This budget season will be the last for a trio of venerable Republican budget negotiators leaving office this year.
Sen. Pat Browne, of Lehigh County, and Rep. Stan Saylor, of York County, both Republicans, and the chairs of their respective chambers’ Appropriations committees, each lost primary challenges last month.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, of Centre County, lost a bid for the Republican nomination for governor and did not seek reelection to the Senate.
It’s uncertain whether the impending departure of three of the Pennsylvania Legislature’s budget power players will affect the process of turning Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal into a final spending plan that both lawmakers and the state’s chief executive will approve.
Some state government watchers, legislators and staff say there’s a potential that legacy burnishing, by both the leaders and Wolf, could result in a tough fight for a compromise. Others say Browne, Saylor and Corman are stalwart fiscal conservatives who won’t change their approaches to bargaining.
“I don’t think it changes the calculus at all,” Saylor’s spokesperson Neal Lesher said. “All three are committed to be conservative voices at the table.”
It’s more likely other forces will influence the process, such as legislators’ desire to conclude the process efficiently in an election year, to be able to show voters what they’ve delivered for their districts, and the unyielding nature of the right-wing of the Republican party.
“You roll all of those things together and you have a pretty unique budget cycle at work,” Chris Borick, a political scientist and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, told the Capital-Star.
Borick also said the state’s financial situation is also unusual. Wolf’s $43.7 billion budget proposal calls for spending increases, including an additional $1.55 billion for basic education. Wolf has also projected a $8 billion budget surplus by the end of the fiscal year.
While Republicans scoffed at Wolf’s spending increases, with Saylor describing the proposal as “fiscal fantasy land,” the surplus may lead to less bitter fights over cuts, Borick said.
Millersville University political analyst G. Terry Madonna, said Republicans may accede to spending some of the surplus, but they’re unlikely to support items such as the Democrats’ push to fully fund education programs.
“Republicans don’t want to create recurring fiscal needs,” he said.
Rep.. Matthew Bradford, of Montgomery County, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he expects the Republican leaders to approach the budget in a workmanlike fashion as they always have.
“They’re both from the governing wing of the Republican party, which becomes more and more rare,” Bradford told the Capital-Star. .
There is concern, however, that the process could be complicated by legislators on the far right refusing to compromise.
Saylor lost his primary to political newcomer Wendy Fink amid third-party-funded ads that were critical of him for not being conservative enough and voting for Wolf and former Gov. Ed Rendell’s “bloated budgets.”
“Unfortunately the extremes in their party have started to cannibalize anyone who tries to participate in the governing process,” Bradford said.
Here are the budget power players
House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, is in his eighth term and was first elected speaker in 2020. A native of Peach Bottom, Cutler’s background is in health care and among his legislative achievements are changes in state law to make hospital accreditation more efficient, reforming public assistance programs and establishing the state insurance exchange.
House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Stan Saylor, R-York has been in office for nearly 30 years and was running for his 16th term when he lost in last month’s primary. His district includes suburban and rural parts of York County. He is a former small business owner and has been a proponent of energy independence, pushing to convert the state’s bus fleets to natural gas fuel. Although he has embraced the role as a fiscal conservative with an eye to preserving surpluses for future needs, he has also brokered compromises with Democrats including a $100 million boost for the state’s 100 poorest school districts last year.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, was first elected to the House in 1996 and is running for reelection in November. Before becoming a lawmaker, he was a construction worker and hospital orderly and served two terms as Centre County coroner. He was elected majority leader in 2020 and previously served as majority whip. Benninghoff has been House Republican Policy Committee chairperson, and served on the House Majority Finance and State Government committees.
Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, was first elected to the House in 2009 and is the ranking Democratic member of the Appropriations Committee. He was a member of the Appropriations Committee for eight years before being elected as the panel’s top Democrat. He also served two terms as the ranking Democrat of the State Government Committee.
House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, has served her district since 2015 and is the first woman elected as House Democratic Leader in 2020. She was also the first woman and the first African American to be elected Democratic Caucus chairperson in 2018. An attorney, McClinton worked as a public defender in Philadelphia and served as chief counsel for Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia.
House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, was first elected to represent his Philadelphia district in 2012 and became the whip in 2021. Before he was elected to the House, Harris worked as a Philadelphia public school teacher, and served as director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission. His legislative accomplishments include helping to draft the Pennsylvania law that automatically seals minor criminal records, and other criminal justice reform bills.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, lost his bid to run for a fifth term last month to political newcomer Jarrett Coleman. Prior to his election to the Senate, Browne served for 10 years as a state representative for the Allentown area. He has been leader of the Appropriations Committee since 2014. Browne is also a member of the Finance, Aging and Youth, Law & Justice, and Local Government committees. His legislative focus has been on education. He also crafted legislation to create a special taxing district that has revitalized Allentown’s central business district.
Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R- Westmoreland, was first elected to the Senate in 2008. She is the first woman to serve as a majority leader in either chamber and also served as Republican Caucus leader. Before her election to the Senate, she served as a Westmoreland County commissioner and a Hempfield Township supervisor and worked as a respiratory therapist.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman is from Centre County and represents a broad swath of Central Pennsylvania that includes all of Centre, Mifflin, and Juniata counties and part of Huntingdon County. He was first elected in 1998 and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor this year. He did not run for reelection in the Senate. Prior to his election as president pro tempore, he served for five years as majority leader. As president pro tempore he is an ex-officio member of every Senate committee and decides which bills are referred to the committee.
Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. First elected to the Senate in 1994, Hughes also served for eight years in the state House. His legislative focuses include expanding health care for low-income residents, raising the minimum wage and education funding.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County, has served as the Democratic leader since 2010, and is the ranking Democrat on the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. He previously served as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations and Judiciary committees and as Democratic Caucus chairperson. Prior to his election to the Senate, Costa was Allegheny County register of wills and a deputy sheriff. He is a principal in the Pittsburgh law firm Dickie, McCamey and Chilcote.