Pennsylvania State lawmakers used a rare Saturday session to pass a list of bills that round out the $28 billion 2010-2011 budget. The House and Senate both approved a fiscal code Saturday, allowing Governor Rendell to sign the budget into law on Tuesday. The governor had let the spending portion of the budget sit on his desk since Thursday saying he could not put his name to it until he saw the supporting bills that put a finer point on how the money is spent and how it is to be collected.
The chambers also voted on two economic development measures, which authorize borrowing for specific initiatives. House Minority Whip Mike Turzai was among the Republicans rankled by the pet projects Governor Rendell worked into the bill, including money for an “Arlen Specter Library” at Philadelphia University, and a “John Murtha Public Policy Center” in Johnstown. “It is the big pot for Walking Around Money,” says Turzai, “We need to act responsibly. We need to know where money of tax dollars is going to today, and vote accordingly. Not borrow money for projects the governor gets to pick.” In all the state will borrow $600 million for capital projects.
Senate Republicans were at least partially successful in getting their push to create a legislative fiscal office. The bills passed yesterday force lawmakers to come to an agreement on the creation of a nonpartisan panel that will function much like the Congressional Budget Office at the federal level by October 1st. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says lawmakers differ enough when budget talks take place – and the state needs to at least agree to the same figures. “Layered on top of those honest policy disputes are disputes about basic facts that shouldn’t be in dispute. And the intent of the legislative fiscal office is to develop a body of data that can be used in common by all parties in developing a budget,” says Pileggi.
The house and senate have also placed a deadline of October 1st on their efforts to pass a Marcellus Shale gas severance tax. Lawmakers say they were unable to iron out the details in time to meet the end of the fiscal year deadline. The bill is to create a mechanism to begin collecting the tax by the first day of 2011. Not only are leaders fighting over the tax rate, but they are also fighting over how the funds will be distributed.