Better late than never.
The state legislature on Wednesday passed the final “code” parts of the $44.4 billion 2023-2024 budget due June 30. Gov. Josh Shapiro signed it around 11 p.m.
Shapiro called his first budget “commonsense.”
The bills that make the spending work were delayed after Shapiro first signed the overall budget, and then used his line-item veto to block a $100 million plan to provide school choice vouchers to students in failing school districts—something he had promised to support while campaigning for governor.
The budget bills did include a $130 million increase in the private school tax credit program, bringing it to $470 million. That program allows businesses to help pay the tuition of needy students.
“I’m proud to stand here with leaders from both chambers and both parties to celebrate the investments we’re making together in repairs to school buildings, mental health resources for students, childcare, the first-ever statewide funding for indigent defense, and more. Today, we’re showing that when we come together, we can get stuff done for the good people of Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said.
Some highlights include $175 million for environmental repairs and upgrades in Pennsylvania schools, $100 million for student mental health, and $10 million for student-teacher stipends.
Other items are $7.5 million for public defenders, extending the 911 surcharge, and increasing the amount per line to $1.95. It includes budget deposits of $898 million into the Rainy Day Fund, bringing the balance to over $6.1 billion by the end of fiscal year 2024.
“Today, the General Assembly took the necessary final steps to conclude this year’s state budget and moved several bipartisan bills to help Pennsylvanians. We were able to increase the childcare tax credit and secure funding for community colleges while maintaining the fiscal solvency of the Commonwealth. We must all continue to work better together to ensure that Pennsylvanians have the certainty to chart a prosperous path forward,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland).
House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) thanked her colleagues and staff members.
The budget is “most importantly a pathway forward to all the things that we can achieve next year,” said McClinton. “It’s not lost on me, as the first woman to be speaker of the Pennsylvania House, that every single day and every single bill, I’m writing a legacy for all of the women to come.”
She pointed to additional public school funding in the wake of the 10-year funding case. Money for law enforcement and public defenders “means both public safety and changing the way justice is sought and served in our commonwealth.”
“Public schools constantly balance their obligation to provide a high-quality education to students with their responsibility to be financial stewards of local tax dollars,” said Pennsylvania School Boards Association CEO Nathan Mains. “The investments in education made in this year’s budget can reduce districts’ reliance on local property taxes and direct more resources into classrooms, rather than to costly charter school tuition and pensions.”
Americans for Prosperity-PA Deputy Director Emily Greene said, “Six months late, just before the House chamber’s two-and-a-half-month break, we’re encouraged to see that both chambers, alongside the governor, have come to an agreement on how the 2023-24 general appropriations will be spent.
“The budget included a $150 million increase in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which signals a step in the right direction toward much-needed school choice right here in the commonwealth,” Greene said. “However, it’s going to take swift and transformational action to bring Pennsylvania’s students the choice and freedom they so deserve, which is why we continue to urge the legislature to consider universal school choice measures when both chambers finally return to Harrisburg in mid-March.”
Matt Brouillette, CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, said, “House Democrats single-handedly blocked the state budget for five-and-a-half months over their refusal to rescue kids from failing and violent schools. They knew they were wrong, which is why they flip-flopped and joined Republicans in supporting a historic expansion of tax credit scholarships. Now, with 2024-2025 budget season almost here, I hope Democrats will stop their partisan games at kids’ expense and join Republicans in supporting universal educational opportunity for all Pennsylvania students.”
Separately from the main budget bill, a $33 million bill for the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school failed to get the two-thirds vote it needed to pass the House.
House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said he opposed releasing those funds because of “concerns about the way that institutional culture is.”
Even though Penn’s former president, Elizabeth Magill, resigned over her handling of antisemitism on campus and her testimony to Congress about it, “the fact that she has returned to tenured faculty actually speaks to the fact that it’s a culture problem. You can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s still got issues, and they need to fix them.”