There was no one more surprised by Gov. Shapiro’s last-minute about-face on the state budget than me. Senate Republicans are not ticked off or sulking, we are shaking our heads, trying to determine the best way to move forward with a governor who has lost our trust.
Gov. Shapiro campaigned on school scholarships for low-income children trapped in the bottom 15 percent of failing schools. He proclaimed “every child of God” deserved a chance at a good education. It was a priority for him so long as it did not take money away from public schools. Senate Republicans met that challenge and crafted a budget that provided historic increases to basic education, including new funding for K-12 scholarships through the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (P.A.S.S.).
Negotiation is inherently built into the lawmaking process and is part of the foundation that government sits upon. Throughout any negotiation, there are moments where a handshake, a head nod, or even a memo indicates an agreement. A person’s word means something until it doesn’t, by failing to uphold their end.
Leading up to the Senate approval of the General Appropriations Budget (HB 611) there were many of these moments. The Senate passed HB 611 in good faith, but in a classic “bait and switch,” Gov. Shapiro waited until the bill was passed and then announced he would line-item veto P.A.S.S. while also keeping all his negotiated wins pending House approval of the bill. Subsequently, the House did pass the bill. The Senate has no ability to renegotiate HB 611 since it passed both legislative chambers.
I understand the importance of getting the General Appropriations Budget to the governor before the school year begins, as well as the funding to organizations. Pennsylvanians are counting on us to finish this process and we will by calling the Senate back before the end of August to sign HB 611. It will be sent to the Governor allowing Treasurer Stacy Garrity to disperse the monies where it is needed in a timely manner.
It’s important to note, HB 611 is not a complete budget. Signing this bill only provides funding to approximately 75 percent of programs which includes schools and counties. The remaining 25 percent still need some form of legislation to authorize their expenditures. The Governor’s legal team noted this in the governor’s justification to veto P.A.S.S. funding, but there are many more programs affected. Senate Republicans are currently working through what these legislative approvals will look like.
The final 25 percent will require negotiation, and we will work diligently to do our part. Hopefully, our House counterparts will report back before their scheduled return of September 26th. If they return early, the House is evenly divided, along party lines, 101-101. Hopefully they will put politics aside and return sooner to finalize the remaining parts of this budget.
The quickest and best solution is for Gov. Shapiro to simply keep his word, not only to us, but to the kids trapped in failing schools. The opportunity still exists, but it is becoming clearer that Gov. Shapiro isn’t interested. Words mean something, but actions mean more. The time to act is now for kids stuck in failing school districts.