PA Senate Republicans came to Harrisburg on Thursday to send the budget to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk, but funding for popular programs is still being withheld until fiscal code bills are completed.
Pennsylvania Senate Republicans ended the ongoing budget stalemate on Thursday after Senate leadership agreed to hold a non-voting session day and send the bill to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk.
Shapiro signed the budget into law and followed through on his promise to veto $100 million for the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) scholarship program, a school voucher program that was widely opposed by House Democrats, education advocates, and teachers unions.
“The people of Pennsylvania have entrusted me with the responsibility to bring people together in a divided legislature and to get things done for them – and with this commonsense budget, that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Shapiro said in a statement.
The budget includes a $567 million increase in basic education funding and $46.5 million to provide universal free breakfast to all of Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million public school students regardless of their income.
It also sets aside $112 million to improve Pennsylvania’s parks and forests and create a new Office of Outdoor Recreation that’ll help connect the commonwealth’s parks with local businesses.
Republicans in the upper chamber held up the budget process over simple procedural maneuvers after Shapiro promised to line-item veto $100 million for the PASS voucher program.
The voucher program would have funded scholarships for students in some of Pennsylvania’s lowest performing public schools based on standardized testing scores and allowed them to go to private or religious schools, with taxpayers footing the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) held out hope on the Senate floor and at a press conference that Shapiro would sign the budget without vetoing the voucher program.
“We would hope one final time that [Shapiro] would in fact sign the entire product of the budget into law and fulfill not only his campaign promise but to fulfill the shared desire we have for empowering parents,” Pittman said at a press conference.
In a memo detailing his decision to veto the PASS program, Shapiro still expressed support for the program.
“The House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement on legislation establishing the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success Scholarship Program (PASS); a proposal I support,” said Shapiro. “As I said in my budget address, this budget is a first step towards a comprehensive solution that makes progress for our children over the long term and I look forward to continuing this work with both chambers as we discuss additional programs to help our children, including PASS.”
However, roughly $1.1 billion from the budget will be held in limbo until the Pennsylvania House passes fiscal code bills that outlines how that money will be spent. Funding for school mental health grants, student teacher stipends, and the Whole Home Repairs Program are among the measures currently in limbo.
At a press conference following the Senate’s final approval, Democratic State Sen. Jay Costa argued that funding for the Whole Home Repairs program should not have been held up.
“I continue to believe there’s some areas where we don’t need additional fiscal code language. One in particular is the Whole Home Repairs. We think that program is an existing program in state statute and it allows us to move those resources there to be provided,” Costa said.
On top of completing various fiscal code bills, the House still needs to pass bills that provide funding to Penn State University, Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh. Funding for those universities requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers and Republicans in the House have held those bills hostage over a myriad of issues.
The Pennsylvania House Freedom Caucus, a group of far-right lawmakers, has rallied members in voting against funding these schools because Penn State, Temple and Pitt have hospitals that offer gender affirming care or conduct fetal tissue research.
The funding the state provides to the state-related universities allows Pennsylvania residents to receive in-state tuition breaks, and students could see higher tuition bills if those bills aren’t finished in a timely manner.