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Pennsylvania reacts to Shapiro’s budget address

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John Cole and Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 6, 2024

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal drew reactions from across the political spectrum on Tuesday, with praise and criticism for his plans for education, economic development, transit and a host of other items.

Aaron Chapin, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, hailed Shapiro’s plans to increase basic education funding by more than $1 billion. That spending is in response to a state court ruling last year that Pennsylvania’s K-12 education funding system is unconstitutional.

“This is a solid beginning to a multiyear process, and we’re very pleased that this is one of Gov. Shapiro’s top priorities,” Chapin said in a statement. “We absolutely must make these critical investments in our public schools, students, educators, and support staff, and we can’t allow anything to distract us from doing it.” 

Chapin also praised Shapiro’s proposals to increase annual funding for student teacher stipends through the PA Student Teacher Support Program, and the plan to invest $300 million for school building and facility repairs. Shapiro’s plan to combine the State System of Higher Education universities and community colleges into one unified entity is a “good starting point for conversations about how we can make a college education more affordable and accessible to Pennsylvania’s students,” Chapin said.

However, he expressed disappointment that Shapiro mentioned reviving a plan to authorize scholarships for private and religious schools. 

“Policymakers shouldn’t even think about funding scholarships for private and religious schools,” Chapin said. “Our public school funding system is so broken that it is unconstitutional. Fixing it to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education needs to be our highest priority.”

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) said the budget proposal was “a framework that Pennsylvanians can be excited about,” adding it In addition to proposals to bolster public transit and education, Frankel pointed to Shapiro’s calls to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, and to decriminalize cannabis saying they align “with the commonwealth that I know – compassionate, innovative, and ambitious.”

Frankel also praised a proposal to use state funds to purchase medical debt, effectively canceling it for many Pennsylvanians. The idea was approved last year by the House Health Committee, on which Frankel serves as majority chair,  

“It’s a policy that will potentially free thousands of Pennsylvanians to move forward with their lives, contribute to the economy, and resume medical treatment that they need,” Frankel said. “I can’t overstate how life changing this modest program would be for many families.”

Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director Molly Parzen commended Shapiro for proposing “continued investments in clean transportation, conservation, and healthy homes,” for his plans to invest more in public transit, and re-invest in the Whole Home Repair program. 

“Additionally, the funding increases the governor is proposing for the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources will help hold polluters accountable, improve the health and safety of our communities and expand recreation opportunities for Pennsylvania families,” Parzen said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) noted that Shapiro’s address did not mention the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Shapiro said in November the state will appeal the Commonwealth Court’s decision to block Pennsylvania from entering the RGGI, a multi-state carbon cap-and-trade initiative.

“We didn’t hear what is affecting our families right now, families sitting at home right now. Increased utilities, increased food costs, increased gas prices,” Ward said. “The governor could fix some of that immediately by pulling back his appeal of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative lawsuit. That lawsuit and that program that was initiated by Gov. Wolf has caused an increase in people’s utility rates. I didn’t hear much help for them, for that group of people, especially in the middle at all today.” 

Rep. Joshua Kail (R-Beaver), House Republican Policy Chair, criticized Shapiro’s education proposal. 

“A year and a half ago on the campaign trail, this Governor said he supported school choice,” Kail said. “Yet today, he proposed cutting school choice for parents across this commonwealth.” 

Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the conservative-leaning Commonwealth Foundation called the budget proposal a “shockingly fiscally irresponsible partisan wish list,” and that it would likely “exacerbate the deficit,” leading to future tax increases.

“Shapiro tries to solve problems simply by throwing more taxpayer dollars at them. His public transit proposal is a case in point,” Benefield said in a statement. “Shapiro wants $282.8 million in additional public transit spending in 2024 and another $1.5 billion over the next five years — for transit agencies with declining ridership and bloated bureaucracies. That’s a bailout, not a solution.”

Economic development organization Ben Franklin Technology Partners praised Shapiro’s 10-year economic development strategy. “States that invest in innovation will secure the jobs of tomorrow, attract the best talent, and realize sustained economic growth,” Ryan Glenn, Ben Franklin’s director of statewide initiatives, said in a statement.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) addressed the governor’s minimum wage proposal. “I will again reiterate that our focus has and will always be maximum wage jobs,” Pittman said. “Because whether it’s $7.25 an hour or $15 an hour, I think we can all agree that is not a living wage, that is not a family sustaining wage. Having said that, we have indicated that if there is genuine interest in a compromise on that issue, we will be willing to take those conversations to a more detailed and serious level.”

He added that he found the “fixation on Ohio” interesting — Shapiro said he was “sick and tired of losing to friggin’ Ohio” to stress the need for his economic development strategy. 

“I can tell you we’re all competitive as hell, too,” Pittman said. “But what’s interesting about Ohio is they have a Republican governor, they have a Republican legislature, and they have implemented pro-growth policies that have allowed them to eat our lunch time and time again. So from that perspective, we agree, we’re tired of losing to Ohio. The problem is the solutions that the governor has put forward don’t allow us to get into the game whenever it comes to states that are truly growing and prospering.”

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) chided Republican leaders for their claims that there was not enough money to pay for Shapiro’s proposals. “Did you hear the governor’s closing statement– with all of this we still will have $11 billion in surplus left,”  Hughes said at a press conference. “We have the money. The question is, do we have the guts to do something with it?”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.