Pittman: Pennsylvania budget negotiations need a kick in the pants to meet June 30 deadline

Pennsylvania lawmakers will need to accelerate budget negotiations to get an agreed-upon spending plan to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk by the June 30 deadline, state Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (D-Indiana) said Tuesday.

In March, Shapiro presented a $48.3 billion budget proposal to the General Assembly that includes a historic escalate in education spending, a plan to reform the state’s higher education system, $600 million in economic development and more than $283 million in recent public transportation funding.

While the constitutional mandate to pass a budget by the end of the fiscal year is becoming increasingly fluid, Pittman said he doesn’t foresee a repeat of last June. Facing an impasse with House Democrats last summer over a private school voucher proposal, the Senate passed its own version of the budget and left town by August.

Pennsylvania Governor Shapiro is proposing a $48 billion budget focusing on education, the economy and people

This experience when Republican senators and Shapiro negotiated a $100 million tuition voucher plan just to see this die in a Democrat-controlled house“We’ve certainly set expectations within our club,” Pittman told reporters during a question-and-answer session Tuesday.

“Parent empowerment must be a key part of this conversation amid expectations for additional funding in the public education space,” Pittman added, after identifying increased education funding as one of the main sticking points in the negotiations.

Pennsylvania lawmakers and Shapiro are facing a state judge’s mandate to close the spending gap between the state’s richest and poorest school districts. Commonwealth Court Chief Justice Renee Cohn Jubelirer ruled last year that the funding disparity violated the state constitution.

This year, a bipartisan commission found the state’s share of that amount at $5.1 billion and recommended that the amount be paid out over the next seven years.

House Democrats passed legislation to provide that money plus $200 million more a year to be distributed under a recent fair funding formula that takes into account factors such as poverty levels and students learning English as a second language.

The bill of the House of Representatives, which was passed from cross-party supportIt would also provide $1 billion in property tax relief to counties that tax residents at the highest rates.

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Pittman said negotiations to escalate education funding have been hard.

“I think the real challenge we have in the commonwealth is that we have 500 school districts and each of them has a different definition of what is fair,” Pittman said, adding that the House plan does not take into account the gains and losses associated with enrollment in all over the state.

Pittman said he was in constant contact with the governor’s office and noted that he had spoken to Shapiro two days earlier.

“He offered a willingness to remain involved as he has been,” Pittman said. “And I indicated to him that I thought we were moving on, but maybe we could use a little more of a kick in the pants to get us going.”

Elizabeth Rementer, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery), said House Democrats are in ongoing conversations with caucus leaders and Shapiro.

“Given our consistently strong financial position, we have a historic opportunity to increase Pennsylvania’s competitiveness by investing in our children and promoting growth. We look forward to working with our colleagues and the governor on a budget that moves our community forward,” Rementer said in a statement.

While Shapiro and House Democrats introduced spending proposals that would tap into the state’s $15 billion surplus, the Senate passed legislation early in the budget process that would cut taxes by about $3 billion. This solution would reduce the personal income tax rate from 3.07% to 2.8% and eliminate the electricity tax.

A surprise vote on a $3 billion tax cut kicks off budget negotiations in Harrisburg with a bang

“I think we made it very clear at the beginning of May that if the political decision in this building is that we have too much money in the bank account, then the first thing we need to do is recognize who gave it to us. And that is the taxpayer,” Pittman said.

Rementer said the House majority is open to a combination of tax cuts and investments to spur economic growth, but said the Republicans’ plan is “information was distributed to Pennsylvania’s wealthiest residents that the average family would not be able to buy groceries for a week.” Rementer said the Democrats’ plan would cost less and do more.

“More specifically, the Republican Senate tax plan includes $1.7 billion to provide a family of four with an income of $50,000 a $135 tax break,” Rementer said. “While House Democrats’ income tax relief plan would save the same family of four nearly $500 for a fraction of the expense – $400 million.”

Pittman expressed skepticism about the feasibility of increasing Shapiro’s public transportation spending, saying that in the past such allocations were made in parallel with transportation infrastructure spending.

“It’s hard for me to understand where this revenue stream is coming from,” Pittman said, noting that there are potential recent revenue sources, such as an electric car fee instead of a gasoline tax and regulation of so-calledarcade games

The amount of revenue generated by fees for electric car owners would be “very modest,” and the amount that could be raised from taxing skill games is hard to predict, Pittman said.

“Honestly, we have no idea where these matches are or how many there are. It’s really the wild west,” Pittman said, noting that state courts have given slot machine-like devices a “degree of credibility” and that their proliferation is becoming a public safety issue.

The state Supreme Court issued an order Tuesday upholding the state’s appeal to determine whether a skill arcade machine avoids being considered an illegal slot machine by including a skill element “that is almost entirely invisible and almost impossible to complete.”

Pittman said the Senate is less committed to Shapiro’s other proposals that would generate additional revenue. Although the House has considered several bills related to legalizing cannabis for recreational apply by adults, none have advanced to the Senate. The House passed a bill last year to escalate the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but the Senate took no action on it.

“Every time supporters came out and moved the goalposts, $20 an hour… it certainly sent a signal to our members that maybe there was no interest in having a serious conversation about what a new minimum wage might look like,” Pittman said.

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