Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
“The annual inquisition begins, does it not?”
Those were the words of Democratic state Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria) as the Senate Appropriations kicked off three weeks of budget hearings with each state agency and independent office.
The grill sessions are customary after the governor’s budget address – which this year unveiled a $28.4 spending plan, with assorted sidecars: a transportation infrastructure funding initiative, a plan to privatize the state liquor stores, and a three-fold proposal for pension system overhaul.
The hearings also provide a convenient platform for public praise and criticism from lawmakers. The latter came in plentiful portions from Democratic lawmakers. Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) used his allotted five minutes to lay into the governor’s agenda.
“I mean this respectfully, but the hubris and budgetary arrogance of this administration knows no bounds, in my opinion,” said Ferlo. “You know you submitted a budget, and you talked about apples and oranges earlier, and I think the administration has a peaches and cream view about the state of our commonwealth.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, blasted the Corbett administration for opting against the authorized expansion of Medicaid. He said he asked the administration in November to share the data on which it was basing its decision, and is still waiting for numbers. Budget Secretary Charles Zogby responded by saying he would consult the governor's office and the Department of Public Welfare to see if he could give Hughes more information.
“It was a very disappointing first start, consistent with the governor’s budget address, very difficult first day,” said Hughes.
Agency heads will also be expected to hold court on other issues that crop up along the way. The recent rejection of the administration’s contract to privatize the lottery is likely to come up in hearings with the state attorney general, who announced the rejection, as well as the Department of Revenue, which oversees the lottery.
This post has been updated to reflect the Budget Secretary's response to a lawmaker's question.
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