The Pennsylvania budget sure has become a piecemeal mess

November 16 – While it’s technically been almost five months since the Pennsylvania 2024 budget was supposed to have been approved and while technically it has been approved, the whole process has been incredibly murky, to say the least. 

One of the major sticking points over the summer was the issue of school vouchers, which would have provided $100 million for students in the lowest achieving 15 percent of schools in Pennsylvania to attend whatever school they wanted. The program would have been the first of its kind in PA. 

When the budget was in the Senate, Governor Josh Shapiro said he would support the voucher program, so the Senate passed the budget. 

Once the budget made it to the PA House, though, Shapiro walked those promises back and instead insisted he would line-item veto the school voucher spending. 

So the House passed the budget and the governor did, indeed veto the package.

Now, with the predicted hard feelings from Republicans on Shapiro going back on his word, the details of the budget have been stalling back and forth for a number of reasons, so technically it’s not completely done. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll pointed out, “I’ve never seen a budget process like this year. It’s the piecemeal budget. Largely the budget is passed, but there’s all these pieces that have never been finalized and they seem to be doing that a little bit at a time.” 

The big issue is funding. With the budget being decided in just drips and drabs, schools and municipalities are waiting for much-needed dollars. 

Yesterday the House and Senate agreed on an allocation to the state-related universities, including Penn State, Pitt and Temple. 

Barkdoll said, “It’s roughly $600 million. That is no increase versus last year. Remember the Senate had passed that bill saying they would agree to I believe it was a 7 percent increase if these universities would commit to freezing their tuition, which obviously did not happen. The universities did not agree to that. So that money is going to keep flowing. Keep an eye on the talk. I still see the talk in some circles. I’m not minimizing the state allocation, by the way, $600 million is a lot of money. But when you look at the overall scope of these university budgets, it’s a fraction of their budget.”

Penn State’s budget is pushing almost $10 billion and almost $300 million will come from the state.

Barkdoll wondered, “Could there be a scenario that one of these universities just says thanks, but no thanks? It’s more than it’s worth to get this money. Harrisburg would probably applaud that kind of a move, but it would obviously be controversial because everyone so relates with these universities to state and public institutions.”

Yesterday the PA House in a vote of 115 to 88, proposed to lower physical fitness requirements for municipal police officers – not state police, but municipal police. 

Barkdoll said, “If you look at the bill, they’re pointing out that there are over 1,300 vacancies right now in Pennsylvania for municipal police officers. They believe lowering physical fitness requirements might entice more people to join the force. I’m not sure about this because we know that on the State Police side when Governor Shapiro eliminated the college credit requirement, they’ve seen over a 250 percent spike in applications. So that’s a good thing. But there’s certainly going to be critics on this piece now on the municipal side. How much do you lower physical fitness requirements? You need officers that are in good shape, that are physically fit. Could you water this down to the point where maybe these aren’t people that you want out on the streets, chasing the bad guys? We’ll see what the Senate does with it.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM noted, “I do see how that was a great benefit to eliminate the college credit requirements for the State Police, especially if they’re keeping everything else as rigorous and they say they are. This is certainly not keeping something as rigorous. I have to look at well what is the baseline? We know everyone is suffering from lack of enough people to fill positions, so there’s other things going on besides the thing I’m about to say. But when are we going to start realizing we have demoralized the position of being a police officer so much, that that’s a huge impact? I don’t know how we reverse that at this point because it’s very psychological as well as just relating to them being able to do their jobs, but we are we going to start agreeing that not allowing police to do their jobs effectively, that making them afraid they’re going to get sued if they go after somebody in a heated situation is a huge reason we have less people being willing to do this job? Plus the demonizing of them.” 

Anthony Panasiewicz of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “In my opinion, that’s degrading the position. I don’t know how much they’re lowering the physical fitness requirements, but you’re kind of almost playing into the hands of these people who want to degrade the job of police officers in my opinion. You want to have that high standard.” 

Barkdoll said, “This is a real dilemma and I don’t know if it goes into the category of desperate times calling for desperate measures. Over 1,300 vacancies. That’s a huge number. If you look at the legislation yesterday, they’re pointing out incredible turnover, record turnover rate now. Police officers resigning. Municipalities simply aren’t getting applications to fill these jobs. Remember, earlier this year, we had the same discussions about public school teachers. The legislature agrees that we’re in a crisis mode, that districts can’t fill vacancies and all of these measures were passed to make it easier to wave in to get a teaching license in Pennsylvania, expanded reciprocity, emergency certifications. This feels like the same thing to an extent that’s happening with police officers. I don’t know what the solution is. Those are things difficult to turn around and when you’re already at 1,300 vacancies and it’s climbing by the day, I’m sure some of the lobbying groups, some of the municipal officials in Harrisburg said we’re going to hold our nose. We don’t like this, but we need some new measures to get more people involved that otherwise would not have previously qualified. I’m not sure long term that it’s a great situation for the public.”