by Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
June 5, 2023
[This article was updated at 7:19 p.m. on Monday, June 5, 2023, to include the House vote on the amended spending bill and comment from Gov. Josh Shapiro.]
Pennsylvania House Democrats proposed more than $900 million in additional spending over Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $44.4 billion spending plan introduced in March.
The budget amendment approved in a 102-101 vote in the House on Monday significantly increases funding for K-12 funding, state universities, and financial aid for college students.
It adds up to a $1.7 billion increase in education spending compared to the current budget, Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said.
“We believe in quality education and we believe in investments in quality education, and we believe that this budget bill with this amendment does that,” Harris said in a House Appropriations Committee meeting where the amendment was introduced.
House Republicans characterized the amendment as a “sneak attack,” in which House Democrats broke ranks from Shapiro. They also said the plan drives Pennsylvania toward insolvency by spending down the state’s rainy day fund.
“This is not only gross mismanagement and a lack of transparency by House Democrats, but it is the kind of sneak attack politics that the public abhors,” House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said.
The amendment, which passed in a vote along party lines, came just less than a month before the constitutional June 30 deadline to pass a budget.
While Democrats, with a one-vote majority in the House, likely have the votes to pass the plan in the lower chamber, the challenge for lawmakers in the next four weeks will be to hash out a compromise that will pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Shapiro commended House Democrats for moving the budget forward and adding to the priorities he shares with lawmakers.
“Now, as this process moves on to the Senate, we look forward to continuing to work with Republicans and Democrats alike to bring people together and deliver a budget that addresses the most pressing issues facing our Commonwealth,” Shapiro said in a statement.
The ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Seth Grove, of York County, said GOP lawmakers received the Democratic amendment only a few hours before the House gaveled in for the day.
Grove said the amended spending plan relies largely on unanticipated revenue running about $800 million over estimates, with more than half coming from interest earned on the state’s general fund surplus and rainy day fund.
In a news conference last week with state Treasurer Stacy Garrity, also a Republican, Grove said the state needs to prepare for an economic downturn by preserving its $5.1 billion rainy day fund.
Garrity said the rainy day fund and general fund surplus – projected to reach $6.8 billion by the end of this month – have earned $437 million in interest as a result of interest rate hikes earlier this year.
Adding the interest windfall to the rainy day fund would bring Pennsylvania close to the national median for fiscal reserves. Pennsylvania currently has enough in reserve to keep the tate government running for 42.4 days, slightly less than the national median of 44.5 days.
“Being responsible and doing what’s right isn’t flashy, and it rarely grabs headlines. But we all know that the fiscal cliff is coming and we must make good decisions now,” Garrity said on Wednesday.
The Democratic amendment adds to Shapiro’s proposal $100 million for basic education funding, $50 million for special education and restores $225 million in level up funding for the state’s 100 poorest school districts that was absent from Shapiro’s plan.
The amendment also provides for transfers of $250 million for school modernization and $200 million the Whole Home Repair program created in the 2022-23 budget in restricted accounts.
In the Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday, Harris said the Democratic amendment reflects bipartisan priorities, including Republican amendments proposed on the House floor last month.
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