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Audit: PA Legislature has nearly $120M surplus

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 7:36 p.m.

The state Legislature ended the 2015-16 fiscal year with a nearly $120 million funding “surplus” — even after a nearly nine-month budget impasse drained its reserves.

Lawmakers in Harrisburg had $118.4 million in unspent funds as of June 30, according to an annual audit released Monday that was conducted by accounting firm Boyer & Ritter LLC.

Reserve funding accumulates through unspent appropriations to the House and Senate and several legislative service agencies, commissions and committees. The most recent audit shows lawmakers replenished their funding cushion roughly back to the $100.4-million level prior to the 2015-16 budget impasse.

Following Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's veto of the Republican-crafted budget in 2015, the four legislative caucuses spent their reserve funds and had to borrow money. The standoff ended last May.

House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said borrowing for operation purposes is not ideal but was necessary.

“In order to keep a separate yet equal branch of government on the same playing field, these reserve funds ensure that would happen, so that members cannot be extorted by an overzealous executive branch,” Miskin said. He credited the reserve funds with allowing legislators to resist approving Wolf's proposals to increase income and sales taxes.

“The justification for having the fund has been undermined by their ability to receive compensation through the budget impasse,” said Eric Epstein, head of watchdog group Rock the Capital and a frequent critic of the reserve fund.

During the impasse, House and Senate Republicans as well as Senate Democrats sought credits lines from financial institutions, while House Democrats received an advance from the state Treasury.

“The gravy train continued to roll during the budget process,” Epstein added.

The auditing firm recommended the Legislature improve its financial internal accounting by adopting a continuous audit system to better monitor finances, given the Legislature's “size and complexity.” It suggested a “thorough assessment” of the General Assembly's financial IT system. Auditors also recommended the House implement the use of purchasing and procurement cards for certain expense accounts controlled by caucus leadership.

Miskin said the caucus would review the recommendations.

In a statement Monday, the Legislative Audit Advisory Committee touted the current reserve amount is $90 million less than it was 10 years ago, when it topped $210 million.

Kevin Zwick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2856 or

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