As required by the state constitution, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a state budget for the coming fiscal year on June 30 – only to have it vetoed hours later by the governor.
The General Appropriations bill that lawmakers sent to Gov. Wolf’s desk on Tuesday evening proposed $30.2 billion in state spending for the fiscal year that starts July 1. House Bill 1192, which ultimately passed without the help of either House or Senate Democrats, was accompanied by passage of a number of other budget-related and non-budget related bills, some of which were also vetoed and others which still await gubernatorial action. These include big-ticket items such as legislation that would reform the state’s public employee pension systems, as well as a proposal to privatize wine and liquor sales within the commonwealth.
The lack of a state spending plan means that future funding for certain health care related items remains up in the air. In his February budget address, Gov. Wolf had proposed an increase in funding for the state’s loan forgiveness program for physicians, to the tune of $8.5 million, and a transfer of the program from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). In the GOP budget – HB 1192 – the program would stay within DOH and be funded at the same level as last year, which was actually a substantial increase from the year before.
HB 1192 also included $2.1 million, as the Governor proposed, for implementation of the state’s new controlled substances database, also known as ABC-MAP, enacted into law earlier this year as part of efforts to reduce opioid abuse in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) is supportive of funding for implementation of the ABC-MAP and increasing loan forgiveness for medical students. PAMED will continue to work with lawmakers to emphasize the importance of this funding and help ensure that it remains in the final budget signed into law.
With their budget vetoed, the Republican-controlled legislature is expected to soon return to Harrisburg to continue negotiations with the governor and again attempt to find common ground. Among Gov. Wolf’s priorities – which he has hitherto refused to yield on – are the enactment of a severance tax on natural gas extraction, an increase in funding for public education, and some form of property-tax relief for Pennsylvania homeowners. Among the GOP priorities are pension and liquor reform, and perhaps most importantly, no new taxes.