No budget, no pay for Pa. legislators who miss deadline | Editorial

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State Sen. Pat Browne (R., Allentown) asks a question during a Feb. 22 Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing.

This is The Agenda, an ongoing series examining key issues facing the region and Pennsylvania. Talk to us at agenda@phillynews.com.

Approving a balanced budget each year is a fundamental responsibility for the governor and members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

But they have become heedless about meeting the June 30 budget deadline.

State legislators have missed that deadline in all three of  Gov. Wolf’s annual budget negotiations so far, part of six blown budget deadlines in the last decade.

The state’s last budget became law on Nov. 6, more than four months after the deadline.

That creates chaos for the state’s municipalities, school districts, universities, and other institutions as they scramble to adjust financial planning.

Members of the General Assembly, though, don’t have to adjust their financial planning. They continue to get paid salary and expenses, even if they  haven’t done their job of delivering a budget on time.

There is bipartisan support for putting an end to that. But, like all reform efforts in Harrisburg, that can only happen if legislative leaders allow it.

Two senators, Patrick Stefano and Andy Dinniman, last year proposed elegantly uncomplicated solutions, banning pay or reimbursement for expenses during a budget impasse.

Stefano, a Republican from Fayette County, introduced Senate Bill 585 in April 2017. It would prohibit legislators from collecting “per diems,” tax-free payments of up to $183 for travel, or submitting receipts for other expenses during a budget impasse.

Nine of Stefano’s Republican colleagues signed on as co-sponsors for his bill.

Dinniman, a Democrat from Chester County, introduced S.B. 830 in July 2017. It would eliminate pay, per diems, or other expense reimbursements for legislators, the governor, and his senior staff and cabinet members during a budget impasse.

State Sen. Kim Ward, a Westmoreland County Republican and vice chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, co-sponsored Dinniman’s bill.

Together, these bills have 12 co-sponsors, which means a quarter of the Senate’s 50 members want to put an end to blown budget deadlines.

And, as a mark of bipartisanship, Wolf — a Democrat — also put forth a plan last month to ban pay for legislators, the governor, and top administrative staff until a budget impasse ends.

That brings us  to State Sen. Pat Browne, a Republican from Allentown who chairs the Appropriations Committee and is a key player in any budget negotiations. Browne has stymied the bills proposed by Stefano and Dinniman sent to the Appropriations Committee last year.

But the stagnation is bipartisan, too. State Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said through a spokesman last week that the bills proposed by Stefano and Dinniman are “the wrong approach” because they might give a governor “the upper hand in budget negotiations.”

Browne never responded to our multiple requests for answers on why he won’t give these bills a chance, especially since his own vice chairwoman supports one of them.

Lawmakers should have to face consequences for failing to do their job. If you agree, call Browne’s Harrisburg office (717-787-1349) or his Allentown office (610-821-8468). Ask him why legislators should keep getting paid past June 30 while shirking one of their most important duties to us all.

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