Gov. Shapiro to veto $100 million school voucher program as PA House approves $45 million state spending plan
All House Democrats and 15 Republicans approved the budget Wednesday, July 5 by a 117-86 vote.
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The Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House and 15 Republicans approved a $45.5 billion state budget Wednesday night, by a 117-86 vote following a five-day impasse regarding Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $100 million school voucher program that the former Attorney General helped create but now will now veto.
The veto gives the PA House the chance to approve a new state spending plan after an over 5-day impasse in the politically divided Legislature in Harrisburg. Talks on education spending including Shapiro’s school voucher program that would help pay for tuition at private and religious schools was one of the reasons for the holdup.
The governor had used the promise of the school voucher program, a Republican priority, in order to bring them in control of the Senate to pass a budget that included several Democratic priorities.
Some conservatives saw it as Shapiro betraying them, which is why this may not be the final piece of drama we hear regarding the budget.
According to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the presiding officers of each chamber must sign off on all bills before they head to the governor’s desk, but the now angered state Senate isn't scheduled to be back in Harrisburg until September.
The state spending plan had been overdue since July 1, with the state’s new fiscal year having begun last Saturday. While approved by the house, budget talks will be ongoing throughout the summer as several omnibus code bills that outline how the state spends its funds still need approval.
”Our commonwealth should not be plunged into a painful, protracted budget impasse while our communities wait for the help and resources this commonsense budget will deliver,” Shapiro said in a statement.
The approval from the House came after Shapiro announced he would veto his $100 million voucher program that the GOP-led Senate approved last week. Instead of adding it to the budget, Shapiro said legislative leaders will work to add a school voucher program or add to existing tax credit programs in the future.
That first of its kind “voucher” program had been opposed by Democrats, teachers unions and school boards. The issues surrounding the plan caused Shapiro to pledge to issue a line-item veto of the $100 million program should the House otherwise pass the Senate-approved spending plan.
“This is just one of several initiatives important to me that have passed in one chamber but not the other,” Shapiro said, noting statute of limitation reform, increasing the minimum wage, and more.
Shapiro’s spending plan includes more than $567 million in new spending for public education and several of his budget priorities getting funded, such as free school breakfast and $50 million for home repairs.
The governor supported the GOP-led Senate’s plan for private-school vouchers for students who are eligible to attend the state’s lowest-performing public schools only if it included his other spending priorities, such as universal free school breakfast and public education funding increases.
However, House Democrats fear that the program would take money away from public schools.
House Majority Leader Matt Bradford of Montgomery County said any voucher proposal would not succeed among his members, while a House committee last week vetoed a separate bill that would create a school voucher program.
“While I am disappointed the two parties could not come together, Leader Bradford has given me his word ... that he will carefully examine and consider additional education options,” Shapiro said.
In a Wednesday letter to Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, who is serving his first full term in the PA Senate, Bradford said top House Democrats will host joint hearings this summer regarding the proposed school vouchers and existing tax credit programs to improve =students’ educational outcomes.
The House is expected to return to session on Thursday, but it’s unclear when legislators from either chamber will act on the accompanying code bills that outline how the state should spend its money.
In a statement following the budget’s approval, Shapiro said he was proud of the final budget.
“Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with a full-time, divided legislature – meaning nothing gets done unless it can make it through our Republican-led Senate and our Democratic-led House. I’m proud that this budget – one that makes historic investments in public education, public safety, workforce development, agriculture, and economic development – passed both the House and Senate, and I look forward to signing it.”