Tied down with late budget, lawmakers warned to keep on ties

HARRISBURG, Pa. — After spending months in futile efforts to complete a budget, Pennsylvania legislators have turned their attention to what they should be wearing to the fight over state finances.

It's another issue Democrats and Republicans can't seem to agree on.

Complaints about dress code scofflaws prompted the parliamentarian for the state House of Representatives, where Republicans are in the majority and run the show, to issue a memo last week reminding members that men must wear a coat and tie.

It touched off a debate between two legislators who also are military veterans. They argued in a string of emails distributed widely among members and staff and obtained by The Associated Press.

Democratic Rep. Jake Wheatley said he'd consider wearing a tie "if dressing in the appropriate attire would get us to actually be good public servants and do our appropriate work."

"Thanks for reminding me that we work in an environment that cares more about appearance than substance," said the representative from Allegheny County.

That triggered a response from Rep. Rick Saccone, also from Allegheny County, but a Republican from far across the ideological divide.

Saccone, an Air Force veteran, compared the dress code to military uniforms, saying they project "a sense of professionalism that impacts performance."

Wheatley, who served as a Marine Corps radio operator during the Gulf War, noted that the Legislature is "weeks past our obligated date for producing a balanced budget."

"We seem more concerned about what folks wear to the floor than what we are doing or not doing on the floor and that's a problem," he wrote.

Lawmakers passed a $32 billion spending plan in late June but so far have struggled to get a deal on new revenues to plug a $2.2 billion budget hole.

The state Senate approved a mix of borrowing and new taxes in July, but Republican House leaders did not call back their chamber until Monday.

Wheatley said most people only want to know when they'll complete the budget.

"Our mission goes well past the appropriate attire for our chamber and is now in the stages of we need to lock ourselves in the chamber and stay there on that floor or in our caucuses and working on real solutions," he wrote.

Wheatley said later he regrets using reply-all on the email and promised he'll wear a tie.

Saccone added that it's not something he's fixated upon.

"The public will say, 'Why are you so worried about coat-and-tie when you're supposed to be working on a budget?'" Saccone said. "It's not either-or."

Late Wednesday, the House voted narrowly to approve a Republican plan to fund the budget, sending it to the House. Saccone was a "yes," and Wheatley voted "no."

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