Gov. Wolf blasts Republicans' planned veto override vote

By Marc Levy, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 24, 2015 at 4:51 p.m.



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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf blasted Republican lawmakers Monday over a plan to force piece-by-piece override votes of his budget bill veto, saying GOP leaders cannot negotiate in good faith while staging what the Democrat called an unconstitutional and unproductive move.

Wolf's comments in a letter to lawmakers came a day before Tuesday's planned veto override votes and the resumption of talks on an eight-week-old budget stalemate that has shut off funding to schools and a range of safety-net services.

The House Republican plan could pose a political dilemma to Democratic lawmakers. Supporting Wolf's veto would mean taking a series of votes against funding for educational and human services programs that they actually support.

"We cannot afford the delay that will occur with an unconstitutional veto attempt," Wolf wrote. "Republican leadership cannot negotiate in good faith to move our Commonwealth forward while at the same time leveling public ultimatums and undertaking unconstitutional measures like this."

Democrats have vowed to oppose the line-by-line veto override attempts to prevent Republicans from achieving the necessary two-thirds majority. Republicans rebuffed accusations that their plan is a political stunt and insisted nothing in case law or the constitution outlaws a veto override that targets a piece of the budget, rather than the whole vetoed bill.

"The Democrats not wanting to vote to send money to these countless organizations caught in the middle of the stalemate is offensive," House Republican leaders wrote in a memo to rank-and-file members Monday.

Pennsylvania is nearly two months into its new fiscal year without the new year's spending plan in place. On June 30, Wolf vetoed the GOP's entire $30.2 billion, no-new-taxes budget bill within hours of its passage with only Republican support. Wolf's $31.6 billion plan has stalled in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Meanwhile, both sides are trying to get the upper hand in the political blame game.

Wolf charges that the Republican budget plan shortchanged schools and human services, let the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry off the hook for a tax increase and worsened the state government's long-term budget deficit.

The veto override plan "will distract from serious negotiations and shows once again that Republican leadership is not serious about reaching a consensus on the budget," Wolf wrote.

Republicans accuse Wolf of holding safety-net service providers hostage to get what he wants, including a multibillion-dollar tax increase that Republicans oppose. Wolf did not need to veto the entire Republican budget, and could have allowed funding to keep flowing to crucial services while negotiations continued, Republicans say.

In his letter, Wolf did not say how he would respond to last week's Republican counterproposal on the budget. The GOP met a key Wolf demand to boost public school aid, while insisting on an end to the traditional benefit in Pennsylvania's two big public employee pension systems in favor of a 401(k)-style plan for future employees, a shift Wolf has opposed.

The governor wrote, however, he is taking the offer seriously and suggested he will look to Republicans for more concessions on funding for education and human services.

Senate GOP leaders said through a spokeswoman that they appreciated Wolf's consideration of their most recent offer, but backed the House GOP's move to override the veto.

"Social services agencies and others are hurting because of Gov. Wolf's choice to veto their funding," spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said. "We are looking to take the necessary steps to help them."

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Marc Levy

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