Radio PA Roundtable – July 19, 2013

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, state House lawmakers were back in session this week. What could possibly interrupt their summer vacation? Also, we hear from Pennsylvania’s First Lady and talk to NASA on this special anniversary weekend.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

State House Holds Rare One Day Summer Voting Session

The state house has come back for a one day voting session to deal with a bill that’s part of the state budget package.

The vote was 103 to 85 to concur with changes made to the fiscal code in the senate, after some brief comments about whether the session itself was evidence of a late budget.  The senate had stripped out language that the house added related to payday lending, then adjourned for the summer.

State budget officials said passage of the fiscal code was needed to avoid negative effects on state government.   Governor Tom Corbett signed the primary budget bill on June 30th.

State House Returns to Voting Session on Monday

The state house will take a break from its summer break to return to voting session on Monday.  A piece of the budget package needs to be finalized.

The House passed the fiscal code on July 1st, after adding an amendment regarding payday lending.   The language indicated that the Senate and House majority leadership intended to pass legislation establishing a new schedule of rates and charges by October 31st.

The house adjourned until September, with only a non-voting day on the  schedule for July 8th to sign bills and finish up other business.   But on July 3rd, the Senate stripped out the payday lending language and sent the fiscal code bill back to the house. On the same day, the senate reluctantly approved the public welfare code, as amended by the house. Language on Medicaid expansion added by the senate had been stripped out by the house.

The state budget secretary warned that lack of final action on the fiscal code could have negative effects on state government. Governor Tom  Corbett asked legislative leaders to pass it as soon as possible.  The code includes language authorizing the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars, including some funding for higher education and additional money to help Philadelphia’s struggling public schools.

After house leadership looked at whether final action could wait until September,   Speaker Sam Smith called the house back for a voting session at 1 pm on July 15th.

The delay in final passage of the fiscal code has led some to debate whether the budget for this fiscal year was really on time. The Governor did sign the General Fund budget before the start of the new fiscal year.

Franklin and Marshall College Political science professor Terry Madonna sees the dispute between the State House and Senate over the fiscal code a sign of serious distress between the two chambers.   There were also big differences between the house and senate over key items in Governor  Corbett’s agenda; liquor privatization and transportation funding. Neither won final approval before lawmakers took their summer breaks.

State Lawmakers to Return Monday

The 2013 summer break hasn’t been what state lawmakers usually hope for when they head back to their districts. State House members have already returned to the Capitol once, and now they’ll be back for another summer encore on Monday.

The issue bringing lawmakers back to the hill deals with the state Fiscal Code. The state budget was passed and signed on June 30th, but lawmakers left the Fiscal Code unfinished, and since that is the mechanism that gives the state authorization to spend the money in the General Fund budget, it must be passed in order for government operations to continue to run.

Democrats say this delayed action on the Fiscal Code means Governor Tom Corbett and Republican leadership can no longer claim to have passed and signed three consecutive “on-time” budgets, but that argument is largely semantic. The Fiscal Code was held up over last-minute changes involving payday lending statutes and posturing by the House and Senate, which have been at odds over several high-profile issues this year despite both being under the Republican flag.


Some Pennsylvania Budget-Related Business remains unresolved

The state senate reluctantly agreed with one budget-related bill, but has sent a second one back to the house after making a change.   Now the house must decide whether to return to session after starting its summer break.

A senate committee stripped out non-binding language in the fiscal code bill added by the house dealing with payday lending.  That means the house must concur before that bill can go to the Governor.

The senate reluctantly approved the public welfare code, even though the house removed Medicaid expansion language. Senator Pat Vance expressed her disappointment and said she would try again in the fall.    But Vance and other Republicans said there are other important provisions in the bill that need to be sent to the Governor.

A spokesman for House Republicans says they are trying to see what impact the vote on the fiscal code will have and if there’s a need for the chamber to return to session.  Right now, the house is not scheduled to return until September, nor is the Senate.

The main general fund budget was passed over the weekend and signed into law before the start of the new fiscal year.