Last week, the Senate passed an amended version of H.B. 278, amending the Fiscal Code, which provides the implementation language for the 2014-2015 state budget. Once the Senate passed the bill, it seemed that the new fiscal year’s spending plan was pretty well wrapped-up, and the Senate had adjourned until September. Things changed however when the House amended the bill once again and shipped it back over to the Senate for another vote. The Senate then announced it would reconvene on July 8th. So here we are, the day before the Senate is to come back into session and the question everyone is asking now is, “What will the Senate do?”
The Fiscal Code bill is important because it contains substantive provisions necessary for the enactment of a balanced state budget. It can contain language to raise revenue, to impose limitations on spending on a particular item, or to provide for transfers between funds in the state treasury. Though the numbers may be in place, in effect there is no budget until the yearly Fiscal Code bill is signed. As of right now, enactment of a complete budget package hinges on what the Senate does tomorrow.
In this situation, the Senate can do a number of things. The easiest –and most hoped for – route is that they concur in the House’s amendments and send the bill to the governor. (What the governor will do with it is another question all together, given that he hasn’t signed the spending bill yet.) However, the Senate is not without other options. They could amend the bill once again and send it to the House for yet another vote. They could, by motion, revert to the prior printer’s number of the bill, the effect of which would also be to send the bill back to the House. They could insist on the amendments they’ve made to the bill, and force the bill to go before a conference committee. That committee, made up of six members (three from each chamber), would then work out the differences between the bills and amendments and send the bill to the floor in both houses for a simple up or down vote. The final option the Senate has is to, quite simply vote the bill down, forcing the legislature to take another stab at a Fiscal Code bill or effectively forcing the governor to use his line item veto power to ensure the budget is balanced without enactment of any of the bill’s provisions.
Anyone familiar with the typical melee that surrounds the enactment of the total state budget package – the GA bill, the Fiscal Code bill and any other substantive legislation necessary to implement the budget – wouldn’t put odds on any of these options. There simply aren’t any winds blowing to test right now, and frankly anyone trying to fathom which course of action they will take is simply guessing. One thing is certain; all eyes are on the upper chamber beginning tomorrow at 1 p.m. Whatever course of action they chose, you can count on us to have an update.