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Politics & Government

Corbett Faces Tough Challenge in Budget Decision

Gov. Tom Corbett has yet to sign the $29.1 billion budget passed by state lawmakers last week. He said he would not sign a budget that does not include a pension overhaul.

The Senate returned to the capitol Tuesday to handle budget-related legislation covering  a slew of topics, including guiding billions of dollars for public schools and hospitals, changing the way oil and gas drilling is regulated, establishing a new rural community college and allowing another $10 fee on certain state court filings. Corbett is not saying whether he'll sign the budget while he waits for leaders of the House and Senate Republican majorities to settle a fight over final budget-related legislation.

“The governor actually has relatively few options,” said Terry Madonna, a political analyst from Franklin and Marshall College, “but any option that he chooses, in political terms, must require a sense that he’s exercising a great deal of leadership – that’s one of the problems he faces in his re-election.”

The governor can choose not to sign the budget, and if that happens it would automatically become law. Corbett would be the first governor to allow a budget to go unsigned since Gov. Milton Shapp in the mid-1970s. But, post-primary general election polls show him trailing his opponent by an average of 21 percentage points.

“So he needs to demonstrate a measure of leadership,” said Madonna, “and he particularly needs some big policy victories to take to the voters and letting the budget become law without his signature, I don’t think that demonstrates the kind of leadership capacity the voters are looking for.”

Corbett can also choose a line-item veto of the budget, which Madonna said would anger lawmakers; or he could sign the budget.

“If he signs the budget on the premise that he might get a vote on pensions this fall, that’s also a risky proposition – the Legislature does not return until September 15, and then they only have about five to seven days in which they’re likely to meet before the election,” said Madonna.  

Corbett has until Friday to decide whether he’ll sign the budget.