State House's Democratic leader says Republicans left 'mess' by not approving spending bill
HARRISBURG — Republican legislative leaders made a “legislative and fiscal mess” when they left the capital without passing a law that spells out how hundreds of millions of dollars in state money can be spent, a spokesman for the House Democratic leader said Monday.
Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, disputed the accusation and said the speaker's office has not determined whether the House will return for a one-day session to address an estimated $235 million in expenditures. The House isn't scheduled to return until Sept. 23.
The problem surfaced last week when Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed a state budget on the last day of the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Both chambers had work remaining, however, including passage of a state fiscal code. The code is a hodgepodge of spending items that can't be inserted in the general appropriations bill because of a 2006 Commonwealth Court ruling.
Not having a fiscal code in place would “reduce this year's available funding by $235 million, potentially forcing cuts to higher education” and money for Philadelphia schools, Corbett's Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said last week.
“We have heard that an additional House session day is likely in the near future to repair the legislative and fiscal mess that Republican leaders left last week,” said Bill Patton, spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont.
Patton's characterization is “not accurate,” Miskin said.
Republicans have “mismanaged the budget process to the extent they have to come back in the middle of July or August,” said Rep. Joe Markosek, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
“It's now obvious that the budget wasn't done on time,” said Markosek of Monroeville.
Republicans, including Corbett, criticized late budgets under former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and campaigned for “on-time budgets,” Markosek said.
“The Democrats are experts at late budgets,” countered Corbett's spokesman Kevin Harley. “Gov. Corbett had three on-time budgets in a row without raising taxes.” Corbett signed the general appropriations bill at 10 p.m. Sunday.
The fiscal code requires authorization from the House before Corbett can sign it. The Senate amended it last week to remove language on “payday loans” — short-term, high-interest loans — inserted by the House.
“There was no agreement to include the paragraph about payday lending in the fiscal code,” Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson said.
The Senate, Miskin said, “chose to remove nonbinding language” on payday loans.
Miskin contended there would be no immediate budget impact, though he acknowledged there might be a delay of funding to state-related universities, including the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State. Any delay would not extend past September, he said.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.