August 3 – After more than a month of a stalled state budget, the Pennsylvania Senate has been called back into session today.
While the initial framework for the budget was passed a few weeks ago, the details have not yet been hammered out and Governor Josh Shapiro has not signed anything.
Could this be the beginning of a restart for the budget?
Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “This is an interesting development overnight. So Senator Kim Ward, she has called the Senate back into session today. Remember there’s this quirk in the Pennsylvania budget process that the budget can’t even get to Shapiro’s desk until the Senate reconvenes and Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis signs off on it in the presence of a convened Senate. So that’s what will happen today. They’ll gavel in. Austin Davis signs this budget and then it goes to Governor Shapiro.”
Keep in mind, a lot of bad blood has been created over a $100 million school voucher program in the PA budget. When the budget was in the Republican-controlled Senate, Shapiro said he would support the Lifeline scholarships, which would give students in the lowest performing 15 percent of PA schools money to attend a school of their choice.
However, when the budget got to the Democrat-controlled House, Shapiro switched tactics and said he would line-item veto the voucher program because the Democrats don’t support it.
So what will happen today is really anyone’s guess.
One of the biggest issues with a budget in limbo is the fact that state funding can’t make it to school districts and municipalities that are in need of the money.
Barkdoll said, “The problem is the House has never come back into session to pass all of those fiscal code issues that need to be done in conjunction with the budget to get this fully approved. Now Senator Ward says she thinks even by taking this action, and by letting Shapiro sign the budget with his line item veto and no fiscal code approval, she believes it would unlock about 75 percent of the allocated expenditures. I’ve seen some other sources though, and I even talked to someone yesterday that said they think she is way overly optimistic. They do not think it would unlock that kind of money in the budget. So it’s hard to say where this goes. I mean, I think everyone agrees it will unlock some money on a short term basis, but it still doesn’t fully approve the budget because the General Assembly still needs to get together on the fiscal code part of it.”
Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM suggested, “I don’t know. I feel like I’m just waiting to hear about how once again Republicans have gotten rolled. She didn’t give any real other reason, like what has changed to make her do this? If it’s just a desperate attempt to make it look like or allow us to release some money, it just seems there’s no leadership. We don’t really have anyone standing up and doing what’s right for Pennsylvanians. It seems like it’s all strategy.”
Barkdoll said, “It really seems like the Senate Republicans would be holding a lot of leverage and a lot of cards here. Wouldn’t you think that they’ve negotiated some kind of a deal that hey, we’ll reconvene and do this, but here’s what the House and what you, the governor, need to do in return, but it does not appear for now that any of that is in place.”