After months of misinformation, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office publicized its spending during the budget impasse.
In a memo released on Thursday, March 3, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Budget Randy Albright outlined the office’s spending during the budget impasse.
The memo looked at spending from July 1, 2015, to December 31, 2015, six months during which the governor’s office was operating without a budget. The impasse was a result of disagreement between the Democratic governor and the Republican-led Legislature.
According to the memo, the government spent $24.7 billion in General Fund payments during the impasse.
Although acting without a budget, Albright stated the government only offered money to programs “critical” to health and safety operations, as well as “operations required by the constitution and federal and state law.”
From the memo:
During the impasse, the administration, through the office of the budget and the comptroller, worked closely with the treasury department to ensure that all payments made were required and appropriate, as in the normal course of business. The Wolf Administration continued operations for all critical functions that impact the health, safety and protection of Pennsylvanians, or was required under Federal Law, state court decisions or the Pennsylvania Constitution.
On Jan. 26, 2016, the House and Senate Appropriations Committee requested a review of the Commonwealth payments. The two chairmen — Patrick Browne, the majority chairman from the Senate, and William F. Adolph, Jr., the majority chairman from the House — sent a letter to Eugene DePasquale, the auditor general, expressing skepticism over spending from the governor’s office.
From the letter:
While the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act was interpreted to cover the payment of employee salaries and benefits, other payments were made under various explanations provided by the Wolf administration, most notably payments that impacted the “health, safety and protection of Pennsylvanians.”
However, this standard and payment exceptions do not seem well defined… We would appreciate your review and assessment of the administration’s application of the “health, safety and protection” standard, as well as any other standards they relied on — such as federal law or state court decisions — to make payments from the state treasury during the time we operated without an enacted state budget.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DePasquale agreed to review the request in February.
Jeff Sheridan, the governor’s press secretary, said the increased circulation of misinformation around the budget as a result of the hearing for the 2016-17 budget led the governor’s office to release the memo.
“It is important for the public to have facts regarding the operation of the government,” Sheridan said in an email. “The memo from Budget Secretary Albright is a detailed explanation of the continued operations during the impasse and emphasizes our commitment to being open and transparent about how the administration is making payments.”
In February, the Tribune-Review reported that, based on information from the Department of Treasury, the state government has spent $12.8 billion since January 2016.
The consistent flow of money has state legislators worried that Wolf is overstepping his boundaries.
From the Tribune-Review:
Wolf is spending as if he has “an open checkbook,” Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said Monday as lawmakers began budget hearings for the next fiscal year. “We're concerned about the checks and balances.”
Reach PublicSource intern Lauren Rosenblatt at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LRosenblatt_.