Treasury Approves Payments For Pennsylvania Prison System

Mar 4, 2016

SCI Somerset, one of state's 27 prisons.
Credit Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections

Pennsylvania’s prison system won’t run out of money this month, though it doesn’t technically have spending authority under the state budget.

Nearly half of the state corrections budget was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf late last year, in a bid to force lawmakers back into budget negotiations.

That hasn’t happened, and now the treasury has stepped in to approve payments of prison operating expenses, including employee salaries, security and safety costs, health care and inmates’ food.

The decision by the state treasurer came with a 10-page legal opinion, but lawmakers grilled Corrections Secretary John Wetzel about it at a recent hearing.

“The treasurer ... we have to maintain our core mission things, and that should be funded... With that being said, that doesn’t mean everything,” Wetzel said. “So it’s really specifically around in essence, care, custody, and control and the conditions of confinement.”

Republican lawmakers say, by that logic, the other spending vetoed by the governor should be funded by the treasurer as well, like money for rural hospitals and schools.

The state treasurer is an elected position independent of the governor.

But the current treasurer, Tim Reese, was appointed by Wolf after the prior treasurer resigned to plead guilty to federal extortion charges.