Pa. lawmakers, advocates react to state budget passage

The state House voted 117-86 to approve a proposed $45.5B state budget late Wednesday, sending the spending plan to Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk for a signature

By: - July 5, 2023 10:53 pm
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro delivers his first budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on March 7, 2023 (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro delivers his first budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on March 7, 2023 (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

*This breaking story was updated at 6:39 p.m. on Thursday, July 6 to include additional information.

The state House voted 117-86 to pass a proposed $45.5 billion state budget late Wednesday, sending the spending plan to Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk for a signature. 

In a statement following Wednesday’s vote, Shapiro said he was proud of the final budget, calling it a “statement of our priorities.”

“Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with a full-time, divided legislature – meaning nothing gets done unless it can make it through our Republican-led Senate and our Democratic-led House. I’m proud that this budget – one that makes historic investments in public education, public safety, workforce development, agriculture, and economic development – passed both the House and Senate, and I look forward to signing it.”

Here’s how politicians and advocates reacted to the budget’s passage:

House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster: 

“Democrats approving this budget is nothing more than an escape hatch for our friends on the other side of the aisle who wish to avoid a protracted impasse over a politically inconvenient issue that divides their own party. Today’s vote ultimately will leave students and families, who want nothing more than the opportunity for a better education and a better future, out in the cold merely for political convenience.

There are positive things one can point to in this spending plan. It increases funding for career and technical education, workforce development programs, public safety, and property tax relief while maintaining our commitment to supporting public education, the PA State System of Higher Education, and increasing funding for Educational Improvement and Opportunity Scholarship tax credit programs. It increases support for our Rainy Day Fund, spends less than what the governor originally proposed, and is considerably more reasonable than the unilateral budget passed out of this House about a month ago by the Democrats on a straight party-line vote.

“On the other hand, this budget has a lot of concerning elements. For instance, it does little to address our structural deficit and runaway and unaccountable welfare programs, which if not addressed, will threaten the long-term ability of our state to genuinely prosper.”

House Republican Appropriations Chairman Seth Grove, R-York: 

This legislative session started with a lie from Representative Mark Rozzi promising to serve as a non-partisan Speaker; it now continues with a lie from Governor Shapiro.  Governor Shapiro should sign HB 611 with the inclusion of Lifeline Scholarships, as he promised to do last week.  Failure to do so will result in a complete lack of trust between House and Senate Republicans and the House Democrats and the Governor. 

“If the Governor does line-item veto Lifeline Scholarships, he should follow through and line-item veto all budget line items that do not already have enabling legislation.  

“House Democrats may pat themselves on the back for stopping $100 million in funding for children stuck in failing school districts.  House Democrats may laud themselves for passing a budget that spends 6% over the prior year’s budget, but make no mistake, this is not a complete 2023-24 budget. Completing this task with such deceptive tactics in State Government will be extremely difficult.  Make no mistake, House Republicans will continue fighting for fiscal sanity and children trapped in failing schools.”

State Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Fayette:

“This budget can best be described as the Benedict Arnold budget.

“In politics, as in life, you are only as good as your word. This week, Gov. Josh Shapiro showed his true colors when he reneged on his agreement with the state Senate to include $100 million in scholarships to students trapped in the state’s worst performing schools.

“But worse than double-crossing the state Senate is the governor breaking his campaign promise to the people of this Commonwealth, and specifically to children and their families trapped in failing schools. They need a lifeline, the governor dangled it out there and then he reeled it in, leaving them behind to continue struggling.

“To make matters worse, this budget spends beyond what we can afford. The people of this Commonwealth deserve better.”

State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-Lawrence:

“Apparently, Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable children are not a priority for Gov. Josh Shapiro. After supporting $100 million that would provide money to children from K-12 in the lowest performing 15% of schools in statewide performance standards, the governor changed his tune and has pledged to veto that item in the budget. That is totally unacceptable. The PA Award for Student Success (PASS) scholarship program would give students better educational opportunities. During his campaign, Shapiro supported school choice for our students, but when push came to shove, he sided with his Democrat colleagues and special interest groups.

“A total of 88 high schools in the state would have been impacted by the PASS scholarships, 33 of those schools have zero students who are proficient in math. Make no mistake about it, the governor’s priority is not our children’s education.

“The budget misses the opportunity to address many financial pitfalls Pennsylvania is facing. The plan is a 6% increase in spending over last year’s budget. This level of spending is unsustainable and would lead to a tax hike in the near future. While costs have gone up in all sectors of the economy, increasing a budget by this amount is not sustainable.

“This budget does nothing to address our structural deficit while using surplus funds to prop up our balance sheet.

“This budget falls short of being fiscally responsible. Protecting taxpayers will remain one of my top priorities.”

State Rep. Marla Brown, R-Lawrence:

“I have pledged to support people-first, future-focused policies, and this budget falls short with many missed opportunities. The budget spends beyond what it should with a 6% increase over the prior year, forcing the state to dip into its reserves in order to meet expenses. We should be working to fix the structural deficit, not make it worse.

“This level of spending is unsustainable and would lead to a tax hike in the near future. The budget also fails to address welfare program integrity to ensure funding is going only to those who truly need it. Increasing a budget by this amount would hurt our businesses and families.

“After pledging to support school choice, Gov. Josh Shapiro caved to the teachers union and will line-item veto $100 million allocated for Lifeline Scholarships, also known as the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success, which would have helped students trapped in the state’s lowest-performing schools.  This proves the governor’s priorities are special interest groups and not our children’s education.

“Also damaging is the failure to remove the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which will lead to a significant energy tax on Pennsylvania employers and consumers. According to the nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office (IFO), this tax would increase electricity rates nearly four times. It would also cause job losses.

“We can and must do better.”

State Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia: 

“I am glad that we were able to pass a budget that puts an emphasis on supporting the state’s young people. In my role as majority chair of the Pennsylvania House Children and Youth Committee, I fought for investments in our children and youth. It’s my desire to see young people and families thrive in Pennsylvania.

“Not only did we increase funding for public schools in general and increase funding for the Philadelphia School District by 7.6%, we also were able to expand access to and the affordability of childcare by increasing the state’s childcare tax credit. We also continued investments in maternal and child health, free school breakfast programs, and early intervention services.

“The budget is not perfect, they never are, but it does make significant investments in the state’s most important resource: people. Budgets are statements of values and House Democrats showed that we value education and working people and that we want to build a state that is safe, with good jobs and boundless opportunity.”

State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia:

“Pennsylvania has passed a budget that prioritizes education, expands the Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program, and paves the way for a brighter future. The passage of this budget signifies a significant step forward, but let us be clear, this budget is just the beginning. With Commonwealth Court’s decision, it is absolutely clear that we are failing our students. It’s up to us to build on this foundation and deliver a high-quality public education. We must fight for equitable funding that ensures we have the resources necessary to provide a first-class education to every student.

“But let us not forget that there is more work to be done beyond education. That includes justice for survivors of sexual abuse, a minimum wage increase, commonsense gun measures, and the Fairness Act to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination. We must invest in our crumbling infrastructure, improve access to affordable health care, and champion renewable energy to protect our environment and generations to come. We need to restore the early childhood education and childcare funding that we had originally passed in the budget to support working families. While we celebrate this budget and the victory for education funding, let us remember that there is much more work to do to bring true equity and deliver on our promise of a high-quality education for every student.”

State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia: 

“I’m proud to support Governor Shapiro’s budget, a budget that provides investments in education, our workforce, families, and businesses throughout Pennsylvania.

“It is a budget that will provide relief to seniors by expanding the states property tax and rent rebate program by raising the maximum rebate from $650 to $1,000, while increasing the eligibility limit to $45,000 for renter and homeowners. And, $50 million to help with home repairs for homeowners.

“The 2023-24 budget included a $567 million boost for basic education. It also provides $50 million for special education, $16 million for state grants for college students, $125 million for school safety grants, and $100 million in Level Up funding to support PA’s poorest schools. In addition, this budget includes $100 million to help address school needs, and $46.5 million for the universal free breakfast program.

“However, as House Democratic Chairman of the Human Services Committee, I recognize that we as a state have more work to do and that we need to invest more dollars to ensure that many of our most vulnerable citizens get the support that they need as well as increasing the wages of those staff who work to provide such necessary services.”

State Rep. Arvind Venkat, D-Allegheny:

“The increase in state funding is a down payment so that the state may begin to meet its obligations on public education without increasing property taxes, which in turn reduces the burden on taxpayers in McCandless, Franklin Park, Ohio Township, Kilbuck, Emsworth, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, and western Hampton Township.”

State Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga:

“Just a few days ago, I was prepared to support this budget, not because I agreed with every single thing in it but because it was going to give students in our worst performing schools a chance to make their lives better.

“Sadly, the governor pulled the rug out from under those more than 207,000 children and their families today when he pledged to line-item veto the $100 million appropriation for Lifeline Scholarships.

“Governing is built on trust. If the bill as drafted and agreed to with the Senate was put up for a vote in the House, it would have passed. The governor bowed to the progressive leadership in the House and is unwisely allowing them to drive the agenda. He speaks about working together, but stabbing the Senate in the back, as stated by one senator, is far from that.

“Where I come from, you actually do what you say you’re going to do. The governor pledged support for lifeline scholarships during his campaign for governor and reiterated that support in budget negotiations with the Senate last week. Today he reneged on that promise. The people of this Commonwealth deserve better.”

State Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland: 

“While there are initiatives in the 2023-24 budget proposal I support, like increased education funding and the creation of four new state trooper classes, there are simply too many missed opportunities and shortcomings in this plan.

“The bill brought up in the House was a 6% increase spend number over last year, and this budget does nothing to pay down our state debt. This was an important step we took in last year’s proposal, and I am disappointed we are not continuing that fiscal practice. It also does not adequately place safeguards on the programs that are funded, so we cannot be certain those dollars are being used as intended,” Delozier added. “I am also discouraged by the lack of funding for the most vulnerable groups in our communities, like those with intellectual disabilities and autism. This budget cut $170 million from the intellectual disability and autism line item, leaving services for those Pennsylvanians in question; and the issue of base funding for mental health services, both were very high areas of importance to Cumberland County.

“In our job, our word is all we have. With the governor breaking his word, it does not bode well for the rest of the pieces to getting the budget completed.”

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey:

“We’re grateful that lawmakers have approved a state budget that makes much-needed investments in our public schools. It is important to recognize that the funding increases in this budget are only a down payment on a long-term fix to our unconstitutional public school funding system. We need to do everything we can to ensure that our public school students have the resources they need to succeed.
“Last week, the education community made it clear that we oppose the tuition voucher scheme passed by the state Senate. Today, Gov. Shapiro announced that he will use his line-item veto power to eliminate the $100 million tuition voucher appropriation. That removes our concerns with the budget bill.
“Going forward, we need to focus on fixing Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional public school funding system rather than cooking up new tuition voucher schemes that waste taxpayers’ money and have failed to improve student outcomes in other states.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.