Taxpayers may be on hook with Gov. Wolf’s latest veto of bill to pay for his own unfunded mandate

In April of 2018, Governor Wolf said his administration would move to decertify all existing voting machines following the 2019 election and force counties to purchase new machines in advance of the 2020 Presidential Election.

The cost? An estimated $125 million. In York County alone, that price tag would be over $1.5 million.

When I came to Harrisburg as a state legislator in 2015, one of my biggest frustrations was the unfunded mandates passed from state to local governments and school districts. I saw the financial impact of these decisions all too often as a school board director. While legislation passed at the state level may be well-intentioned, we also have to consider the overall costs incurred by the taxpayer. It may not be a state expense, but at the end of the day, the taxpayer picks up the tab.

I have made it a priority to identify and eliminate excessive state regulations that separate taxpayers from their hard-earned dollars, and I oppose unfunded mandates that will ultimately result in you – the taxpayer – paying more.

When the governor announced that his administration could decertify all voting machines following this fall’s election, counties like ours moved to purchase new equipment. They did so with the understanding that state government would help with the cost. That is now a promise Governor Wolf is close to breaking.

Governor Wolf said he would work with the legislature to provide funding from the state level to cover most of the cost for the new voting machines, with additional assistance from the federal government. His budget proposal included a meager $15 million – a mere 12 percent of the overall estimated cost.

I find it baffling that he vetoed a bill with bipartisan support on Friday that would have set aside up to $90 million from the state to cover the new voting machines.

The legislation included not only funding for new voting machines but several elections reforms aimed at curbing costs and improving efficiencies at the ballot box. For instance, the bill would cut down the arbitrary number of paper ballots needed at the polling place – right now, a polling place must have a book of 50 ballots of each party for every 45 registered voters. This proposal would have cut the total number of paper ballots to 10 percent more than the total turnout of the three prior elections.

The proposal would have also streamlined the emergency absentee ballot process in the state, making it easier for those who may need to vote through an emergency absentee ballot.

However, the real issue comes down to an election reform provision in the bill that drew the ire of national Democrat political groups and leaders who called on the governor to veto the entire election reform package.

As the Vice Chair of the Senate State Government Committee, I proudly supported Senate Bill 421, sponsored by Senator Lisa Boscola, a Democrat from the Lehigh Valley. Her bill would have eliminated the straight-party option on the ballot and require voters to select each candidate he or she supports. In fact, this bill moved along with a host of bills to address election-related issues and passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. The provisions of this bill were included in the election reform measure that the governor vetoed.

Pennsylvania is one of eight states that have straight party voting as an option. Texas was the latest state to eliminate the provision in 2017, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

After national Democrat political leaders called to oppose the measure, all of the Democrats who initially supported the election reform bill in committee switched their vote to oppose it on final passage in the Senate.

The governor had a choice: veto a bill that drew the opposition of national Democrat party bosses, or support a bill that would provide the bulk of funding for a mandate he called on to address potential election meddling in the future.

In the end, he sided with national Democrats – and against county governments and taxpayers – by vetoing the bill to pay for his own unfunded mandate.

On Tuesday, the governor acted without legislative approval and on questionable legal grounds to borrow $90 million to pay for his mandate. This will still leave county officials, who have to make the difficult decision, with great unease and no assuredness that this unilateral bonding is legal.

Counties and taxpayers are now in limbo because of the governor’s refusal to work with the General Assembly in a bipartisan manner to secure funding, ensure the integrity of our elections process and put Pennsylvania in line with most other states.

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