HARRISBURG — Rep. Stan Saylor, the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday he will, if necessary, use subpoenas for information from Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration during budget hearings that begin later this month.
Cabinet officials will be told ahead of time to bring as many people and documents to hearings as needed, so they don’t say they will provide answers — after the hearing — as has frequently happened over the years under governors of both parties, Saylor told The Caucus, a publication of LNP Media Group. Historically, that has sometimes meant waiting weeks, he said.
“If we don’t get cooperation, I will issue subpoenas,” said Saylor, R-York County.
“This isn’t about Tom Wolf being a Democrat,” said Saylor, elected in 1992 and formerly House majority whip. “My hope is the governor cares about transparency as much as the General Assembly cares about transparency.”
At issue is the budget proposal Wolf will deliver to a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday. J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s press secretary, said the governor’s Cabinet and staff “will continue to provide the General Assembly with information in the transparent, forthright and expeditious way that we have for the last two years. We hope for this to be a serious, collaborative process.”
Subpoena use is rare
The appropriations committee has had subpoena power, but the use of subpoenas is “very rare,” said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans.
“I don’t remember subpoenas on routine budget matters” in recent history, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. “It could the set the stage for a very contentious budget process.”
Saylor said he was unaware of the last time the committee issued a subpoena.
‘We expect answers’
Saylor’s approach to hearings is not just about subpoenas and demands for information. It’s about a new strategy to give members more information and more time to ask follow-up questions, he said.
He is paring down time spent on some agencies to focus on those the public is most affected by, such as Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.
“We expect answers before the hearing is over,” Saylor said. If the matter is complicated, Saylor said Cabinet secretaries still have the resources to get quick answers with an entire agency at their disposal.
Saylor said he believes most disputes over availability of certain information could be resolved at most within 24 hours. But he wants all information supplied by an agency official in person — not on a document delivered later.
“These hearings are televised (by Pennsylvania Cable Network),” Saylor said. “Taxpayers deserve to hear the answers publicly, not in a document delivered three weeks or six weeks later.”
Transparency is main issue
Asked if an administration appeal of a subpoena to Commonwealth Court could delay or block receipt of information for weeks anyway, Saylor said, “It may.” But he reiterated the issue is transparency.
“Legislators have been frustrated by secretaries under various governors not having the answers,” said Miskin. “They get very frustrated when they get stalled.”
Asked if Saylor would potentially use subpoenas primarily for documents, as opposed to attempting to compel testimony of certain officials if necessary, Miskin said Saylor is after “the information.”
“Our intention is to do public answers, period,” Saylor said when asked if officials will be brought back to deliver the answers.
“I think all governors, Democrat and Republican, have not given the General Assembly the respect it deserves,” Saylor said.
Senate Republican leadership officials could not be reached to determine if a similar approach is planned, though some senators have talked about the need for members to have more time for thorough questioning.