After several weeks of deadlock and stalled negotiations, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed Pennsylvania’s $45.5 billion budget Thursday after Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward convened the Senate for session to finalize the spending agreement.
Sen. Ward announced the sudden return to session in a statement late Wednesday, clearing the way for the signing of the General Appropriations budget, which has been in legislative limbo since the fiscal year began on July 1. Amidst the current standoff, public schools, social service programs, and educational entities reliant on state appropriations all faced uncertainty over funding.
Ward said in her statement: “Signing [House Bill 611] will provide the necessary funding to schools, counties, and organizations, completing 75 percent of the budget,” while noting the remaining 25 percent will require further legislative authorization. According to Ward’s office, Gov. Shapiro has assured Senate Republicans that the funding for specific programs “will remain untouched until the legislature has finalized the language.”
The Westmoreland County Republican’s move came amidst the lingering budget impasse, driven by disagreements around a proposed $100 million school voucher program enabling students in low-performing public schools to attend private schools.
Governor Josh Shapiro, previously supportive of school vouchers, surprised many when he vowed to line-item veto the funding for the program included in this year’s budget, citing the need to avoid “a painful, protracted budget impasse.”
In response to the Governor’s announcement, House Democrats quickly approved the budget bill; yet the Senate, having adjourned for the summer and declaring that Gov. Shapiro had violated an agreement, refused to send the bill to the Governor, resulting in a month-long standoff between the two chambers.
Shortly after reconvening in Harrisburg, the Senate officially sent House Bill 611 to the governor’s desk Thursday afternoon. In signing the agreement, Shapiro vetoed the $100 million appropriation for the scholarship program. He wrote, in a veto message: “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.”
In a news release, the administration touted the agreement as a “commonsense, bipartisan budget” that invests in economic development, eliminates bureaucratic red tape, and paves the way for critical infrastructural improvements.
Nevertheless, the process is not over yet: the Associated Press reported Thursday that the legislature still “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.”
A spokesperson for House Democrats said all parties involved in the budget agreement continue to meet, according to AP, and the chamber will return to session to complete the outstanding pieces needed “as negotiations are finalized.”