HARRISBURG — The state Senate passed a budget-related bill without language for Medicaid expansion Wednesday before adjourning for the summer, although several senators indicated they intend to revisit the issue again in the fall.
“I support the expansion of Medicaid. … It’s clear at this point we are at an impasse,” said Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delware, speaking in a Senate committee meeting before the party-line 27-22 vote.
On Sunday, the Republican-controlled Senate had voted, 40-10, for a welfare code bill — part of a larger budget package of bills — that would have required the state to expand the program to provide health insurance to low-income Pennsylvanians. All of the Senate’s 23 Democrats voted for the measure; they were joined by 17 Republicans. However, on Monday, hours before adjourning for the summer, a House committee stripped out language from the bill approving the expansion.
Mr. Pileggi said the Senate could take up the issue again in the fall, but delaying passage of the welfare code bill would delay critical payments to hospitals.
The Senate proposal would have required the state to apply by Oct. 1 to broaden Medicaid eligibility requirements under the federal health care law while calling for reforms such as job-search requirements and an ability to modify the program’s benefit packages.
Gov. Tom Corbett has said for months that he would not agree to broaden Medicaid eligibility unless the federal government allows the state to make changes to its program.
Senators also voted Wednesday to remove language from the House version of the fiscal code, part of a package of budget-related bills, that would have committed legislators to vote on language regarding short-term, high-interest “payday” loans later this year.
The Senate’s unanimous vote sends the fiscal code, a key part of the budget, back to the House for approval. On Monday night, the House adjourned for the summer, although there is a non-voting day scheduled for Monday. A spokesman for the speaker of the House said the leadership is looking at whether it must receive a vote before September.
A bill to allow so-called “payday” loans was voted out of a Senate committee last month, but never made it to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
“I do not believe that the fiscal code, a bill that directly relates to our budget, is the appropriate place to address this,” said Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, the sponsor of the lending legislation.
Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said he was disappointed the controversial legislation was quietly inserted into the House bill.
“To do this, frankly, set that process back,” Mr. Williams said.
A statement from the governor’s office said failure to pass the fiscal code promptly could have implications for government spending, particularly for higher education and funds for the Philadelphia schools.
“The legislative leaders need to resolve their differences and act responsibly to send the Fiscal Code to my desk for approval as soon as possible,” Mr. Corbett’s statement said.
The Senate also approved, 31-18, House changes to a bill that would give appointments on the Port Authority board of directors to the governor and state legislators. Currently the Allegheny County executive appoints all nine board members.
The board would now have 11 members: five appointees from the state (one each from the governor, Senate president pro tem, Senate minority leader, speaker of the House and House minority leader) and six from the county (four appointments would come from the county executive and two would come from Allegheny County Council members of the opposite party of the executive).
Two of the county executive’s appointments would need to come from a list of potential appointees developed by disability groups, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.
The Senate already passed a version of the bill. Wednesday’s vote approved changes made by the House that would give the Republican members appointed by the General Assembly the ability to table major decisions such as appointing an agency CEO, authorizing bonds or other borrowing and approving contracts of more than $5 million.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he supports the legislation.
“They … wanted state input because of the financial contribution that the state puts into [the Port Authority] and I do think it makes sense,” he said following Wednesday’s vote.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, who voted for the bill, said members of the Democratic caucus had concerns about privatization language in the bill. A section of the bill requires the Department of Transportation to “study the potential privatization of authority services as a means of reducing annual expenses or increasing annual revenues.”
“Privatization doesn’t work in transit,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “If they want to do a study, that’s fine, go ahead and do a study. … I would not support the Port Authority being privatized.”
The bill is expected to be signed by the governor.
By Kate Giammarise | Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau