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Just in Time for Christmas, Legislature Passes Tardy PA Budget

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.”

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Cutler Signs Election Writs, Accuses Dems of ‘Questionable Legality’ in House Dispute

It’s the math.

With the Pennsylvania House Republicans now at 101 to 99 members, Republican Leader Bryan Cutler said he is in charge, not Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton.

McClinton had sworn herself in as leader when there was a 101-101 tie. Now, with Rep. Tony DeLuca’s death and two representatives who ran for higher office resigning their seats, the Republicans are now in the majority.

On Thursday, Cutler (R-Lancaster) issued election writs for May 16, the same day as the state primary elections, for the seats held by Summer Lee and Austin Davis in Allegheny County. While still the House Speaker in the last session, Cutler had issued a writ of election scheduling a special election for DeLuca’s seat on Feb. 7.

Cutler spoke to the Delaware Valley Journal for a podcast Thursday, explaining what has become a situation confusing to many. McClinton did not respond to requests to participate in a podcast interview.

“Well, as it currently stands, the Republicans have 101 members, and the Democrats have 99.  So while I was elected the Republican Leader, math makes me the majority leader by virtue of having a 101–99 majority,” said Cutler. This makes us a functional majority for swearing-in day on January 3rd. There is no longer a tie.”

Cutler also asked Commonwealth Court to rule on this and to enjoin McClinton (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) from issuing writs of her own.  She issued writs to hold the three special elections on Feb. 7.  The court has yet to rule.

If the two legislators had not resigned, then there would be a 101-101 tie.

As for the Democrats, Cutler said, “I think that math tripped them up because I don’t think that they thought through how that [math] worked.”

Democrats have accused Cutler of transferring $51.4 million in House funds they say should go to the incoming Majority Leader.

“Those are all Republican caucus funds. And you can go back through all the prior budgets and take a look at it,” Cutler said. “That is money that has accumulated because we’ve been good financial stewards, and we’ve been in the majority for the last 12 years. And, every year, we didn’t spend all of our money.

“In fact, we had started using a lot of that money and paying for institutional upgrades. If you come to the House floor, you’ll see new voting screens and boards because they hadn’t been updated since like the late ’60s. We also initiated a safety grant program for district offices, both Republican and Democrat, out of those surpluses.”

Cutler also suggested the Democrats wanted the money because they had mismanaged their own caucus funds.

“The reality is, even though we’ve been in the majority, we have just under 700 employees. The Democrats, who’ve been in the minority for 12 years, are approaching 800 employees. And they consistently run out of money.”

At a press conference Thursday, Cutler insisted his actions are being guided by both the math and the law.

“As a party, we stand for the law,” Cutler said.

And as for the three vacant seats that Democrats believe they will win again when special elections are held, he said they should not count on that.

“I don’t believe Democrats have perfected the art of gerrymandering to have guaranteed these seats,” said Cutler. “We intend to be competitive.”

Democrats dispute Cutler’s account of recent events.

“Today, Rep. Cutler continued his campaign to disenfranchise nearly 200,000 voters in suburban Pittsburgh,” Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. “The only reason for the GOP leader to delay the special elections in Districts 34 and 35 in Allegheny County until the May primary is to deny those voters their right to representation in Harrisburg and to empower the House Republican Caucus to play politics and ram through extremist policies.

“Rep. Cutler was the first to act, and while flawed, chose to set the special election to fill the vacancy that occurred on December 1 in District 32 on February 7. For what can only be understood as an attempt to disenfranchise, Rep. Cutler has filed writs for the vacancies that occurred on December 7 – seven days after the original vacancy – in Districts 34 and 35 – for May 16 – 98 days after the original date of February 7.”

She accused Cutler of “showing disdain for good government and democracy.”

Asked if the current fight would poison the well for bipartisan action in the upcoming session, regardless of who held the majority, Cutler told DVJournal he was willing to work with Democrats. But, he said, they’ve put partisanship first.

“And you look back over the last couple sessions, you had the Democrats take over the rostrum in the House. You had the Democrats disrupting swearing-in ceremonies at the beginning of the last session in the Senate. There is a continued pattern of [Democrats] grasping and reaching for things that are questionably legal.

“And in this case, I think most of the voters clearly understand the math at 101  to 99. The person with 101 is the person who is in, by definition, in the majority.”

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House Dems Decry GOP Transfer of Operating Funds Amid Leadership Dispute

The sparring continues in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, where Democrats are angry over Republicans transferring money from an account controlled by the majority party even as the two sides fight over who is in control.

On Tuesday, Democrats accused Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) of shifting $51.4 million to an account he controls after he learned of November’s election results.

The current House makeup is 102 Republicans, 99 Democrats, and three vacancies created by the death or departure of Democratic members. Last week, Rep. Johanna McClinton (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) was sworn in and declared herself Majority Leader. A few days later, Cutler did the same.

On Friday, Cutler filed suit in Commonwealth Court asking for an injunction against McClinton’s attempt to ascend to House leadership, and to block her call for special elections to fill the vacant seats on Feb. 7. That lawsuit remains pending, but the political battles continue.

“The Republican leader’s draining of an exceptionally large amount of operational funds of the General Assembly and the subsequent quiet transfer to accounts only within his control as minority leader before relinquishing the Speakership is meant to be an intentional setback for the House Democratic Caucus, and in turn the body as a whole,” said Nicole Reigelman, spokeswoman for the Democrats. “This unprecedented action leaves the new speaker with no reserves and a limited operating budget for this fiscal year. Through the authority granted to him by the membership of the House when they elected him as Speaker, Rep. Cutler took this irresponsible action only after learning the results of the November election.”

Reigelman admitted Cutler’s actions were lawful.

Cutler fired back.

“Democrats are the party of entitlements. They believe they are entitled to the Speaker’s office, but they are not. They believe they are entitled to money specifically appropriated to Republicans, but they are not. They are entitled to try and create a distraction from the disaster of their self-created legislative minority, and that’s all this is,” said Cutler.

“Here are the facts: These transfers are typical, and the amounts left in these accounts are higher than what Democrats left when they held these positions. The money being referenced reflects amounts appropriated specifically to Republican leadership offices as part (of the) budget negotiations individually agreed to by both Republicans and Democrats and represents prior year lapsed funds available due to sound fiscal management on behalf of past Republican Speakers, including when I held the Speakership and reduced the office’s budget by three percent.

“Despite this money being specifically appropriated to Republican offices, Republican leaders have been generous in the past, using these funds to help with requests from Democrats like upgrading the security at their district offices,” said Cutler. “Much like we will do in the upcoming session with the existence of a generous budget surplus and reserves created by Republican financial management, House Republicans will safeguard taxpayer assets and continue to be stewards of taxpayer dollars as Democrats have spent the last twelve years announcing their plans to empty the cupboards of taxpayer resources on extremist ideas.”

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One Body, Two Bosses: Cutler, McClinton Now Both Sworn In as House Majority Leader

It’s a Harrisburg stand-off.

The Pennsylvania Republican and Democratic leaders in the state House of Representatives are at odds over which party is in charge. And it may fall to the judiciary to decide.

Due to vacancies in three Democrat-leaning districts, the House now stands at 99 Democrats to 101 Republicans.

But that did not stop Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) from having herself sworn in as House Majority Leader last Wednesday. She also set Feb. 7 as the date for special elections to fill the three vacancies.

On Friday, Cutler state Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court asking for an injunction to prevent those elections. He followed up on Monday by holding a public swearing-in ceremony for his House seat and declaring himself the Majority Leader.

“He is the Republican Leader. Republicans have the majority. That makes him Majority Leader,” said spokesman Jason Gottesman.

Cutler took direct aim at McClinton.

“Last week, Rep. Joanna McClinton and the House Democratic Caucus conducted an unprecedented, illegitimate, and illegal power grab by claiming they have a majority in the Pennsylvania House after one of their members passed away and their quest for political power forced two more of their members to resign, dropping their total of members eligible to take office down to 99,” Cutler said.

“Their secret stunt showed the leaders of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus care more about redefining terms to justify their claims to power than they do about basic math, being held accountable to the law, and providing electoral certainty.”

Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Caucus said, “There is only one reason for Rep. Cutler’s actions today and lawsuit filed late Friday afternoon – to delay and deny nearly 200,000 Pennsylvanians their basic right to representation.”

Democrats argue that once the vacancies are filled in the three heavily Democratic districts they will almost certainly have a majority.

“As Rep. Cutler said himself when choosing February 7 as the date to hold special elections, ‘It is a fundamental obligation of the House to bring about predictability and certainty in representation for Pennsylvanians.’ Attempting to delay these special elections passed that agreed upon day means prolonging the period in which Pennsylvanians are without representation so that Republican leaders can advance extremist policies in flagrant opposition to the message delivered by Pennsylvanians on Election Day.

“The state House needs to be restored to its full complement without needless delay and every Pennsylvanian must have representation as soon as possible, so the legislature can begin the work it was elected to do,” Reigelman added.

Muhlenberg College political science Professor Christopher Borick said, “Indeed, it’s quite a mess in our state House right now. In essence, both parties have legitimate claims right now in terms of majority standing. The Democrats won. 102 of the 203 seats in the midterms, and thus have a legitimate claim that the voters of the state placed them in the majority.

“However, the circumstances of the death of one of the candidates and resignations of candidates after the election leave Republicans in the majority of those currently in the House, Thus, both have fairly solid cases during this odd period. It seems likely once special elections take place that the Democrats will be the majority, so the fight may be over some very temporary benefits. But often in politics, the biggest fights are over the smallest of concerns,” Borick said.

Cutler is serving his eighth term in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In June 2020, he was elected to serve as the 139th Speaker of the House, having previously served as Majority Leader. He was re-elected Speaker on January 5, 2021.

A lifelong resident of the Peach Bottom area, Cutler faced adversity as a high school student when both his parents were diagnosed with ALS (which eventually took both their lives) and he assumed the responsibility of caring for them and his younger sister.

After high school, Cutler worked and put himself through a trade school to become an X-ray technologist. Soon after, he married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer, and graduated summa cum laude from Lebanon Valley College with a healthcare management degree. He spent several years working at a local hospital overseeing the budgets and daily operations of several sections in the radiology department and pursued a law degree, focused on healthcare law, from Widener Law School. He became a member of the Lancaster Bar Association and began practicing law.

He said he wanted to give back to the community and ran for office. He was elected to the House in 2006.

McClinton was first elected in 2015 to represent communities in west and southwest Philadelphia and Yeadon and Darby in Delaware County.

In 2018, she became both the first woman and African American to be elected as House Democratic Caucus Chair. She set another record again in 2020 when she was the first woman elected House Democratic Leader in the institution’s 244-year history.

A lifelong resident of southwest Philadelphia and graduate of Grace Temple Christian Academy, she became active in her community while completing an internship with the radio station WDAS. Later, she studied political science and leadership in global understanding at La Salle University. After earning her degree, she enrolled at Villanova University School of Law, interning at Regional Housing Legal Services, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Defender Association of Philadelphia, where she became assistant chief.

In 2013, McClinton became chief counsel to state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), where she helped develop policy and legislation.

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State Agency Finds Dems Are Not in House Majority–GOP Sues

Asked by state House of Representatives Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau ruled Democrats are not in the majority. As it stands now, the House makeup will be 101 Republicans to 99 Democrats when the new session begins in January.

On Dec. 7, Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) was sworn in as majority leader, even though three seats are vacant.

Acting on his ruling, Cutler filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court Friday asking for an injunction against special elections called by McClinton to fill those three seats. The vacancies were created by the October death of Rep. Tony DeLuca and the election of Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee to higher offices while being simultaneously re-elected to the House.

Democrats party after ‘flipping’ House

“Instead of working cooperatively to navigate the unique circumstances before us, House Democrats have instead set a terrible precedent for what to expect over the next two years and beyond. Moreover, they have started this session with a sad waste of time and resources that is reminiscent of the failed petty conduct their caucus has been engaging in for the better part of the last decade,” said Cutler (R-Lancaster).

Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for McClinton, said, “House Democrats won a majority of districts. Leader McClinton is committed to ensuring the will of the people is respected and that special elections for the vacant seats can be held as soon as possible. The only reason Republican leaders would want to delay those elections is to prolong the period in which Pennsylvania voters are without representation so that they can advance extremist policies – in flagrant opposition to the message delivered by Pennsylvanians on Election Day.”

Democrats also had a party to celebrate, as tweeted by @LetsTurnPABlue: We flipped the State House…so we had to throw a party! Thank you to all the elected officials, candidates, volunteers, and donors who made this victory possible. Our work is not done. Let’s keep this momentum heading into 2023 and 2024!”

Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chester/Delaware) said, “I had hopes that in a closely divided House, we would find the common ground necessary to pass any important legislation, a sentiment that already has wide bipartisan agreement. This is especially true where, like now, one party has a narrow, likely temporary, majority of the House.

“That situation will change throughout the term, as members inevitably leave the House mid-cycle in a chamber that will separate the majority from the minority by one single vote,” added Williams, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. “Unlike previous lofty floor rhetoric, House Democrat leadership has shown thus far that they prefer hostility over good governance from their 101-99 minority. I assume that divisiveness will only continue if they gain an actual majority of the House. I hope I am wrong; I hope the reasonable minds of their caucus win the day. That’s how I intend to comport myself. Otherwise, we will get nothing done the next two years.”

David Foster, a spokesman for the House Republicans, said other Delaware Valley representatives did not want to comment since the leadership issue will be heard in court.

Springfield GOP chair and lawyer Michael Puppio Jr. said, “Rep. McClinton is a strong voice for her constituents in Philadelphia and Delaware County. She is also an advocate for many bipartisan issues that directly impact Southeastern Pennsylvania. Which party has the majority will be determined by the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but it appears that after the three special elections occur, the Democrats will most likely emerge with the majority for this two-year legislative session.”

The House Democratic Caucus released a statement Saturday in response to the lawsuit:

“Rep. Cutler’s lawsuit is just the latest attempt to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters and deny tens of thousands of people in Allegheny County their right to representation in the state House.

Under Pennsylvania law, the writ of election must be issued within 10 days of a vacancy. Having won the majority of legislative districts in the November election – which is indisputable – Leader McClinton was sworn into the legislative session early to serve as the chamber’s presiding officer in order to meet this constitutionally-driven requirement.

“There is only one reason to delay the special elections for the vacant legislative seats and that is to deny nearly 200,000 voters their right to representation.

“House Democrats are focused on ensuring every Pennsylvanian has representation and that the state House be restored to its full complement as quickly as possible. We need to let the people decide and we need to let them decide as soon as possible. The sooner special elections occur, the sooner state lawmakers can get to work.”

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DelVal’s McClinton Declares Herself Majority Leader in ‘Secret’ Ceremony

Democrat state Rep.  Joanna McClinton declared herself the House Majority Leader Wednesday, despite not having a majority or receiving a single vote from legislators.

Instead, McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) used a lawyerly argument to claim that, while a majority of the members are Republicans, Democrats won a majority of the elections. And therefore, McClinton said, she can declare herself leader of the body.

“Pennsylvanians cast their ballots in the free and fair 2022 General Election,” McClinton said in a statement. “The results of that election are not in dispute and in the majority of legislative districts – 102 out of 203 – the people of Pennsylvania voted to elect a Democrat to represent them in the House of Representatives. Pennsylvania’s voters have spoken, and the will of the people is the ultimate authority in this Commonwealth.”

But Democratic Rep. Tony DeLuca was reelected even though he died before the election. And Democratic Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee were elected to lieutenant governor and Congress while at the same time they were re-elected to their state House seats.

As a result, Democrats are currently in a minority, with Republicans holding 101 seats and Democrats holding 99.

“While admitting three vacancies exist by calling special elections in the 32nd, 34th, and 35th districts–vacancies that give Republicans a 101-99 majority in the House–Democrats are creating internal confusion by simultaneously speciously alleging they have a fake, gerrymandered majority that has the authority to conduct the business of the House,” Republican Majority Leader Bryan Cutler said.

“Rep. McClinton’s actions are an affront to our democratic institutions, and issuing a competing Writ of Election has created electoral chaos that ultimately shows they do not believe elections matter and every vote really does count,” Cutler added.

It is possible McClinton may eventually ascend to the Majority Leader’s job. If she does, she would be the first woman to serve in that role in the 246-year history of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.

Most state House and Senate members will take their oaths of office on Jan. 3.

Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for Cutler, said there was no way to stop an elected representative from being sworn in.

“That being said, it’s the power you’re able to exercise after you’ve been sworn in. And clearly now, with the majority in the House being 101 to 99, given the death of Tony DeLuca, and now the resignations of Summer Lee and Austin Davis, the Democrats don’t have the majority in the House. The numbers show that Rep. Clinton is not able to act as majority leader because she’s not in the majority. So, whether she was sworn in is beside the point.”

Also Wednesday, Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York/Cumberland) circulated a co-sponsorship memo to remove House Chief Clerk Brooke Wheeler for cause.

“By aiding Rep. McClinton in an attempted illegal and unprecedented takeover of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives when the plain numbers show Republicans hold a 101-99 House majority following the death of Tony DeLuca and resignations of Summer Lee and Austin Davis, House Chief Clerk Brooke Wheeler—the House Democrats’ hand-picked Clerk—must be removed from her office for abetting and recognizing this attempt at an illegitimate power grab,” said Keefer.

“Constitutional officers hold dispassionate, nonpartisan positions of public trust and confidence. By aiding House Democrats in their illegal behavior and picking sides, Chief Clerk Wheeler has broken that trust and destroyed that confidence. She is no longer fit to serve in her position, and I will be introducing this resolution seeking her removal,” Keefer said.

McClinton said voters want the General Assembly to “work together in a bipartisan manner. Our caucus embraces this mandate because it means we’re going to have to fundamentally change the way our chamber operates. Our caucus will govern in a way that is representative of our diverse commonwealth. Rather than bottling up bills in committee just because they were introduced by the opposing party, we’ll welcome debate on policy ideas to strengthen and improve them. We will stay grounded in the needs of the Pennsylvanians who sent us to Harrisburg to represent them, not partake in political games at the expense of our communities. Rather than take advantage of parliamentary procedure to advance a partisan agenda, we will collaborate with our partners across the aisle, across the building in the Senate, and with the incoming gubernatorial administration.

“After more than a decade of Republican management, today is a fresh start. A day for new leaders, new perspectives, and new collegiality. I am confident that together we can do amazing things to advance our commonwealth.

McClinton set special elections for the three open seats on Feb. 7.

McClinton has served the 191st district, which includes portions of southwest and west Philadelphia and Yeadon and Darby boroughs in Delaware County, since August 2015 when she won a special election. In 2018, she was elected the House Democratic Caucus chair, the first woman and African American to hold that post, and in 2020 she was elected to serve as Democratic leader.

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