No pomp, zero circumstance: Wolf will deliver virtual budget address

    Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf delivers his sixth budget address to a joint session of the general assembly inside the House of Representatives chamber at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Feb. 4. (Photo from Commonwealth Media Services).

    This story was updated at 6:38 p.m. with additional information

    Chalk it up as another tradition disrupted by COVID-19.

    Gov. Tom Wolf told legislative leaders in a letter last Friday that “in an effort to protect the health and safety of everyone in the Capitol,” he did not plan to appear in person before all 253 lawmakers for the annual budget address this year.

    Instead, he requested time on Feb. 2, when both the House and Senate are in session, to show a pre-recorded video address to the General Assembly.

    A spokesperson for Wolf confirmed the plan, and said more details would be released later this week.

    Mike Straub, spokesperson for House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said the House is preparing a plan for the day to allow lawmakers to view the address from their offices or their districts.

    Under state law, the governor must submit to the General Assembly his annual budget request by the end of the first full week of February each year.

    While an in-person address isn’t required by law, it has become the tradition. Flanked by the state House speaker and lieutenant governor, the governor normally speaks before the combined House and Senate, as well as an assortment of dignitaries, officials and guests.

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    The speech, which usually lists gubernatorial priorities, but is weak on details, kicks off a five-month sprint to finish the state’s budget by June 30.

    The address is then followed by hearings in the House and Senate appropriations committees. These hearings give lawmakers a rare chance to directly ask administration officials and department secretaries questions about anything from big picture concerns to pet projects.

    Neal Lesher, spokesperson for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said those meetings are so far on schedule.

    Wolf’s move comes as lawmakers continue to test positive for COVID-19. As of Monday, 15 lawmakers have tested positive for the disease since last spring. 

    Most recently, two House Democrats announced they had tested positive on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15, while a House Republican announced he tested positive on Jan. 17.