Pennsylvania’s overdue state budget moved closer to completion Thursday after Senate Republican leaders summoned their colleagues back to the Capitol to complete work they had held up when budget negotiations with Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro soured a month ago, but about a billion dollars in spending is still in limbo.
A final signature in the Senate sent the main spending plan to the governor’s desk on Thursday afternoon, allowing millions of dollars to begin flowing to counties and school districts that were preparing to empty out their reserves or consider taking out loans to continue necessary operations. The governor signed but vetoed an education voucher program.
There is still more work to be done to move out the last portion of the entire $45 billion budget, however. The Legislature must write language directing at least $1.1 billion to fund initiatives such as student teaching stipend, student mental health grants, funds to boost some of the state’s poorest school districts and home repair subsidies, according to Senate Republicans. Also in need of legislative action are hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for state-owned universities.
Majority Leader Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said during floor remarks that the outstanding, undirected funds show that “the Legislature holds the power of the purse whenever it comes to determining how taxpayer dollars are spent.”
“This is not a final completed product. This is not a final and complete process,” he said.
The budget hit a roadblock in early July amid discord over a GOP priority — their proposal to create a $100 million program subsidizing students in the lowest performing districts so they can attend private and religious schools.
Shapiro initially supported the proposal, to the consternation of most Democrats and teachers’ unions. In an attempt avoid an impasse, Shapiro announced that he would veto it. As the Senate convened to send the bill on to him, Pittman implored that Shapiro keep it, but shortly after the budget reached him on Thursday, the governor vetoed that provision.
“Improving and expanding opportunities for children remains a priority for me, and I consider this to be unfinished business all parties must work together on as we move forward,” Shapiro wrote in a veto message.
A spokeswoman for House Democratic leadership said all parties continue to meet, and the chamber will return to session to complete the outstanding pieces needed “as negotiations are finalized.”
Pennsylvania is one of four states that did not complete a budget by the start of the fiscal year, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Pennsylvania is the only one that does not allow spending to continue automatically.
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