We have a state budget – sort of. Just a few hours shy of the last night’s midnight deadline, the Senate passed a 2014-2015 state spending plan (House Bill 2038) by a vote of 26-24. The bill was then debated in the House, which passed the bill on concurrence in the Senate amendments by a vote of 108-95. The bill has been signed in both chambers and is now on Governor Corbett’s desk for signature.
On-time budgets have been a big deal in Harrisburg these last few years. While constitutionally mandated, previous administrations have not always stuck with the program. And while the passage and enactment of a fourth on-time budget was one of Governor Corbett’s stated goals, he was not so quick to put his signature on the bill the legislature presented to him just before the June 30 midnight deadline. In a statement issued last night, the governor said he will not sign this budget right away, but will wait until the General Assembly sends him a meaningful pension reform bill.
So what are the options? The time the governor has to deliberate on whether or not to sign the budget bill—or any bill for that matter– is limited by provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Article IV, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that the governor has ten days to act on a bill presented to him. The governor may sign the bill and the date of his signature will trigger the effective dates contained in the bill. If he is especially pleased or displeased with the content of the legislation, he may opt to write a signing letter to the General Assembly expressing his reaction to the bill.
If a governor does not sign the bill within those ten days, it will automatically become law. This is contrary to the pocket veto power afforded at the federal level to the president, whereby failure to sign a bill provides for an automatic veto. In Pennsylvania’s case, doing nothing can sometimes send just a strong a message as doing something. If the governor is unhappy with the contents of the bill but does not want to stand in the way of its enactment, he may chose not to sign and just let the bill become law.
The governor may also choose to veto the bill. Within the ten days time given to him by the constitution, he may return the bill without his signature to the chamber in which it originated, along with his reasons for not signing the bill. In the case of a general appropriations bill, or any appropriations bill for that matter, the governor may use his authority to execute a line-item veto, sometimes referred to as “blue-lining.” This means the governor may strike or even reduce any one of the appropriations provided for the bill, and return it to the General Assembly.
This isn’t quite the end of the road, though. If the governor exercises his option to veto or line item veto of the bill, the General Assembly may override the veto by at two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. In Pennsylvania, an override is extremely rare. It was last used by the General Assembly in the 2009-2010 session to override Governor Ed Rendell’s veto of House Bill 101, a bill making many amendments to the Public School Code. Until then, it had last been used in the 1993-1994 session.
There is still one more option for the governor to address any issues he had hoped would have been ironed out as part of the budget process. Though not exclusively related to the enactment of a state budget, the governor may convene a special session of the General Assembly to address a particular issue—in this case, pension reform. A special session can be called at any time for any reason; the fact that his priorities were not achieved during the course of enacting a budget package is as good a reason as any. Special sessions were relatively rare until the Rendell administration; As governor, Ed Rendell called for special sessions on the issues of property taxes, energy policy and transportation.
So, there’s all the build up and still the “wait and see.” As to the governor’s goals, there is a pension reform bill in the pipeline, should a legislative vehicle be needed to get things going. S.B. 922 (Brubaker, R-Lancaster) passed yesterday the Senate yesterday by a vote of 50 to 00. This bill would move elected officials, including all memebrs of the General Assembly, statewide elected officials and judges – into a defined contribution 401(k)-style pension plan upon election, re-election or retention. The House has scheduled voting session days between now and July 3rd, but there are few public comments at this point that will allow us to test the strength of these winds. What we do know, is there are no fireworks… yet. We’ll update you with the rest of the story as we can via Twitter @BuchananGov and this blog. Stay tuned…