Pennsylvania governor calls on divided Legislature to finalize budget past deadline
Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro called on the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday to return to the Pennsylvania Capitol to finalize a state spending plan, as the state government neared a week without full spending authority.
He disputed Republican accusations that he went back on his word about the $45 billion spending plan. Rather, Shapiro said it was a failure of the Senate and Democratic-controlled House to reach a deal on the final budget, and he blamed Senate Republicans for sending the other chamber a bill that they knew might fail.
“They may not like how this process played out, but it’s the process that they put into effect because of their inability to close the deal,” he said.
The House approved the plan late Wednesday. Negotiations had hit a wall over education funding, particularly $100 million to create a school voucher program to let students use state funds to attend private and religious schools.
Senate Republicans pushed for setting up the program, finding an ally in Shapiro, who reaffirmed that he supported the measure on Thursday. But Democrats in the House objected to the program, and Shapiro then pledged to use his line-item veto to kill it.
That rankled Senate Republicans, who said they had agreed to provisions in the budget bill in exchange for getting the vouchers.
Senate Republican leadership criticized him for lacking “enough respect and standing within his own party to follow through with his promise.” Shapiro said the idea that it's his responsibility to win House approval was an “inaccurate assessment of the situation.”
Shapiro urged the Senate to return to Harrisburg to sign off on the budget bill, and also to work with the House to pass legislation to direct how money in the budget bill can be spent.
Republicans on Thursday did not say when they would return, but suggested the budget fight isn't over.
In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward rejected Shapiro’s portrayal of negotiations, saying the GOP gave him “all the goodies he wanted” in return for the voucher program, and that the governor still has the authority to get it in the budget.
The Senate is scheduled to return to session Sept. 18. Republicans say that gives them the ability to hold up the budget bill until then without the constitutionally required signature of the presiding officer.
Other items Shapiro wanted in the budget bill — and that Senate Republicans agreed to in exchange for the voucher program — might need separate legislation to allow that money to be spent.
Also snarled is funding for three Pennsylvania universities that receive state subsidies — Penn State, University of Pittsburgh and Temple. Shapiro and Democrats have supported raising state aid to the three schools by 7% to $623 million collectively. However, Republicans have balked.
On Thursday, House Republicans rejected another effort to approve the aid, complaining that the schools are too willing to raise tuition and saying they would prefer to send money to students, not the institutions. Every Democrat voted for it, but 73 of 101 Republicans voted against the subsidies.
The lack of state aid could play a role in how the state universities budget and determine tuition for the upcoming school year.
By just about every measure there is, Pennsylvania is ranked at the bottom among states in size of student debt and affordability of its colleges. Some education advocates blame lawmakers for the lack of higher education aid.