Budget bills signed by Corbett getting legal scrutiny over gas drilling, line-item vetoes

Budget legislation signed by Gov. Tom Corbett for state government's 2-week-old fiscal year is the subject of intense legal scrutiny.

Parts of the $29 billion budget package are now an exhibit in a 2-year-old lawsuit that is seeking to stop Pennsylvania from allowing more natural gas drilling on publicly owned lands and diverting the drilling proceeds away from a land conservation fund.

A spokesman for Corbett's legal office said the governor's office will respond in court. A lawyer for the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, which brought the case, declined to comment after a Tuesday afternoon status conference with the Commonwealth Court judge in the case.

The budget package establishes the state's authority to enact a new round of leasing of publicly owned lands for natural gas drilling and authorizes the diversion of another $220 million from the fund into the state government's operating budget.

In addition, lawmakers are reviewing it because they say $7 million in line-item vetoes by Corbett of earmarks or spending items picked by lawmakers were unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional.

Corbett's office insists he had the legal authority — most of it was for the cost of a new parking deal negotiated by his administration — but lawmakers say it may have crossed a constitutional line from blocking spending to blocking wording that instead gave direction to spending already authorized elsewhere.

House officials were studying the issue, House Parliamentarian Clancy Myer said Tuesday.

Lawmakers can override a governor's veto by a two-thirds majority vote, although leaders of the Legislature's Republican majorities had made no decision on how to respond to Corbett's line-item vetoes.

Corbett also used a line-item veto to scratch out $65 million, or 20 percent, of the Legislature's operating budget. The last time a governor used the power of a line-item veto to eliminate part of the Legislature's budget was 1978 under Gov. Milton Shapp, Myer said.

Lawmakers overrode the veto, he said.