HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Thursday afternoon, it looked as if Pennsylvania lawmakers were on track to finalize 2022-23 fiscal budget by the end of the day.
A spending plan, unveiled by House Republicans Thursday afternoon, advanced through the House floor shortly thereafter. Senate Democratic leadership indicated Thursday evening that they were on track to approve the budget within 24 hours. That was before Senate Republicans pushed a Constitutional Amendment targeting abortion late Thursday night in a Rules Committee Hearing. Debate over the controversial amendment lasted until just before midnight and essentially quashed any hope of budget consideration.
The General Appropriations bill passed by the House Thursday afternoon amounts to $45.2 billion, including the $2.2 billion in remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
“We finally are where we need to be in Pennsylvania,” said Representative Stan Saylor (R-York). “The leadership working, and I give the governor credit, I give the Senate and House Democrats credit for working with us to put this budget together. It’s been a great joint effort,” Saylor added.
House Republicans described the budget as responsible; addressing the needs of today, while preparing for tomorrow. In order to prepare for the future, they say $2.1 billion would be added to the state’s rainy-day fund.
“At the conclusion of this budget process, we’re looking at having $5 billion in the rainy-day fund,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “The big points that we want to drive home in terms of the budget are as follows: One, it responsibly saves money. Two, it responsibly invests money. Three, while making sure that we’re taking care of today, we’re also planning for tomorrow. It takes care of people and helps people. It does not grow government,” Cutler added.
The proposed plan sent to the Senate Thursday afternoon contains a large increase in education funding, perhaps one of the most notable investments in the entire budget. It increases Basic Education funding by $525 million to a total of $7.08 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The “Level Up” Initiative is funded in the plan at $225 million to help the 100 poorest school districts throughout the commonwealth.
Special education funding would see an increase of $100 million for a total of $1.3 billion, and for career and technical school funding, an increase of $6 million.
The plan establishes a record-high $15 billion for PreK-12 education.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said the plan not only makes historic education investments, but also prioritizes fiscal responsibility.
“People run their households like that. That’s the way we should run state government. Be prudent, be smart. Invest in people and not just necessarily programs, but long-term investment and you’ll see that in education funding, whether it’s K through 12, higher education and a lot of other entities, mental health investments,” said Benninghoff.
Also for schools, $100 million for safety and security, and another $100 million for mental health initiatives. Lawmakers say these investments are important to make, especially with recent school shootings.
Saylor, the House Appropriations Chairman, said the investments for mental health are the product of bipartisan efforts and will benefit all Pennsylvanians.
“Look, there are a lot of things that can be criticized in any budget. Doesn’t matter who draws that budget up. But there are so many wins for the people of Pennsylvania,” said Saylor. “We’re taking care of special needs individuals. We’re taking care of students and one of the things I’m proudest of, the Speaker and the Leader and the Senate have been big on mental health issues. We’re putting $100 million into mental health and for the schools,” added Saylor.
Republicans also say the plan provides better education choice and opportunities for kids, boosting the Educational Improvement Tax Credit to $405 million, an additional $125 million or 45 percent increase. It also creates the first ever PA child care tax credit equal to 30 percent of the federal credit to support working families.
Promoting business growth by reducing the state’s Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT), the second-highest in the nation, has been a bipartisan issue discussed by lawmakers, including Gov. Wolf, for years and especially in recent months. The spending plan reduces the CNIT from 9.99 percent to 8.99 percent this year, and half of a percent each year until reaching 4.99 percent. Using this process, the CNIT would reach 4.99 percent in nine years, 2031.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have discussed the recent challenges facing local EMS providers and agencies. The plan includes funds to increase Medicaid rates for basic life support by $145, advanced life support by $100 and mileage by $2 per mile.
Public safety and supporting law enforcement are big topics that saw large investments using remaining federal relief money. The spending proposal allocates the remaining $2.2 billion ARPA funds to:
- $135 million is directed to support local law enforcement and $125 million would focus on gun violence investigation and prosecution, as well as violence intervention and prevention,
- $220 million to the Clean Streams Fund,
- $320 million to fund water and sewer projects,
- $100 million for the State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Program.
House Republican leaders say ARPA dollars will also contribute to a historic investment for the environment.
“It will help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it’ll clean up our streams across this Commonwealth and it’ll take a lot of the needs that our local communities all across Pennsylvania with sewer and water projects that we need to do to meet the EPA standards,” said Saylor.
Other sizable investments with the remaining ARPA dollars include:
- $250 million for Long-Term Living Programs including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, personal care homes and home and community-based services. The funding for long-term living is included to provide for a $35 per day increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rates effective in January,
- $140 million for the Property Tax Rent Rebate,
- $125 million for the State System of Higher Education, which will also receive a $75 million increase from the General Fund,
- $90 million investment to support child care is also within the ARPA spending plan.
Not including the ARPA dollars, the plan amounts to $42.7 billion.
The General Appropriations bill significantly reduces the amount of Motor License Fund dollars used to support the State Police to $500 million, freeing up an additional $175 million annually in state funding for road and bridge projects. The General Fund would be tasked with supporting a larger share of State Police funding.
Paying back roughly $2 billion worth of prior budget borrowing, or debt, is another priority. $1.7 billion to bring Medicaid payments to timely payments, $350 million would be repaid to the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund, and $42 million to pay off outstanding debt in the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.
Earlier today, Republicans also addressed investments in election security, $45 million to be exact. The funds would be administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development. According to Republicans, this would ban any private dollars from funding elections. The election security funds can only be used on voter registration, election prep, administration, advertising and conduct of the election, promotion of voter participation, or auditing election results.
Additional investments for agriculture include $25 million to fight the avian flu, and even $3 million to combat the Spotted Lanternfly.
The Senate is expected to consider the General Appropriations bill and additional code bills that make up the full budget on Friday.
By 11:30 p.m. Thursday night, the Senate Rules Committee voted 11-6 along party lines to move forward with a Constitutional Amendment targeting abortion. The amendment reads in part “This constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.”
Senate Democrats say the late-night Constitutional Amendment vote was a move “in the dark of night” by Republicans to eliminate the rights of women. Eight amendments were offered by Democrats in response, but were all tabled. It’s not clear if or how the amendment may impact the timeline for the overdue budget that the Senate must approve before sending to Governor Wolf.
The Constitutional Amendment would surpass the Governor’s veto pen, and be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.