Lawmakers introduce bills aimed at ending budget impasses

Lawmakers introduce bills aimed at ending budget impasses

Author: Kyle Maguire/Monday, August 7, 2017/Categories: News and Views

Once again mired in a budget-related standoff, legislators have started to form bills and co-sponsorship memos to address how the General Assembly should act when such impasses occur.

Ideas like keeping the legislature in session until a revenue package has passed, the Budget Impasse Negotiation Act, and Representatives and Senators going without pay or per diem until a budget has passed are ideas currently making their way into newly released proposals.

House Bill 1416, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne), creates the Budget Impasse Negotiation Act, without a constitutional provision. The purpose of bill would be if no agreement is made on the General Appropriation Act by July 7, a report would be made on the progress of the negotiations to the General Assembly every seven days until an agreement is made.

Rep. Pashinski believes that this newly introduced proposal is another vehicle to address the current impasse and could work as an agent in future negotiation periods, saying this was an idea from the nine-month budget impasse from 2015.

He seeks to keep the negotiators in Harrisburg and accountable during an impasse.

“There was really true bargaining going on so I didn’t do much with it,” Rep. Pashinski stated when he originally filed the bill in May. “Once this past weekend occurred, that was it for me. We get into our caucus and the leaders told us the Republicans gave us nothing. I said to some of the people there, you know what, let’s do a discharge resolution and get [House Bill] 1416 out.”

Rep. Pashinski feels as though this legislation could be another vehicle that would hold the negotiators responsible during a time of impasse. He also believes this legislation could save dollars for the state keeping only the negotiators in Harrisburg instead of bringing the whole legislature in when nothing would actually occur, noting the Republicans lack of internal agreement this past weekend.

“This is a vehicle that if it were actually passed, and it became law, next year they would have to stay in that Capitol until they do a budget. They wouldn’t be bringing 102 legislators or 50 senators back and forth. You’re saving money and putting pressure on the negotiators to get the deal done,” said Rep. Pashinski.

Rep. Pashinski concluded by mentioning a co-sponsorship memo recently filed by Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) that would require the General Assembly to stay in session until a state budget is adopted by both chambers and signed into law by the governor.

Rep. Pashinski stated that this memo is similar to his legislation except it includes the constitutional provisions.

He also penned a letter to Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) requesting that the legislature come back to Harrisburg and move forward during this impasse. He has also started the discharge resolution process for his legislation, a move that could force the issue to the House floor.

Another piece of legislation that could aid in future budget impasses has been moving on and off the House floor, but the sponsor seeks to move it forward.

House Bill 308, sponsored by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), is currently set on the tabled in the House and awaits further legislative action to position it for a full vote before the body. This bill would create a way to provide for essential service payments during a budget impasse.

Rep. DiGirolamo indicated that essential services would be funded this year because there has been a budget passed, but the legislation is critically important moving forward after seeing a budget impasse the year before and revenue impasse this current session.

The Secretary of the Budget would decide on the amount of essential services deriving from previous fiscal year spending on certain line items from the Department of Human Services, Department of Aging, and Department of Drug and Alcohol, with up to nine possible line items for essential services. These could range from behavioral health services or other county-based human services included under the Human Services Block Grant to payments to counties for drug and alcohol addiction treatment services.

“Many of these providers and the counties weren’t getting their money because of the impasse,” said Rep. DiGirolamo about the 2015 stalemate. “In case we did have a budget impasse, that the human services entities, the counties, would continue to receive their money even though the budget wasn’t passed. We said they were critically important services to the people of the commonwealth.”

Although the bill has not been passed yet, Rep. DiGirolamo hopes this legislation will make its way to the governor’s desk, regardless if a budget was passed this year. This would aide in human services across the commonwealth, especially with regard to mental health and the opioid crisis moving forward.

Another proposal, this one sponsored by Rep. Daniel McNeill (D-Lehigh), would prohibit state representatives and senators from receiving their salaries or per diems if an annual budget is not completed by June 30 each year. Although the state budget was completed near June 30th, the revenue impasse still creates concern for the commonwealth.

Rep. Pashinski believes that this would be another vehicle that would definitely get the legislature in gear during a time of impasse.

More recently, freshman Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) announced the pending introduction of legislation that would require lawmakers to hold hearings on the budget when a budget and balancing-revenue bills have not been introduced by June 19th.

“It’s been six weeks after the House overwhelmingly passed a spending plan, and we still don’t know how we are going to pay for it,” Rep. Rabb said. “On Friday, our state treasurer had to extend to the Commonwealth a $750 million line of credit to prevent us from running out of money. We are only in the second month of the fiscal year and our schools and county agencies are already at risk of experiencing funding shortfalls. This is not responsible budgeting and it certainly is not how to run a government.”

While the Senate has recently passed a revenue package that would mostly balance the state budget and close out FY 2016-2017, the House has yet to consider the plan in open session. While no date has been set for the House’s return, they do anticipate returning to session in August to take up the proposal.