The state legislature has received its yearly audit, which looks at reserves lawmakers keep on hand in case their pay gets cut off during a budget impasse.
This year’s review showed a smaller surplus than last year’s, with overall legislative reserves decreasing from $118 million and change last year, to around $95 million as of this June.
However, the surplus could be significantly bigger than it appears in the report.
Lawmakers are often pressured to cut down on their excess cash, particularly in the face of the commonwealth’s recent budgeting woes.
Cumberland County Representative Mark Keller, the Republican chair of the audit process, said there was some belt-tightening.
“The House and the Senate put money into the budget off of their reserves to balance the budget,” he said.
But the biggest difference actually comes from a new reporting standard that requires lawmakers to factor pension and other post-employment payments into the audit. That drastically reduced the overall surplus number.
Otherwise, fund totals have risen virtually across the board.
Eric Epstein of watchdog group Rock the Capital, said he thinks the reserves—or as he calls them, slush funds—should be stopped, or at least capped to spur lawmakers to finish budgets faster.
“Everybody knows that the legislature gets paid no matter when the budget’s getting done,” he said. “They get per diems, they get health benefits, that hasn’t stopped. What has to stop is them rewarding themselves for not getting the budget done.”
Senate GOP Appropriations Chair Pat Browne said without a surplus, the legislature must borrow money to pay staff during a budget impasse, which is more expensive in the end.
“If you’re going to borrow to accommodate current expenditures, that is universally known as an ineffective way of managing cash,” he said.
Browne conceded that surplus numbers had indeed risen across agencies, but said the numbers are “still within the reasonable limits of what is necessary to accommodate the operations of the General Assembly in timelines of closing budgets.”