As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over, til it’s over!” That was the very sentiment echoing throughout the capitol as rumors began to spread that the budget would be wrapped up a week before the constitutional June 30 deadline. But within a matter of four days the general appropriations bill started a fast-tracked trek to the Governor’s desk as the final details were wrapped up on three code bills.
Playing It Safe…
The understanding of most is that in a gubernatorial election year, when half of the Senate and the entirety of the House are up for reelection as well, there is little appetite to produce a comprehensive and robust budget requiring heavily political tax votes or any other votes that could similarly “rock the boat.” So how did they produce a balanced budget ahead of time with the same players that have been identified as the cause for delayed budgets over the past three years?
The $32.7 billion budget contained no broad-based tax increases, but increased spending by approximately two percent over last year’s budget. Increased funding for education at all levels, school safety, and the continued battle against the opioid epidemic were just a few initiatives on the list. Shocking, was the absence of general frustration among legislative leaders, who all hailed the proposal as a great bipartisan compromise – everyone seems to have gotten a little of what they wanted and had to concede some other things in order to get this package over the finish line.
There were no long-winded speeches in press conferences or on the floor of either chamber. There was simply a general calm among those with voting power and a self-assured feeling of satisfaction. For advocates in the building, that was not so much the case. Generally speaking, budget time is an opportunity for lobbyists to get non-budget-related bills across the finish line while the caucuses and the Governor’s office navigate through long, and sometimes unproductive, budget negotiations. With the indication that those advocates would be losing a week of time to move on legislation, there was a sense of urgency among those trying to either play offense or defense.
The wheels were in motion. Lobbyists were keenly aware that if their language wasn’t in one of the code bills, it wasn’t going to happen at this time. Compounding the tension, was the agreement that the code bills would be very light on any changes and that only the most essential language would be included. While there were rumblings that perhaps there were problems with this code or that code, the budget language started circulating and it became clear that the end to this session was in sight.
On Friday night, June 22, the Governor quietly signed into law the 2018-19 budget in the privacy of his own office. For three years, he simply let the budget lapse into law without his signature, but not this year. This was the year that all of the parties proved that bipartisan compromise is, in fact, still possible in the currently polarized political process.
If you want to learn more about specific areas of the budget, here are some additional resources:
Budget Bill – http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=2121&pn=3747
Fiscal Code – http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=1929&pn=3810
School Code –
Human Services Code –