Despite multiple media reports that the state’s $45.5 billion budget is a done deal, Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) says not so fast.
Grove, Republican appropriations chair, told DVJournal Tuesday that because the Senate leadership has not signed it, the budget is not actually finalized.
Grove laid the blame squarely on Gov. Josh Shapiro, who reneged on his promise to Senate Republicans to fund a $100 million school choice program.
“I call it the great betrayal of Josh Shapiro,” said Grove. “You know, talking about how important school choice is and, ‘All of God’s children need the opportunity for education, blah, blah, blah,’ right?”
“And then, to get the budget out of the House, he commits to line-item veto the school education choice portion of it to get the House Democrats on board,” Grove said. “And the Senate, currently, is not in. They haven’t signed it. So it’s still sitting in the House.”
Asked if there are enough Republicans to pass the Lifeline Scholarships — now known as the PASS program– in the Democrat-controlled House, Grove said there were. “And there’s a lot of House Democrats that have said they support school choice. They just don’t want to bring it up on the House floor for a vote.”
Grove added, “Listen, there was a negotiation between Gov. Josh Shapiro and Senate Republicans. They came to an agreement. Josh was supposed to get House Democrat votes. (The budget needed 102 House votes to pass.) And he never did that. He faced strong opposition from very extreme House Democrats who don’t want to spend 0.2 percent of the budget. That’s what we’re talking about…$100 million out of a $45.55 billion budget in order to help some kids.”
Grove was astonished Shapiro, and the Democrats would block the budget over “a couple of thousand kids [having] the opportunity for academic success and changing their life in a positive way forever. “It’s crazy.”
Grove said the state can make it through the summer without a budget until the Senate returns in September, noting it took nine months to get former Gov. Tom Wolf’s first budget done. School districts will be getting their property tax payments soon, and “They’re sitting on billions of dollars of reserve funds,” Grove said.
Another sticking point is state funding for state-related universities like Penn State.
Grove said it takes two-thirds of the General Assembly to pass that bill because those are “non-preferred appropriations.” Republicans would like a tuition freeze and to have the universities to be subject to right-to-know law for greater transparency.
DVJournal asked Grove whether diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, “which many people see as political boondoggles,” would be included in the transparency.
Grove said he believed that would fall under the right-to-know law.
Asked about the state’s budget surplus, Grove said Pennsylvania has $5.9 billion in the rainy day fund and another $7 billion budget surplus.
“The kind of interesting part is the fact that we’re under a budget impasse. (Because of that) the current fiscal code law requires that 10 percent of the budget surplus be remitted back to the rainy day fund,” Grove said.
The overall budget that had passed had a 6 percent spending increase and included “this robust school choice program for the commonwealth,” he said.
The legislature also has to pass various enabling legislation before the money in the budget can be spent, and it has not done that, said Grove.
With Shapiro’s change of heart on the school choice program, Grove wondered if even members of his own party could trust him now.
“I mean, the simple fact is that (in) Harrisburg, you have one thing. You have the handshake, right? You have an agreement. You have your word. If you don’t have that, you have nothing. So even the House Democrats have to be leery of cutting any kind of negotiation with Josh because at what point is he going to walk away from it for his own benefit?”
Shapiro defended his decision, blaming Senate Republicans during a recent press conference.
“House Democrats made it clear it would not pass their chamber, particularly with the Senate’s unwillingness to advance more of the House’s priorities,” Shapiro said.
Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks) said, “While there was much in this budget I worked to include and wanted to support – including increased education funding and funding for mental health services — the fact remains that the House majority refused to provide the actual spending plan for the dollars allotted. It means that while a framework for spending was there, it was not ‘locked in’ and can still easily be changed – so those dollars we may believe will be used for priorities we agree upon can still be appropriated elsewhere. That, to me, is bad policy and why I voted no.
“It is also disappointing that the governor refused to fight his party’s leaders and special interests to fulfill his campaign promise and rescue children trapped in failing school districts. I came to Harrisburg ready and willing to work in a bipartisan manner. Sadly, when I attempted to do so, the other side of the aisle not only rejected it, they did so by lying.”