Wolf vetoes part of budget, but releases cash for schools

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A stern-faced Gov. Tom Wolf scolded Republican legislators Tuesday as he rejected parts of a $30.3 billion GOP plan for Pennsylvania’s budget but released money for schools, social services and county governments that had been stuck in a record six-month stalemate.

Using his line-item veto authority for the first time since he took office in January, the Democrat released $23.4 billion, including more than $3.5 billion for basic and special education. Among the rejected items was a proposed increase in the Legislature’s appropriation.

At a Capitol news conference, Wolf said Republican lawmakers who “ran out of town” for the year-end holidays needed to “get back to the work of the people.”

“In doing this, I’m expressing the outrage that all of us should feel about the garbage the Republican legislative leaders have tried to dump on us,” he said of his veto. “This budget is wrong for Pennsylvania. And our legislators — the folks we elected to serve us — need to own up to this. They need to do their jobs.”

To make ends meet during the budget standoff, social service agencies have been forced to lay off employees, some state-subsidized prekindergarten programs have closed their doors and many school districts faced the possibility that they would not reopen after the holidays or run out of money.

Republican leaders in both houses said they are ready to resume bipartisan budget discussions, but not right away. House Speaker Mike Turzai sent out a memo Tuesday afternoon saying leaders of both parties agreed the House would not convene before Monday. Senate officials said there were no plans to convene that chamber through Sunday because most major budget-related bills are pending in the House.

Senate GOP leaders chided the governor for creating a “crisis situation” that could have been avoided if he had vetoed line items instead of rejected entire budgets as he did with a similar GOP proposal when the fiscal year ended in June.

“We have been negotiating in good faith with him, which is why we are disappointed that he used words like ‘garbage’ and ‘exercise in stupidity’ in his statement,” the four leaders said in a joint statement.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said he was pleased that Wolf released the additional money for schools and social services. He said House GOP leaders are willing to participate in negotiations but that any tax increase would be “a hard sell.”

Wolf wants lawmakers to pass a $30.8 billion spending and tax deal he negotiated with GOP leaders from both houses in November. It contains about $500 million more than the bill Wolf rejected Tuesday and calls for a 6 percent spending increase and $1 billion-plus in new taxes.

“Negotiations are over,” said Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan. “It’s time to pass the budget that already passed the Senate 43-7.”

Wolf said the vetoed bill did not provide enough new funding for schools, social services and deficit reduction. The bill, which resembled a GOP budget plan that Wolf rejected at the end of the fiscal year in June, would have left a budget hole of more than $2 billion by the end of the next fiscal year.

It contains about $500 million less than the $30.8 billion spending and tax deal that Wolf negotiated with Republican leaders in November and that he said Tuesday he remains “ready to sign.” That bill calls for a 6 percent spending increase and $1 billion-plus in unspecified new taxes.

But Republicans retreated to the House-backed $30.3 billion plan after the House balked at a Senate -backed bill to restructure state pension benefits, which many observers viewed as a proxy defeat of the more costly bipartisan budget agreement.