by Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
The Pennsylvania Senate ended a nearly monthlong impasse on Thursday by sending a partial budget to Gov. Josh Shapiro for his signature.
The budget that Shapiro signed Thursday afternoon will release state money for public schools, county human services agencies, and other programs that rely on state tax dollars.
Jim Grosch, Warren County School District Director of Business Services, told the school board during the July 31 Finance Committee meeting that the district would be without approximately $50 million of its $94 million budget until the state budget was passed.
“The people of Pennsylvania have entrusted me with the responsibility to bring people together in a divided legislature and to get things done for them – and with this commonsense budget, that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Shapiro said.
But several new bipartisan priorities would remain unfunded, Shapiro Budget Secretary Uri Monson said in a memo to the governor and legislative leaders. Monson said money for the programs would not be available until the General Assembly passes fiscal code bills required to authorize the spending.
Shapiro also said he had line-item vetoed $100 million for taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers, which had been a sticking point for House Democrats.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate said Shapiro’s promise to cut the voucher funding was a missed opportunity to help students in failing school districts.
“I would be remiss if I did not implore one final time for the governor to allow that line item to remain intact, to allow funding to be secured and allocated for parents to be empowered to make decisions for their children,” Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said after Lt. Gov. Austin Davis signed the budget in the Senate chamber.
In a statement, House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, criticized Senate Republicans for “an irresponsible and unnecessary 29-day delay” but said the decision by Senate leaders to return would free funding for critical programs that was already a month overdue.
Bradford said negotiations over the remaining budget-related issues are ongoing and the House would return to session as agreements are reached.
The $45.5 billion budget is Shapiro’s first since taking office this year and includes many priorities he identified in his March 7 budget address including workforce and economic development initiatives, a historic increase in education funding, and expanded support for public safety.
At the same time Shapiro announced he had signed the budget, he said he would sign legislation on Friday to expand the property tax and rent rebate program for seniors, another of his budget goals.
Shapiro was broadly criticized, however, for his about-face on school vouchers, which he said he supported during his campaign. The decision led to speculation that he squandered significant political capital with Republicans, who control the Senate, and accused Shapiro of reneging on a deal to secure support for the vouchers from House Democrats.
After the Senate passed an amended version of the budget on June 30 and sent a bill to create the voucher program to the House, Democratic lawmakers, who said they would not vote to take money from public education, killed the program by rejecting the bill in the House Rules Committee.
Five days later, after Shapiro said he would cut the voucher funding, the House voted to approve the Senate’s version of the bill. But the Senate had adjourned until September and showed no indication that it would return to complete the final administrative step to send the budget to Shapiro’s desk.
Shapiro said in his veto statement that he was unwilling to hold up the entire budget and delay the benefits it would provide to Pennsylvania residents over the voucher program, dubbed the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success. He indicated that the veto does not mean he has given up on enacting a school voucher program.
“As I said in my budget address, this budget is a first step towards a comprehensive solution that makes progress for our children over the long term, and I look forward to continuing this work with both chambers as we discuss additional programs to help our children, including pass,” Shapiro said.
Late on Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said she was calling the Senate back into session on Thursday afternoon to finalize what she described as 75% of the budget.
In a statement, Ward said she had received assurances from Shapiro that the remaining quarter of the budget would remain untouched until the General Assembly had completed the legislation to authorize that spending.
In his memo, Monson said that without the legislation he could not release funding for:
- School mental health grants
- The first-ever state funding for public defenders
- A rate increase for emergency medical services
- Relief for hospitals Supplementary money for the state’s poorest school districts
- Stipends for new teachers
- Grants for low-income homeowners to make repairs
Monson said money for environmental remediation in schools, tax credits for businesses that contribute to scholarships, and a transfer to the rainy day fund also requires enabling language to be implemented. Treasurer Stacy Garrity said her office has agreed not to release money for those programs until the enabling legislation is passed.
Democrats in the House and Senate have said they disagree with the administration’s position on the new programs, saying that separate enabling legislation is not needed or already exists.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said in the chamber on Thursday that the Whole Home Repair Program has been in effect since it was created in the previous budget using federal pandemic relief money.
The budget also has previously included Level Up funding for the state’s 100 poorest school districts.
“We believe that we should take every opportunity to ensure that we can take steps to be able to provide resources for those schools,” Costa said.
Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: [email protected]. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.