Governor Wolf signs a partial Pennsylvania state budget for Fiscal Year 20-21

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On Friday, May 29, 2020, Governor Wolf signed a partial state budget for Fiscal Year 20-21 (FY 20-21). The Fiscal Year begins on July 1, 2020. The budget bill, House Bill 2387, was designed to provide flat funding for most line items for five months. PreK-12 education funding and funding for higher education was extended for a full twelve months. A subsequent budget process is anticipated for November 2020, at which time budget decisions will be more completely informed by the impacts to revenue collections and service needs from the COVID-19 crisis.

The General Assembly sent budget-related code bills to the governor in conjunction with the general appropriations bill. A Fiscal Code amendment, providing for specific programmatic allocations, was also signed by the governor on Friday, May 29, 2020. Most allocations in the Fiscal Code maintain FY 19-20 funding for five months into FY 20-21.

Non-preferred appropriations – appropriations for entities not under direct state control but which receive appropriations of state funds – were also signed by the governor on May 29, 2020. Non-preferred appropriations include funding for entities such as state-related institutions of higher education, expenses related to administering workers’ compensation and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

An Administrative Code bill was vetoed by Governor Wolf on May 29, 2020. The bill would have prohibited state professional licensing authorities from taking action against a Pennsylvania business for operating despite the governor’s shutdown order for non-life sustaining businesses. Wolf’s veto message referred to the bill as “a legislative infringement on executive authority and violates  the separation of powers which is critical to the proper functioning of our democracy.” The bill had also required a comprehensive report on the June 2, 2020, primary election, legislative notification of the governor’s suspension of statutes or regulations due to a disaster emergency and a review of outstanding state debt to identify refinancing options.

Wolf also vetoed a republican-backed resolution which would have abrogated an overtime regulation which was adopted in January 2020. The regulation increased the salary threshold under which employees are to be assumed eligible for overtime pay, resulting in an estimated 81,000 additional overtime-eligible employees statewide. Wolf vetoed the resolution abrogating the regulation on procedural grounds, and also stated that the regulation bolsters the  “increased competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s employers to attract skilled labor, positive economic impact due to increased spending by affected workers, and discretionary time returned to employees…Now, more than ever, Pennsylvania needs the benefits that Final-Form Regulation 12-106 provides to its citizens.”

In addition to the state appropriations to stabilize executive branch functions for five months, Wolf approved three bills to distribute federal CARES dollars to state and local entities. Senate Bill 1108 distributes approximately $2.6 billion in federal funds received by the Commonwealth to executive agencies to address costs incurred due to the COVID-19 disaster emergency. Senate Bill 1122 bill created a $52 million grant program for fire and EMS companies to be supported by federal CARES dollars. House Bill 2510 allocates federal CARES dollars to health care collaboratives, counties, long-term living facilities, museum preservation, economic development corporations, dairy farms, food purchases to the needy, and multiple other purposes.

Amidst final actions on budget-related measures, the Pennsylvania legislature gained national attention when on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, democratic members discovered that a republican member had been diagnosed with COVID-19 a week prior without disclosing the diagnosis to the democratic caucus. Democratic members noted that republicans had conducted contact  tracing, and that other republican members were in quarantine following contact with the infected member. The discovery prompted calls from democratic members for the resignation of republican leaders and for an official investigation of possible misconduct. A republican spokesman defended the caucus’ actions by saying they had followed CDC guidelines.

The House and Senate return to session on June 8, 2020.