State Budget Negotiations Face New Challenges as Senate Splits Key Measure

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In a recent development, state budget negotiations have hit a new roadblock as lawmakers decided to divide a crucial measure into two separate bills. This unconventional strategy has done little to bring the budget process closer to completion, according to legislative sources.

The first of these bills is focused on directing funds towards community colleges, libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, emergency services, and stream remediation. The second bill allocates funding to a school voucher program and education tax credits, two contentious issues that have stalled budget progress for the past two months.

One legislative staffer explained that this strategy aims to separate the disputed policies from less controversial funding needs. However, both bills require majority support in the lower chamber, where the session is not set to resume until September 26.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, a Republican, stated, “The Senate has done their best to give Gov. [Josh] Shapiro and his counterparts in the House the necessary time to work through their party challenges, but the time has come that we must move beyond the broken deals and words and complete our work to ensure the fiscal solvency of our state.”

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats believe that passing these bills does not bring the budget any closer to completion. They view it as a repeat of the Senate’s decision to pass a budget in June, which the House reportedly never agreed to support.

Gov. Josh Shapiro expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation. His spokesman, Will Simons, said the governor had urged leaders in both chambers to “engage in meaningful conversation, find common ground,” and provide the necessary accompanying legislation to settle the $45.5 billion spending plan. Simons added, “It is clear with today’s votes in the Senate that those conversations have not yet happened, and legislative leaders have more work to do to stop talking past each other and instead find common ground on the unfinished business before them.”

Typically, the code bills, which direct funding and policy for education, human services, administrative functions, and election law, follow the budget to the governor’s desk. Without these bills, the state cannot allocate funds to the agencies and programs outlined in the spending plan.

At the core of the impasse lies an ideological disagreement over a $100 million school voucher program that Gov. Shapiro removed from the budget after House Democrats declined to support it. Senate Republicans argue that the administration played a role in shaping the proposal in exchange for a budget aligned with Shapiro’s priorities, including the largest single-year increase in public education funding. When the deal fell through, so did any sense of urgency to complete the code bills.

Further complicating matters is an even split in the House, where Democrats expect to maintain a one-seat majority after a special election on September 19, just days before the chamber’s return to session. Some legislative sources believe that there is enough support in the House for both code bills, potentially paving the way for the school voucher program, which Democrats argue is an unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer funds to private schools, to reach Gov. Shapiro’s desk.

However, the school choice provisions are not the only issues hindering Democratic support. During floor debates, senators pointed out that both code bills were incomplete and lacked funding for essential programs supporting child care centers, student teachers, and indigent defense, among others.

Currently, House Democratic leadership sees no reason to return and approve either bill. They suggest that this could change “if an agreement is reached on adequately funding critical programs and services currently left out of the Senate Republican fiscal code bills.” A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, a Democrat, emphasized that “a fiscal code is not an opportunity to renegotiate the budget” and expressed disappointment with the Senate Republicans’ actions, which they feel do not advance the conversation toward finalizing the state’s budget in its entirety.


Ann Marie Moore obituary 1944-2023

Ann is a lifelong member of St. John Lutheran Church in Fairfield, and a member and past president of AORN (Association of periOperative Registered Nurses).

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