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Pennsylvania House defeats Republican-led effort to override parts of Wolf's budget veto

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania's budget impasse remained firmly in place Tuesday after the Republican majority failed during hours of debate to persuade Democrats in a series of 14 votes to override any portion of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's budget veto.

Republicans defended the perhaps unprecedented legislative method of holding override votes on individual line items even though Wolf had not exercised his line-item authority when he rejected the GOP budget plan in late June. The $30.2 billion plan did not include more taxes for education and human services spending, as Wolf proposed.

Democrats argued line-item votes would violate the state constitution and they prevented their opponents from getting the two-thirds majority required for an override.

Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, called the maneuver a political stunt.

"Everyone knows that this process and this proposal is unconstitutional," Dermody told members as debate began. "You simply cannot line-item override a bill that was not line-item vetoed."

The votes involved aspects of the state budget — passed without a single Democratic vote — that have widespread support and were funded at or near levels that Wolf supports. The spending would aid victims of rape and other crimes, purchase books and equipment for schools, feed the poor and hungry, help families pay for college and subsidize school bus transportation.

"It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable and those who serve the most vulnerable will have to carry the burden of Harrisburg's indecision," said Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, chair of the Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said research did not turn up any example in Pennsylvania or elsewhere of lawmakers using a line-item veto to override a governor who had not used a line-item veto.

But he argued the authority to line-item override Wolf's veto stems from the principle that legislators have powers not specifically ruled out by the state or federal constitutions. Because it's not explicitly prohibited, it's legal, he argued.

Democrats produced an Aug. 11 advisory opinion Dermody had sought from the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau that said the Republican approach was not constitutional.

"Reconsidering a general veto on a line-by-line basis would lead to the unconstitutional result of effectively rewriting and enacting new legislation without executive approval," the bureau wrote.

Republicans have a 119-84 majority but needed at least 17 Democrats to jump ranks in order to send a veto to the Senate. All votes were along party lines. The plan had been for 20 votes, but after hours of debate Republicans rushed through the last seven in a bundle.

Democratic members said they believed Republicans wanted to force them to vote against spending they actually support, so Republicans could use those votes against them.

Wolf and top lawmakers met briefly earlier Tuesday to discuss the GOP's position on overhauling pension benefits for state government and school employees. Another meeting was planned for Wednesday.


This story has been corrected to show that all votes Tuesday were along party lines, not nearly all votes.

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