With no budget in PA, a handful of lawmakers are refusing their salary for July – but will it really happen?

July 28 – The calendar is coming up on a month beyond when the Pennsylvania state budget was supposed to be passed, but Governor Josh Shapiro has signed nothing and both the PA House and Senate are in recess until September. 

A handful of lawmakers are apparently not taking their salaries for the month of July and are calling on others to do the same. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll explained, “Twelve lawmakers, all from the House, and these are Republicans and Democrats, yesterday said they are refusing to accept their salary for the month of July. It’s over $8,500, the base pay for rank and file lawmakers.  Some in this group are saying we’d like to see the governor and the lieutenant governor do the same thing, waive your salary until this budget gets passed. We were sent to Harrisburg to get this business done. We know it’s messy. We’re not going to accept our pay.”

One lawmaker is considering introducing legislation that would require lawmakers and the governor and lieutenant governor to not get paid when there’s a budget impasse like this. 

Barkdoll said, “The thinking of course is you want to create pressure, get them in a room to figure it out, this would be the way to do it. There is no end in sight to this problem. We’re a month in. We know no one’s returning to session until mid to late September. As we’ve been saying and predicting for weeks, the pain is going to start here in the next few weeks with county governments and school districts. They are going to have to scramble to figure out other ways to generate revenue, whether that’s a loan or dipping into rainy day funds because they are not getting their state subsidies.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM added, “Let’s make certain this is not retroactive, either.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM asked, “Is that in the legislation that’s being proposed?” 

Ryan continued, “Is it really you’re not going to take the money at all? You’re going to actually take the full hair cut? I’d like the names of these 10.” 

Jansen said, “I also want to see that in the legislation specifically. I’m sure it won’t, they won’t put that in there.” 

Barkdoll said, “I don’t know that that’s in the legislation, and I have my doubts as well. That’s the problem. Even if they waive their pay for three or four months, they pass a budget in September, October. If they’re getting all of their retroactive pay and benefits, then this doesn’t have much teeth to it.”

PA Representative Paul Schemel said, “Every year there’s some legislators who say they will forgo or do forego their salaries until such time as the budget is passed and then they take all their salaries. So that these 12 individuals, whoever they are, whenever the budget does get passed, they’ll no doubt take all their back salary. I’ve never done that. I didn’t say that I would do that this time. That’s fine if they want to do it, it doesn’t put any pressure on the governor if legislators, especially not members of the minority party in the House, which is what I am, decide not to forgo my salary for a month or two. But if they want to try it, that’s fine. There was a time when all state employees didn’t get paid until the budget was done. Now that would put genuine pressure on everyone and that would include legislators. But the Supreme Court said that we couldn’t do that. So that took that off the table. I don’t think that foregoing salary really contributes anything in terms of pressuring the governor, lieutenant governor or the majority leaders in the House or the Senate.”

Jansen said, “It also shows you the complete dysfunctionality of the way this budget process was done. Of course, we could see it happening and we heard from our Republican House members who said, we’ve just been shut out completely. We’ve been given zero role in this. You have half the House at least, the most important thing they were shut out of. You have the Democrats who now run the House. All they did was propose an even bigger spending budget than the governor did originally, which is just ridiculous because we know the governor goes for an idealistic one that’s supposed to then be negotiated down. So the Democrats who are in charge of the House, good job Democrats, you’ve added to the dysfunction by just giving an even more pie in the sky, not a realistic type of a budget. Then you see the dysfunction of this governor who cannot lead, who apparently just coaxed the Senate Republicans into believing that he was making some kind of deal where he actually had some juice with his own party in the House. Apparently he had zero and now we’re going into this and we keep hearing this ridiculousness about now they’re even in the House and maybe they want to wait till they get a majority, one-vote again before they bring them back into session for any reason. This is just dysfunction at its finest when it comes to this Pennsylvania budget.”

Barkdoll said, “People listening to this think well, they’ll just come back into session any day and figure this out. I don’t think so because the House is now tied. They had that resignation of the Rep out of Allegheny County. She’s running for county executive out there, and the special election has been called for September 18, which is still a full week before they’re scheduled to return to session. So I don’t see the Speaker of the House calling them back into session until that special election has finished because they’re going to want to keep their one-seat majority when they come back into full session. So we are at least in the last week of September, I think until anything happens with this.”

The main issue in the budget is a $100 million Lifeline Scholarship Program that would provide students in the lowest performing 15 percent of schools in PA money to go to a school of their choice. 

Ryan noted, “This is a Democrat decision. This is a failure for the Democrats. This is for families that are below the federal poverty level significantly. These are hurting families in the worst areas, and the worst performing public schools. So that alone should be another story. But with all the money that you are throwing at these public schools, they’ve got to find the worst 15% bottom feeders here and they’re trying to help a small fraction of families that are in so much pain. They’re trying to give $100 million to help and then I hear the argument here of we’re not going to take this money and send these children to public or private schools. They’re not going to freaking Mercersburg Academy, they’re just trying to get out of poverty and give their kids a fighting chance and if you’re against that, you need to sit down and stay out of the argument because you’re completely uninformed and I can’t help you anymore. There’s nothing that can help you if you don’t understand that it’s for the most people in the most amount of pain financially and their kids are getting nothing out of public schools.”

Jansen pointed out, “And the $100 million does not come from the public school budget, number one and $100 million is a drop in the bucket.”

Barkdoll noted, “It’s a fraction of a fraction in the context of a $45.5 billion state budget and it’s amazing that this $100 million issue is jamming up the works for everyone. These vouchers are fairly nominal. These are not massive vouchers that these families would get to go to prestigious boarding schools. A lot of these would be used for local parochial schools, other schools and this is mainly Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but the idea is that it would allow these parents that choice to remove their kids from a failing problematic school and get them into something that the parents think that the child would be more successful. They could get the better training and education they would need to get on a path for success in life.”

When all of this is put into the discussion that the proposed state budget has an eight percent overall increase in education spending – close to more than $100 million addition – you have to wonder why this school voucher program is even an issue. 

Ryan said, “Frankly these lawmakers and these educators in these unions should be embarrassed that there are 15 percent worst performing schools. That alone should infuriate you. How could we have that at $25,000 a kid in Pennsylvania? It just breaks my heart. It deserves to be said over and over and over until the people get it that this is Democrats. This is not Republicans. This is Democrats and Josh Shapiro.”

Barkdoll said, “The irony is remember, Democrats, they’re angry about this. Josh Shapiro ran on this platform. He wanted school choice in Pennsylvania. It was a key plank of his platform for governor. He reportedly negotiated this term with the Senate Republicans and everyone was on board with it. It’s when it got to the House that it went sideways. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it is these kids, these are the poorest of the poor kids in the lowest 15 percent of performing school districts in Pennsylvania. Those kids are the ones that are slipping through the cracks of our system and long term, we all pay for that because think about it if these kids aren’t on a track for success, they are more likely going to need all sorts of social safety net programs throughout their life. Well, that’s a financial burden on the federal, the state, the local government. We all end up paying for that. So some of the idea behind this is if we can intercept these kids early, long term, all of us benefit from these kids also benefiting over the course of their life.”

Interestingly, there has been some debate over whether or not a deal with the PA Senate was ever actually made. 

Schemel explained, “The House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, a Democrat out of Philadelphia, yesterday or the day before had an op ed piece in the Tribune where he said look, there was never a deal. He said this notion that Republicans are pushing that there was a deal between the governor on this Lifeline Scholarship for the budget is not true. That was never a deal because we were never part of it. So the plot thickens. Only three people in the state of Pennsylvania know. The governor knows Joe Pittman, the Majority Leader of the Senate knows and then presumably Matt Bradford, the Majority Leader in the House would know because those are the three people that would have been in on whatever the discussions were.”

Jansen said, “It does not explain then why in the world the Senate would have put their okay on something that gives them all the spending that they want, almost matching what the governor had, if they didn’t have a deal.”

Schemel suggested, “Putting the pieces together, to be a detective, I think what happened was that the Senate reached a deal with the governor and the House was cold on that. But the governor said don’t worry, I’ll bring them on board because the deal was reached and Joe Pittman announced that they had a deal. It was a long weekend. I want to say it was a four day weekend that the governor worked on the Democrats in the House side and then never came up with that, so I don’t know whether the governor over promised. The governor certainly reneged on what he said he would do and there’s no guessing about that. I mean, this was a campaign promise. We all know he made that promise and he made that promise to Joe Pittman. He’s never denied that he made the promise to Joe Pittman. I think he couldn’t deliver on it. But I think what happened was Matt Bradford, the Democrats in the House just said, no, I don’t care. I don’t care what deal you made. You are never going to get us to vote for that, period. So I think that’s probably what happened. I don’t believe that. Mr. Bradford is lying. I think he’s probably telling the truth. I think he’s probably just wrong about what the expectation between the governor and the Majority Leader of the Senate was.”

Jansen said, “My opinion from what the governor said then afterwards, which makes me feel like okay, governor, you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth because he actually called the GOP Senate rogue and said they needed to negotiate with House leaders to get this done. Knowing perfectly well there was no real ability for the Senate GOP to persuade the House GOP without him involved. For him saying they needed to work that out with the House leadership, that’s not the way it works, especially with the kind of extremist element you have in the House Democrats these days and the fact that they won’t negotiate with you guys, let alone negotiate with the Senate GOP.”

Schemel said, “In a negotiation like that, you’re going to presume that the highest person in the party in the state is the one who has the authority to negotiate on behalf of all of his party. So you’d presume that Josh Shapiro had that authority and when he made a deal, that deal would be good. So he obviously over promised, it appears that he over promised and really what probably should happen going forward as any other deals that are there, there should probably be a joint news conference with all three, the Democratic leader, the Republican leader and the governor, all together saying the same thing, because now where’s the trust with the Republicans in the Senate? They’re going to say, we’re not going pass anything just to have you decide that you’re going to veto things. What Josh Shapiro should have done is he should never have said I will veto it. He just should have said well, I guess it’ll just fall apart in the House and we’ll have to start again because as you point out, Republicans in the end they get nothing out of this deal. Democrats get everything out of this deal and Josh Shapiro is the one who made that happen.”