Pa. Senate Majority Leader Pittman talks budget, schools, energy and more: Five Takeaways
With budget season in full swing, the No. 2 Republican in the state Senate outlined the Senate GOP Caucus’ priorities, and where it is — and isn’t — willing to compromise with Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.
Here are five takeaways from Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman’s, R-Indiana, appearance before the monthly Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon on Monday.
Will there be a budget deal by June 30?
“Maybe,” Pittman said, before offering a bit of clarification.
“I will say .. I’m hopeful that we will have a commonsense product by June 30. But I will say that, whether it’s before June 30 On June 30, or after June 30, … our caucus … is focused on making sure it’s a responsible product for the taxpayers of this Commonwealth. And so we’re not wed to June 30.”
On election reform and how the Senate might treat a bill now before the state House that would allow counties to process ballots earlier:
“We’ve had a lot of overall discussions when it comes to election integrity. And we’re very committed to multiple paths to improving our electoral process. No matter what people may think of the electoral process, it is undeniable that a large segment of our population does not have faith in the current process. And when you don’t have faith in the process, we have a problem. And we must figure out a way to restore faith in this process. What the House does, [and] what they ultimately send to us? We’ll evaluate and plan if it gets there.”
On school funding reform and his view on the ‘hold harmless’ provision in state law that guarantees school districts receive the same amount of funding they did the year before – even if their student population had declined:
“The hold harmless provision is something that we have dealt with for decades in the Capitol. And it’s very difficult, because at the end of the day, when we look at our public education structure, and we have 500 school districts, I assure you that every school district’s definition of fairness is different. And that makes it very difficult. I come from an area that has declining enrollments across the board. And I will say that when I see enrollments decline, I don’t necessarily see the ability for a school district to simply reduce labor force or reduce transportation services. And so there has to be a recognition that the hold harmless provision has an important value in the educational process of how we drive [those] dollars … We have areas of fast and fast growth, enrollment increase, we have areas of rolling decline, and we’re going to have to figure out a balance for it. But I do think that hold harmless has to be at least part of the conversation.”
On the next steps for the state’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, referred to as ‘reggie,’ a regional carbon credit program, that is now tied up in state court:
“Well, as we know, the ‘Reggie’ scheme is currently suspended through court order through an injunction, the courts are continuing to go through their process of evaluating the legitimacy of government rules, the proposed rules.
“As I said in my [opening] comments, we are adamantly opposed to our entrance into Reggie and we’re certainly adamantly opposed to the unilateral entrance into Reggie, [from the] taxation standpoint, but also from the separation of powers standpoint. And so we will continue to put up that fight. A lot of what happens with the future of Reggie – the courts notwithstanding – really is in the hands of our new governor, and how he ultimately decides to proceed.”
On whether the Legislature might finally legalize adult-use recreational marijuana, and what that might look like:
“I think it’s [too] early to tell. There’s a lot of moving parts to the marijuana issue at hand, both medical marijuana reforms, as well as the questions … resulting around adult-use cannabis. … We have to keep in mind in the conversation in context of this issue of adult use cannabis [is] that, nationally, marijuana does remain a Schedule 1 narcotic. This is something, at the end of the day, the federal government is going to have to address head on. I think the state-by-state policies make it very difficult — from a law enforcement perspective — to maintain consistency in how we handle drug enforcement policy.”
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