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Rep. Grove Explains the PA State Budget Impasse

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.”

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State Agency Has Years of Unspent Funds that Total Nearly $100 Million

Most Pennsylvanians would agree that $100 million is a lot of money.

State Rep. Clint Owlett grilled state officials with the Department of Community and Economic Development last week about nearly $100 million in unspent funds in that agency’s coffers.

The unspent money is part of the DCED’s budget that gets doled out to businesses that apply for various grants.

“Why is your department holding on to these prior years’ money?” asked Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford). “An overarching concern is we appropriated money every year. You’re sitting on almost $100 million in lapsed funds, some of it going back 15, maybe 20 years.”

Acting DCED Secretary Rick Siger said, “The vast majority of the $100 million is obligated grants. Because of the nature of business. Business does not work on the government fiscal year.”

Owlett shot back, “I’m from business so I understand.”

Siger added, “They’re going to spend the money when they spend it. Most of these projects are on a reimbursement basis. They file the reimbursement. We pay it out, so we have to have those dollars available to pay out.

“The second thing is, I do want to look at some of these older grants. I was not aware of one from 2005 and understand what our process is to reprogram that money.”

Owlett said the lawmakers often argue about spending $500,000 and the DCED has  “lapsed year funds and we have businesses that could really use it. If it’s claw back money, great. Let’s repurpose it for use and figure out a way to do that.”

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks) said, “It’s concerning that at the same time that DCED is sitting on nearly $100 million in unspent funds from prior budgets, the agency is also requesting new spending. DCED owes it to the taxpayers to use these funds as intended or return them to the General fund.

“Instead of depleting our budget reserves and the Rainy-Day Fund in the Administration’s budget, we need to focus on the positive, common-sense changes that can be made to help address Pennsylvania’s structural deficit,” she said. The structural deficit is more than $2 billion.

Gov. Josh Shapiro laid out a $44.4 billion budget for 2023-24. The DCED is requesting $191,414,000.

The DCED helps new businesses start and existing businesses grow. It’s also involved in workforce development and training, and services to local governments. It’s also involved in community planning, weatherization and other programs.

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Women House Members Have Message for Zabel: Resign.

Sixteen female state representatives presented a letter to House leadership Monday asking accused groper Rep. Mike Zabel to resign.

The lawmakers—all Republicans—led by Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) hand-delivered the letter to Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and Zabel.

Zabel (D-Drexel Hill), first elected in 2018, sent a letter to House Democratic leadership Friday saying he would resign from committees and seek treatment for an undisclosed illness. However, he refused to give up his $102,844-a-year job.

Multiple allegations of Zabel’s mistreatment of women have surfaced in recent days, though his inappropriate behavior was an open secret among House members, legislators have since confirmed.

“Women have spent generations breaking down barriers to hold positions of public trust and confidence, but the disgusting unwanted sexual advances by people like Rep. Zabel have continuously held women back or slowed the progress they have made,” the letter said. “Too often, the behavior of such men and the silent complicity of others has, sadly, prevented others from even believing the truth.

“Knowing Rep. Zabel will not be serving in the halls of the Capitol is the only way women who have had to deal with the grotesque and repeated conduct from this serial harasser will be able to feel safe,” the letter said.

Marcell, a first-term member of the House, has been outspoken in her calls for Democrats to set aside partisanship and stand with Zabel’s alleged victims.

“What makes this situation even more intolerable is that House Democratic leadership, which has at times consisted of several different women, covered up these actions and remained silent until Rep. Zabel was finally caught. The timeline of how his identity was kept quiet – despite his identity being reported as ‘an open secret’ by the news media in the weeks preceding– is there for everyone to see.”

“The speaker’s call for a vote to shut down the mention of Rep. Zabel’s name during the House rules vote is there for anyone to see. How can we allow Rep. Zabel to continue to hold the title and position of trust he abused – especially when he has yet to deny any of the accusations made against him? How can any party prioritize its political power and voting margin over women’s safety?” Marcell asked.

During a podcast with DVJournal, Marcell said she had been warned by a “number of female colleagues to avoid being around” Zabel.

Zabel has refused to respond to Marcell’s story and has ignored repeated requests for comment. In a sign Democrats are even more on the defensive as this scandal unfolds, a McClinton spokeswoman said Monday she was a ” no comment” as well.

“As disturbing allegations continue to mount against Rep. Zabel, it’s clear that Speaker McClinton and Democratic leadership will not address these allegations in an effort to protect their razor-thin majority,” said Republican Senate Leadership Committee Deputy Communications Director Mason Di Palma. “Rep. Zabel is no longer able to serve the people of his district effectively and should resign immediately. Democrats’ silence on this matter shows that they are only concerned with holding onto power and not standing by victims of sexual abuse.”

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Bucks County Rep. Marcell Calls on Rozzi to Resign Speakership

Freshman state Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) is already making an impact in Harrisburg, releasing a statement calling on Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) to resign the speakership of the House of Representatives.

Like many of her fellow House Republicans, Marcell believes Rozzi has reneged on a pledge he made to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent once elected Speaker.

“Last week, I communicated my dissatisfaction with Speaker Rozzi and gave him an opportunity to keep his word, fulfill the promises he made to the citizens of Pennsylvania and members of the House, and call the House into session so we can begin the people’s business. Now that Mr. Rozzi has failed to take action on any of these items, I must ask for his immediate resignation as speaker of the House.

“With his announcement of a statewide tour as well as his failure to register as an Independent and build a bipartisan staff, it now clear that Mr. Rozzi has no intention of keeping his word,” said Marcell.

Marcell joins Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), who nominated Rozzi for the Speaker post, in calling on him to resign, claiming that he has not fulfilled his promises.  Rozzi did not immediately respond when asked to comment on Marcell’s call for his resignation.

Rozzi has also declined to make a clear public statement about what he pledged to do regarding his party registration when he was negotiating with Republicans. Democrats say he merely pledge to be an independent Speaker — avoiding partisan stances and declining to caucus with the Democrats.  Republicans insist he promised to drop his Democratic registration and become a capital-I independent.

“It’s time for Mr. Rozzi to honor the commitments he made in accepting the role of speaker, especially his pledge to change his registration from Democrat to Independent as a symbol of unity,” editorialized the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rozzi has embarked on what he calls a “listening tour” around the state.  And with the House on pause, the Senate also took a two-week hiatus so the business of the legislature has halted.

Rozzi announced the first of several planned listening tour sessions at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh on Jan 25. He will be joined by members of the bipartisan Speaker’s Workgroup to Move Pennsylvania Forward, a group of six House members convened to create bipartisan operating rules for the House. They are also tasked with breaking partisan gridlock in Harrisburg to swiftly address justice for survivors s of sexual assault, according to Rozzi.

The Speaker and House members will be joined by representatives from interested groups and survivors of childhood sexual assault to discuss how to improve House operations and the importance of providing the opportunity for survivors of childhood sexual assault to get the justice they deserve. The public is invited and can speak during a public comment period at the end of the session.

Marcell is not satisfied with Rozzi’s plans.

“The people of Pennsylvania expect us to act on the important issues of the day: fighting inflation, helping job creators to grow our economy, working to improve schools, and making our communities safer,” Marcell said. “I stand ready and able to work on these and other issues, but Speaker Rozzi’s actions have now paralyzed the House of Representatives when action is needed. He must resign the speakership so that we can begin to move our state forward.”

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