House Republicans warn state budget could be late as they push back on Democrats’ proposal
‘I hope now that the Democratic caucus understands that they actually do need to include us in the budget process,’ Minority Leader Bryan Cutler said
Pa. House Majority Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, meets the press after Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 (Capital-Star photo).
House Republican leaders warned Thursday that the General Assembly could miss the June 30 deadline to pass a new state budget after voting against funding for Pennsylvania’s state-related universities and opposing appropriations bills that departed from Gov. Josh Shapiro’s spending proposal.
Republicans accused the chamber’s majority Democrats of mismanaging the 203-member chamber’s calendar, putting an on-time approval at risk.
“[House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery] correctly pointed out that there’s only eight days left, but the only reason that we’re stuck at eight days is because they waited so long to actually begin the process,” Cutler said.
Cutler said the process is likely to be further complicated by House Democrats’ decision to break away from Shapiro’s $44.4 billion proposal and send a significantly more costly $45.7 billion plan, to the Senate.
Republican Caucus Secretary Martina White, R-Philadelphia, said House Democrats are acting as if they have a mandate to pass a progressive agenda when last year’s election gave them only a one-vote, 102-101 majority.
“What Pennsylvanians did was vote to ensure that we all work together and that half of Pennsylvanians don’t get left behind during the budget process,” White said.
House Democrats passed a budget June 5 that boosted spending by $903 million — much of it directed to education — over Shapiro’s proposal.
House Appropriations Chairperson Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said the chamber’s Democrats are waiting for the upper chamber to respond in kind. Harris acknowledged there have been discussions with Senate leaders, but declined to discuss what he called private negotiations.
“I don’t negotiate in public but what I will say is, we have the public where we stand on issues and we’re just waiting for our counterparts on the other side of the building to do the same for us,” Harris said.
Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, told reporters last week that Shapiro’s overall budget proposal is “an impossible number.” He said he doesn’t expect that reaching an agreement will take all summer, but said Senate leaders aren’t in a rush to pass a budget.
And while Pittman said investing in education is a priority for Senate Republicans, he said it needs to support “all forms of education,” including K-12 and career and technical schools.
Pittman also indicated that he doesn’t approve of Shapiro’s plan to provide a tax credit for new teachers, nurses and police officers, noting that other critical jobs face difficulty recruiting workers. The House passed legislation for the tax credit on Tuesday with a bipartisan 137-66 vote.
But compared to former Gov. Tom Wolf, Shapiro is “very responsible” when it comes to budget talks and working with the Legislature, Pittman added.
On the House floor on Thursday, Cutler called on his fellow Republicans to vote against bills appropriating money from restricted revenue funds — such as retirement funds and workers’ compensation fund — for state agencies and programs, which he characterized as budget housekeeping.
He said the bills departed from Shapiro’s proposal and it was unclear how that would affect the budget’s bottom line.
“You’ve got an incomplete picture and quite frankly, a picture that is out of focus in terms of spending,” Cutler said. “Some bills went up, some bills use the governor’s number, there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason or explanation given on how these individual bills fit into the larger picture.”
The bills passed 102-101 along party lines, but Republican leaders flexed one of their few powers to influence the budget in unusual second-consideration test votes on higher education spending.
Appropriations totaling about $639 million for the state-related universities — Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln universities, along with the University of Pittsburgh — must be approved by a two-thirds vote of each chamber in the General Assembly.
Republicans opposed the bills because House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, blocked Republican amendments to the appropriations bills, ruling that they were out of order. She also held votes on each bill, which is not typical for bills on the second out of three considerations in the House.
While significant numbers of Republicans voted in favor of the bills, each received fewer than the 135 votes needed to pass. That indicates that Democrats will likely need to negotiate with Republican lawmakers who say they want to retool the higher education system to better reflect employers’ needs.
“I hope now that the Democratic caucus understands that they actually do need to include us in the budget process because, at a minimum, they will need our votes [on the state-related university funding],” Cutler told reporters.
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