Wolf Creates Constitutional Quagmire
3/11/2016
On Dec. 29, 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf exercised his constitutional authority to line-item veto portions of a fiscally responsible budget that the General Assembly sent to his desk before Christmas.

Wolf even took the proverbial budget axe to several line items that met his preferred level of funding. He slashed $3 billion from state education spending, $70 million in agriculture programs, and nearly $1 billion in funding for the Commonwealth’s prison system. The governor’s line-item vetoes compounded the financial strain on departments that had been without funding since his unprecedented and reckless full budget veto on June 30.

Gov. Wolf’s ill-advised political cuts to the state’s prison system have now created a quagmire for the Commonwealth, which has a constitutional obligation to provide for inmates. Wolf approved only six months of funding for the state prisons.

What happens now, after the six months of funding have run out? Will prisoners be released because there’s no funding to keep the lights on? Those are questions that Gov. Wolf should have asked before he decided to use his veto pen.

We have now learned that the governor did not even have the courtesy to inform Corrections Secretary John Wetzel before his initial budget veto or his line-item veto in December. Rather than consult with Wetzel, his highly regarded prisons expert, Gov. Wolf decided to go it alone regardless of the consequences.

The Corrections Department has now run out of appropriated funds to keep prisons operating, but the Wolf administration knew this was going to happen. They sent a request to the state Treasurer requesting payments above the amount appropriated to the Department of Corrections.

State Treasurer Tim Reese decided last week to make payments on behalf of the Department of Corrections, knowing that the bills he paid exceeded what the department was appropriated. This raises significant constitutional concerns, as it may set precedent for future decisions.

Essentially, Gov. Wolf is overriding his own veto of the corrections budget. He cut their budget, knowing that money would have to be spent to keep them operating. Wolf’s artificial cuts and the treasurer’s decision could have long-lasting impact on the states budgetary operations.

In announcing his decision, Reese stated that there would be “risk to public safety” if payments were not made on behalf of the Department of Corrections. Could this “public safety” exemption create a “gray” area for future expenditures for departments above what they have been appropriated? This decision opens the door to dangerous budgetary possibilities, which would further diminish the General Assembly’s constitutionally delegated authority.

We understand the treasurer’s decision, but this is a decision he never should have been forced to make, particularly with the potential legal ramifications.

The state’s Fiscal Code, which is the state’s spending guide, specifically prohibits the state treasurer from making payments above the General Assembly’s appropriations. Doing so is punishable as a misdemeanor, which comes with a maximum $1,000 fine or up to a year behind bars for each and every offense. The treasurer was forced to weigh public safety concerns with the possibility of being charged with a misdemeanor.
This is just the latest example in what appears to be Wolf’s attempt to rule by decree, ignoring the people’s elected representatives and skirting the state’s constitution. Divided government does not have to create conflict, but throughout Gov. Wolf’s short tenure in office, it has always been his way or the highway.

Secretary Wetzel and Treasurer Reese are not at fault for this. They were forced to adapt to the circumstances that the governor has created. For the sake of the Commonwealth, we hope the governor begins to respect the constitutionally enshrined separation of powers and begins to work in good faith with the General Assembly.

By State Reps. Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster) and Seth Grove (R-York)

Representative Keith J. Greiner, CPA
43rd District
Representative Seth Grove
196th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Eric Reath
717.260-6187
ereath@pahousegop.com
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