Budgetarily unarmed Legislature could lead to disaster

Pennsylvania has the largest full-time Legislature in the nation. We wish it were smaller, but it’s not.

There are thousands of employees working for this largest of state legislative bodies and they need paid. There are other costs associated with the operations of the four caucuses that make up the state House and Senate.

The Legislature has its own account to pay for these operations. It once totaled more than $300 million. It totaled $161 million in June 2014.

But it is dwindling rapidly during the budget impasse and may be completely depleted by early September.

There are critics of the Legislature who would be quick to say the lawmakers deserve to drain their funds as punishment for delaying the passage of the state budget.

But consider the prospect of a Legislature without the ability to challenge the budget plans of an administration because there is no ability to pay staffers during a budget delay. Regardless of which party is in control of the governor’s office or the Legislature, that would not be a good thing.

A budgetarily unarmed Legislature would have limited negotiation power, facing the prospect of not paying or laying off staff should there be a budget stalemate. An administration knowing this could push through initiatives that might not be in the best interests of the majority of Pennsylvanians.

These budget negotiations may be ugly but they are the essence of the state’s balance of power among the executive and legislative branches.

We certainly would not have wanted the first budget proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf to be approved without challenge.