HARRISBURG – Spending by the Pennsylvania Legislature declined last year, while its surplus swelled to more than $150 million, according to an audit report released Wednesday.
The Legislative Audit Advisory Commission approved the report from an outside auditor that details spending by the legislative branch in the year that ended in June 2013.
Total spending was $301 million – down about $6 million from the previous year. The Senate spent $89 million and the larger House spent $180 million.
Payroll and benefits were the largest spending category. The $249 million total was unchanged from the previous year.
The year-end surplus increased to $154 million from $140 million the previous year – reversing a downward trend dating to 2006, when the reserves reached $215 million.
“The reserves are there to help ward off a possible stalemate over the budget” with the governor and, in that event, would be tapped to pay staff members and other operating expenses, said Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry, the commission’s chairman.
Keller and Sen. Vincent Hughes, a commission member and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said they would not speculate about whether leaders might agree to use some of the surplus to help close a $1 billion-plus gap in the state budget.
“We haven’t gotten to that level of detail,” said Hughes, D-Philadelphia.
The eight-member commission, which comprises legislators and nonlegislators, endorsed the auditors’ recommendation that the Legislature adopt a formal policy on the appropriate amount of the reserve.
The auditors again recommended that the checkbooks controlled by some senior House members be eliminated and such spending funneled through the House comptroller’s office as the Senate has already done.