With political and legislative hurdles remaining, Pa. budget is far from Shapiro’s desk
‘I think there’s going to be some period of time where we’ve got to reset,’ House Majority Leader Matt Bradford said
Pennsylvania Capitol Building. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).
(This article was updated at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, July 9, 2023, to correct the vote margin by which the university funding bill failed.)
Both chambers of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly have passed a budget that Gov. Josh Shapiro said this week he wants to sign, but claims of political betrayal and remaining legislative hurdles mean there’s no clear picture of when it will reach his desk.
Before the state House approved the $45.5 billion budget late Wednesday night, Shapiro announced his intent to scrap a proposal for private school tuition vouchers he said he supported to encourage Senate Republicans to vote for his budget goals.
Shapiro’s about-face on the $100 million program prompted claims by leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate that he had reneged on a deal and and “hoodwinked” voters who elected him based on his campaign endorsements of school vouchers.
Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, and Appropriations Chairperson Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, said the budget they sent to the house on June 30 was the result of a “give-and-take” negotiation process in which they vowed to back Shapiro as he pushed Democrats controlling the House to pass the voucher plan.
The Senate, which adjourned until mid-September, must still sign off on the budget before sending it to Shapiro. The House adjourned Friday with no schedule to return for a voting session.
Both chambers must also still pass fiscal code bills, which are legislative instructions to the executive branch on how to spend money included in the budget.
One major piece of outstanding legislation essential to the budget is a code bill for $663 million dollars for the commonwealth’s state-related universities, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln Universities and the University of Pittsburgh.
The bill failed to pass in the House six votes shy of the two-thirds majority required to pass funding bills for the universities after House Republicans raised objections to tuition increases and the minimal oversight the state has over the institutions.
House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, called the failure to pass the bill “a total abdication of leadership” on the part of Republicans, claiming that “no” votes by ranking GOP lawmakers were the reason the bill fell short of the required 135 votes.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, told the Capital-Star that House Republicans offered amendments that would make the universities subject to the state’s Right-to-Know Law and change how tuition assistance would be distributed but his efforts to rally support for the amendments gained no ground.
Bradford told reporters that the House Republican Caucus had historically opposed state-related university funding on other grounds, including abortion and gender identity politics and said the reality is that the money goes to students.
“Those types of concessions have been made year after year. The reality is it’s turned into Whac-a-Mole with the Republican Caucus,” Bradford said.
Grove said that although the uncertainty will mean larger tuition bills this fall, the funding will pass eventually and the universities will reconcile in spring tuition bills.
“So there’s no point in moving them anymore until there’s an award struck between Senate Republicans, House Democrats and the governor. Now we all know what transpired so I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Grove said.
The House, meanwhile, rounded out the first week of July with voting sessions on Thursday and Friday in which the Democratic majority worked through a list of legislative priorities.
Those included bills to strengthen criminal penalties and create civil remedies for ethnic or religious intimidation and violence sponsored by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, whose Pittsburgh district includes the Tree of Life Synagogue where a gunman killed 11 worshipers in October 2018.
Legislation to stop discrimination on the basis of hairstyles, which frequently occurs for Black women and girls, sponsored by Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes, D-Allegheny, passed with bipartisan support.
Although I was told for four years, there were no Republican votes for it, I am thrilled that today, there were plenty of Republican votes,” House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said. “Each of us represent people of color, so I was proud that so many Republicans voted for it.”
And a bill that would return an estimated $500 million to school districts by setting publicly funded cyber charter school tuition at $8,000 per student also passed with a bipartisan 122-81 votes.
Other legislative goals passed in the House this session include statute of limitations reform to provide legal relief to sexual abuse victims, the extension of anti-discrimination laws to LGBTQ+ people and a minimum wage increase tied to inflation, Bradford said.
“We’ve passed over nearly 150 bills to the Senate. We’d obviously love to see some movement,” he said.
Describing the House Democrats’ one-seat advantage as a “humble majority,” Bradford said his caucus is open to discussion on the issues keeping the budget from reaching Shapiro’s desk, but said he could offer no insight on when that could happen.
“I think there’s going to be some period of time where we’ve got to reset,” he said. “We’ve spoken to the administration, they’re anxious to have discussions about some of this. But again, our Republican friends need to show up with votes.”
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