The Top 5 Tweets that sum up our very weird #PaBudget Week | Friday Morning Coffee

June 28, 2019 7:12 am
Pat Albright repurposes a sign to protest the elimination of General Assistance. (Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Pat Albright repurposes a sign to protest the elimination of General Assistance (Capital-Star photo).

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Barring any unforeseen natural disasters, it looks like we’re at about the end of Budget Season 2019.

On Thursday night, the Senate sent Gov. Tom Wolf a negotiated, $34 billion spending bill for the fiscal year that starts at 12:01 a.m. on Monday morning. The Republican-controlled chamber also approved the enabling legislation that authorizes the state to spend the money in the General Fund bill. Not long afterward, the House finished the job.

And while lawmakers and the administration may be able to claim something like a win by passing an on-time budget bill (which, when you think about it, is the bare minimum of competence anyway. It’s what they’re supposed to do), it didn’t come without drama.

Nor did it come without a price to thousands of Pennsylvanians who depend on state government to keep them from slipping into the shadows.

Herewith, then, the five or so Tweets that sum up the past week.

1. Drama on the Senate floor: If there’s going to be an indelible moment from this budget season, it’s going to be the drama that unfolded on the Senate floor on Wednesday as the chamber devolved into chaos in the midst of an emotional debate over a measure to eliminate the state’s cash assistance program for the disabled, those struggling with addiction, and victims of domestic violence.

From The Capital-Star’s Sarah Anne-Hughes and Elizabeth Hardison

After an intense and dramatic debate, the Republican-controlled state Senate voted 26-24 Wednesday to approve a bill that eliminates a cash assistance program for disabled Pennsylvanians, people in treatment for addiction, and domestic violence survivors.

It now goes to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf.

At times, the Senate floor broke into total chaos, with Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, shouting at Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, to “follow the rules” after he allowed Sen. Katie Muth, D-Chester, to speak after a motion was made.

Fetterman, who presides over the Senate, appeared to ignore Corman, as the lawmaker screamed, “This is your job! Do your job, Mr. President!”

“The chair continues to acknowledge Sen. Muth,” Fetterman said, as Cormancalled on him to answer a point of order.

As we noted Thursday, there will be debate over the propriety of Fetterman’sactions. But, as we also noted, the vote was also an inflection point in Pennsylvania politics.

2. The duel over the Education Improvement Tax Credit.
On Thursday night, the Senate approved the Education Code, which serves as the instruction manual for spending money allocated to public education across the Commonwealth.

As the Tweet above makes clear, the bill includes a controversial expansion of Pennsylvania’s two-decade-old Education Improvement Tax Credit program, which provides tax breaks to businesses that donate to private and religious school scholarship programs.

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that doubled the size of the program. Undeterred, legislative Republicans inserted a more modest $25 million expansion.

3. It’s like Raaaaaainnnnn on your Budget Dayyyyyy (full credit to @SarahAnne_News for that one)
It’s a rare year that Pennsylvania debates what it’s going to do with leftover cash. During most budget seasons, what we have long referred to as the Pizza Rule of Budget prevails.

And that’s lawmakers upturning the couch cushions, and selling old CDs, as they scramble to put together the coin to pay for what amounts to a very, very, very, very large pie that costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $34 billion.

From The Capital-Star’s Sarah Anne Hughes:

As part of this year’s budget, lawmakers are getting ready to do something unusual: make a deposit into Pennsylvania’s rainy day fund.

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled state House passed a budget spending bill that puts $250 million into an emergency savings account. The move was backed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who consistently said any surplus should be saved — not spent.

“Once we faced a $3 billion deficit, and this year we will be able to make the most significant deposit in the Rainy Day Fund in more than a decade,” Wolf’s spokesperson J.J. Abbott said in a statement.

As we earlier noted, lawmakers were coming up with all sorts of ways to spend the money, including school construction and security grants for houses of worship. One particularly creative legislator wanted to use the money to drive out property tax relief to homeowners.

4. Code BIll Craziness.
As we’ve earlier reported, and our friends at the Associated Press so ably reiterate, it’s in the code bills that the real legislative deal-making gets done. You can expect Capitol reporters to spend hours sifting through the hulking Fiscal Code, which is the traditional hiding place for the legislative Easter eggs that get handed out at budget time.

5. The Minimum Wage Debate.
In addition to being rebuffed on general assistance, Wolf was also unable (at least for now) to score a win on one of his other big legislative priorities for the spring: Boosting Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, to $12 an hour by July, and then to $15 an hour by 2025.

The administration has said it plans to continue to seek a hike – and remains open to a deal. Though the lift seems steep in the Republican-controlled House, where leaders have evinced little interest for boosting the wage, which hasn’t been increased in a decade.

In addition:

The 30th annual “Out of Reach” report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition provides a stark reminder that, instead of getting better, America’s affordable housing crisis is getting worse.

If you’re earning the Pennsylvania minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, there is not a single state or county in the country where you’re making enough to rent a two-bedroom apartment. In only 28 of the nation’s counties is it possible for a worker making the $7.25 federal minimum wage to rent a one bedroom apartment, the report found, according to an analysis by CityLab.

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 has all you need to know about the budgetGov. Tom Wolf’ssignature on the same, and, for all we know, what really happened with Flight 19 over the Bermuda Triangle.

Pennsylvania libraries are set to get their first funding hike in a decadeElizabeth Hardison reports.

Nineteen Pennsylvania counties are actively collaborating with ICE to deport immigrants in their custody, a new report has found.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing federal courts to sit out gerrymandering cases won’t stifle reform efforts in Pa, our Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender reports. Sarah Anne Hughes looks at the ground level impact of the decision in Pennsylvania.

And Caruso has the details of an ACLU lawsuit alleging racial profiling by the State Police against undocumented immigrants.

On our Commentary Page, a pair of University of Oregon scholars analyze the long-term impact of that tragic photo of a drowned migrant father and his 23-month-old daughter.

Image via Flickr Commons

Pennsylvania will begin sealing 30 million criminal records as a part of the state’s Clean Slate Law, the Inquirer reports.
The Post-Gazette also runs down new changes in election law approved by lawmakers this week.
The Harrisburg school district’s new receiver fired the superintendent and solicitor as part of a top-to-toe housecleaning, PennLive reports.
The Allentown school district passed a contentious budget on Thursday nightThe Morning Call reports.
Pittsburgh is the ‘most undervalued city’ in the country, the Tribune-Review reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day.

Crowded schools in suburban Philly are struggling to find new room to grow,WHYY-FM reports.
The PA Post runs down the winners and losers in the $34 billion budget package. 
A walkout by Pa. Senate Democrats isn’t that unusual. Stateline runs down the long history of legislative walkouts.
Politico has its top 5 takeaways from #DemDebate, Night 2.

What Goes On.
The House gavels in at 9 a.m, the Senate at 11 a.m.
10 a.m., Main Rotunda: Rep. Carolyn Comitta and Sen. Vince Hughes talk about loaded firearms in cars. We’ll go out on a limb and guess that they are not fans.
1 p.m, Palais Du Justice, Commonwealth Ave.: Gov. Tom Wolf, and Reps. Jordan Harris and Sheryl Delozier talk about Pa’s Clean Slate Law.

What Goes On.
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, holds a 12 p.m. funder at the Pennsylvania State Shotgunning Association (which is actually a thing). Admission runs $250 to $2,000.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Ambler, Pa. Mayor Jeanne Sorg, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old favorite from Nine Days. It’s ‘Absolutely (The Story of a Girl).’

Friday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Pittsburgh romped to a 10-0 win over Houston on Thursday. The Orioles avoided losing again by having the night off.

And now you’re up to date. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.