Can Pa. Gov. Shapiro parlay popularity into a budget win? | Monday Morning Coffee
The state started the new fiscal year without an agreement on a spending plan in place
(Gov. Josh Shapiro/Twitter)
It’s not a bad time to be Gov. Josh Shapiro. The Democratic governor made national headlines last month when a collapsed portion of Interstate 95 in northeast Philadelphia reopened well ahead of schedule.
That, in turn, prompted new speculation on whether the former two-term attorney general, former state lawmaker, and ex-Montgomery County commissioner, just seven months into his first term, might one day become the nation’s first Jewish president.
Those good vibes were seemingly cemented last week with the release of a Quinnipiac University poll showing that a clear majority of Keystone State voters (57%) approve of Shapiro’s performance so far. Nearly three quarters of respondents (74%) said they approved of Shapiro’s briskly efficient handling of the highway collapse.
Shapiro’s overall support ran strongest among Democrats (84%), while 41% of Republicans disapproved. Tellingly, 53% of independents also approved in the poll of 1,584 registered voters. The poll had an overall margin of error of 2.5%.
“Those across-the-board honeymoon approval numbers for first termer Gov. Shapiro are no doubt buoyed by voters’ perceptions that he stepped up and took charge when the bridge came down on I-95,” Quinnipiac pollster Tim Malloy said in a statement.
Now the big question: Can Shapiro build on that good feeling as he looks for a win on his first budget, which remains in park in the divided state Legislature as the first days of the 2023-24 budget year dawn?
As the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish and Peter Hall reported, lawmakers left town last week locked in disagreement over a proposal to create private school tuition vouchers.
As the Inquirer reports, Shapiro backed out of a planned appearance in Philadelphia before a teachers’ union conference as he tried to reach a budget deal for the new fiscal year that started Saturday.
As the Capital-Star has previously reported, the state’s biggest teachers unions are incensed over his support for so-called ‘lifeline scholarships,’ that would provide tuition vouchers to students in low-performing school districts.
Democrats, who hold a slender, one-seat majority in the state House, have also said vouchers are DOA on their side of the building. Last week, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a $45.5 billion budget that included $100 million for vouchers, according to the Inquirer.
In a statement to the Inquirer, Shapiro’s spokesperson, Manuel Bonder, said the governor was staying in Harrisburg to “continue working toward a final budget agreement that delivers critically important funding for public education, necessary resources for our schools, and investments in Pennsylvania children and teachers.”
A slight majority of respondents to that Quinnipiac poll (51%) said they approved of Shapiro’s handing of the budget, compared to 25% who disapproved, and 25% who did not offer an opinion.
Last week, administration officials were bullish on Shapiro’s performance, pointing to some of the glowing words that Senate Republicans offered as they voted on the spending plan.
With his performance on I-95, Shapiro “probably won over some skeptics,” West Chester University political science professor John Kennedy told the politics site Route Fifty last week. “It really plays into his message of competency, leadership and getting things done for the people. [The response] actually shows the effectiveness of government at all levels.”
But when it comes to the budget, Shapiro is working against the clock.
In June 2015, as he debated his first budget with a General Assembly fully under Republican control, former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf saw his approvals standing at 39% in a Franklin & Marshall College poll released at the time.
As the debate over Wolf’s rookie spending plan extended into the summer and fall, the Democrat saw his overall approvals dip to 36% in an October 2015 Franklin & Marshall poll.
In that same poll, state voters said they were more inclined to blame the Legislature (51%) than Wolf (32%) for the months-long deadlock over the spending plan.
And voter trust for handling the budget was about equally distributed, with 43% saying they trusted Wolf to resolve the impasse, compared to 38% for the Legislature.
Unlike that budget debate, which was marked by sharp-elbowed partisanship, Shapiro has spent his first months in office striking a largely conciliatory tone with the General Assembly, even as he’s been clear about what he will, and won’t, accept in a final spending plan.
Speaking to Route Fifty, West Chester’s Kennedy said he believed that will stand Shapiro in good stead.
Shapiro “certainly has made an effort to be inclusive and to focus on the question of competency over ideology. That’s been the message.”
Voters, so far, appear to be getting it.
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