(Reuters) - Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is expected to unveil his proposal for the state’s 2017 budget on Tuesday even though state lawmakers have yet to fully agree on the current spending plan that has languished half-baked as political acrimony has escalated.
The state still has only a partial $23.4 billion emergency budget in place nearly a year after Wolf made his 2016 budget proposal the first time, for $29.9 billion.
Wolf, a Democrat, had said he would support a negotiated budget of $30.8 billion, but state House Republican leaders scuttled it at the last minute in December.
“It’s a gigantic cloud hanging over this year’s process,” said Christopher Borick, associate political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, of the impasse and partial budget.
The incomplete deal, which Wolf called “garbage” and a “ridiculous exercise in budget futility” before stripping it down and signing it in December, was hammered out after school districts across the state threatened to close because of the lack of funding.
One question now is whether Wolf will use that tone, or a more conciliatory one, during Tuesday’s budget address.
“Wolf is committed to his agenda. I think he believes it’s the right thing to do,” said G. Terry Madonna, public affairs professor at Pennsylvania’s Franklin & Marshall College.
Wolf took office in January 2015 pledging to restore education funding, to be paid for in part with a tax on natural gas extraction. He has already said his new budget will include $200 million of additional funding for K-12 public schools, on top of the $377 million increase proposed in the now-defunct compromise budget that Senate Republicans had supported.
But while Wolf may view his clear win in 2014 over incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett as a mandate from voters, Republicans can point to how they increased their majorities in both houses of the state legislature in that election.
Those results “represented very mixed messages from the voters of the state,” Borick said. “That sowed the seeds very much for the type of gridlock we saw last year, where both sides felt empowered.”
The logjam makes fixes for the state’s now $2.3 billion structural budget deficit that much harder, Moody’s Investors Service said in October when it threatened to lower its Aa3 rating on Pennsylvania’s nearly $11 billion of outstanding general obligation debt.
Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Daniel Bases and David Gregorio