perpetuates a Basic Education Funding distribution, which is one of the most inequitable funding distribution formulas in the nation because the devastating cuts from 2010-11 are not restored.
  • Slows Action to Combat Climate Change: Requires that any Clean Power Plan drafted by DEP be submitted to the legislature 180 days prior to submission to EPA for approval: thereby allowing either chamber to unilaterally disapprove the plan, causing DEP to have to amend the plan as directed by the legislature. This process is both an unconstitutional one chamber veto, and an unwarranted intrusion into executive authority.
  • Could Force Schools to Close: Reversing a prior distribution of the Ready to Learn Block Grant monies by withholding Basic Education Funding dollars if the amount of Block Grant funding already distributed to school districts under the 2015 General Appropriation Act exceeds the amount authorized in the bill. This would result in unwinding of funding already allocated to some of the commonwealth’s poorest districts like Philadelphia and Chester Upland, and would force some schools to close this year.
  • Adds Debt Without Fixing Credit: Authorizes up to $2.5 billion in new bond debt that would be prohibitively costly to issue due to inflated debt costs resulting from the lack of any concrete steps in the current budget to address the structural deficit.

Governor Wolf is standing up and saying “no more” by vetoing these secret political games and favors.

The Wolf Administration will work to distribute the funding provided in the general appropriations bill in the most appropriate manner possible, just as the administration did in December when the governor signed a partial general appropriations bill that was without an accompanying Fiscal Code because the legislature did not pass one.

Gutting important environmental regulations, ensuring that money for schools is distributed in the most unfair, and needlessly taking taxpayer money and spending it on special interest pork and earmarks? That doesn’t sound like fiscal responsibility. It sounds like just another reason why Harrisburg is broken and needs to be fixed.

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