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Democratic Pennsylvania governor vetoes entire GOP budget bill, says the 'math doesn't work'

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Democratic Gov. made good on his threat and swiftly vetoed the Republican-crafted spending plan Tuesday night just hours after the GOP's huge majorities in the Legislature sent it to him on the last day of the state government's fiscal year.

The veto was Wolf's first in his more than five months in office and the first of a full budget bill in Pennsylvania in more than four decades.

In a news conference in his Capitol offices, Wolf panned the bill as being packed with gimmicks — Republicans defended them as an alternative to a tax increase — that would worsen the state's long-term budget imbalance to more than $3 billion in a year.

"There are gimmicks in here, smoke and mirrors and a lot of kicking the can down the road," Wolf said after a day full of debates and votes in the Legislature.

Wolf said signing the GOP budget bill would further damage Pennsylvania's reputation with credit rating agencies, three of which slapped the state with downgrades last year because of a growing deficit. He suggested the GOP's budget would never pass muster in the business world where he once operated.

"If I took a budget that looked anything like this to my bank, they would have thrown me out of the office," Wolf said. "The math doesn't work."

Wolf also challenged it as shortchanging public schools and letting the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry off the hook without a severance tax. Another Wolf priority, legislation to cut local school property taxes statewide, has been stalled in the Senate after passing the House.

Republicans sent the $30.2 billion, no-new-taxes bill to Wolf after negotiations between the two sides stalled in recent weeks. The budget bill passed the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Saturday. But it passed without any Democratic lawmaker's support, making it extremely unlikely that Republicans could muster the two-thirds majority in both houses to override the veto.

During four hours of debate Tuesday, Republicans defended their budget bill as a responsible alternative to the multibillion-dollar tax increase sought by Wolf to wipe out the deficit and reverse deep cuts in education made under his Republican predecessor.

The GOP's budget bill would authorize an additional $1.1 billion in spending, primarily for rising costs for public pensions and health care, as well as $200 million more for education. Gimmicks, they contended, are preferable to raising taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said he was disappointed by Wolf's veto but also said it is now up to Wolf to produce a plan that can pass the Legislature, since his first one could not.

"The governor owns this now," Corman said. "The General Assembly put up the votes to pass a balanced budget. He owns the fact that we don't have a budget now, and we will wait for him to offer a new plan."

The absence of a budget as the new fiscal year began was not expected to have an immediate effect on services because agencies can tap surpluses and special funds, but the situation could deteriorate if the impasse drags on. The state will lose the authority to pay its vendors for work done from Wednesday on.

Corman said he and Wolf were unable to meet Wednesday, and he was unsure when they would talk next.

Republicans pushed the spending plan through amid a flurry of votes on an ambitious agenda Tuesday. That agenda included a bill to license private companies to take over the state-controlled wine and liquor system and a bill to squeeze savings from the large pension systems by ending the traditional pension benefit for future school employees and state workers.

Wolf would not say how he will act on the GOP's pension and liquor legislation, which passed both chambers Tuesday. However, he has said he opposes both plans, and Democrats, who voted in blocs against both bills, expect Wolf to veto each one.

The wine and liquor privatization plan would allow about 14,000 beer-sales license holders — retailers, restaurants, grocery stores and others — to pay a higher fee for permission to also sell wine, liquor or both.

It would also provide a pathway to the closure of the approximately 600 state-controlled wine and liquor stores and, Republicans said, add convenience and modernization to an archaic system.

Democrats countered that the plan would irresponsibly liquidate a valuable state money maker for virtually nothing.

During debate on the pension bill, Republican backers said the current system is not sustainable for taxpayers. Democrats slammed the proposal as taking away retirement security for future state government and public school employees and risking a court challenge.

PHOTO: Sharon Pope, center, of Altoona Pa., demonstrates on the steps of the capitol in favor of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's budget plan, as legislators debate the budget at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday June 30, 2015. Pennsylvania lawmakers neared final votes on Tuesday, the final day of the state's fiscal year, that would send Wolf a budget he plans to veto, at least in part, along with major legislation on liquor privatization and public sector pensions. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)
Sharon Pope, center, of Altoona Pa., demonstrates on the steps of the capitol in favor of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's budget plan, as legislators debate the budget at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday June 30, 2015. Pennsylvania lawmakers neared final votes on Tuesday, the final day of the state's fiscal year, that would send Wolf a budget he plans to veto, at least in part, along with major legislation on liquor privatization and public sector pensions. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)

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PHOTO: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, speaks to members of the media at the state Capitol in Harrisburg Pa. Tuesday, June 30, 2015.  A veto awaited a Republican-crafted spending plan that was sent Tuesday to Wolf's desk, as the GOP used its huge legislative majorities on the final day of the state government's fiscal year to push through an ambitious agenda. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)
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