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Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed funding that Republicans had pushed for a new Pa. election audit bureau

The funding sparked partisan disagreement soon after Wolf and the GOP-controlled legislature reached a budget deal.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in Media earlier this month.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in Media earlier this month.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed funding Wednesday for the creation of an election audit bureau, the subject of a spat between Republicans who said money in the state budget was informally earmarked for that purpose and Democrats who said they never agreed to it.

The “blue line” veto, as it’s known, reduced the budget for the auditor general’s office, the state’s independently elected fiscal watchdog. That funding was cut by $3.1 million, to $38.34 million, as Wolf signed the broader $40 billion budget into law. In a letter to the GOP-controlled legislature, Wolf, a Democrat, noted he had separately vetoed a sweeping Republican election overhaul bill that would have created an audit bureau.

“Accordingly, I am also compelled to withhold my approval from a corresponding allocation of funding ... intended to facilitate the establishment and operation of a Bureau of Election Audits,” Wolf wrote.

The funding sparked partisan disagreement soon after the legislature and Wolf reached a budget deal Friday.

» READ MORE: Pa. Republicans say the new budget funds a new election audit bureau. Democrats say no way.

When House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) put out a statement Friday about the budget deal, he touted the bureau as “rebuilding trust in elections.” That raised concerns for some Democrats, who see such a move as feeding into former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election.

Cutler has championed the creation of a bureau with wide-ranging responsibilities for reviewing future elections, including auditing vote counts, election equipment, voter-roll accuracy, and policies and procedures that can vary from county to county.

But while Cutler and other Republicans said establishing it was part of the budget agreement, Democrats quickly pushed back. They said the $5.76 million increase for the auditor general’s office was to go entirely toward general operations, and a spokesperson for Timothy DeFoor, the Republican auditor general, said there was no funding for a bureau.

“There is no formation of a Bureau of Election Audits within the auditor general,” said April Hutcheson, a DeFoor spokesperson. “If the governor and the legislature were to decide that’s a function they would like to see from the auditor general, and it’s funded, we would implement it.”

» READ MORE: The political rhetoric over Pa. Republicans’ election bill obscures the truth: It’s complicated

A spokesperson for Cutler said Monday that the auditor general’s office hadn’t yet been told the purpose of the funding. DeFoor’s official Twitter account tweeted Tuesday about the need for increased funding for general operations, subtly but clearly pushing back on the idea of carving out his budget hike for the new bureau.

“We will continue to advocate for the restoration of our budget to allow the Auditor General to protect the taxpayers,” Hutcheson said Wednesday.

State Sen. Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), the top Senate Democrat, applauded Wolf’s veto Wednesday.

“Even though that increase was to be used for the standard operations of that office, statements from Republican legislators since Friday have indicated a darker purpose,” he said in a statement. “We had no agreement to use that increase to create a Bureau of Election Auditing, and Republican efforts to say otherwise were dishonest and an insult to the integrity of our elections.”

State Rep. Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia), the top House Democrat, welcomed “the governor’s decision to reject costly and duplicative election audits inspired by lies and conspiracy theories.”

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans declined to comment Wednesday, and a Cutler spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.