If you were waiting for some glimmer of agreement on at least one budget issue this week in the House, you were very disappointed. On the other hand, if you were waiting for the House to designate the week of December 26 through January 1 as “Kwanzaa Week” in Pennsylvania, the two week delay was worth it.
The House Monday failed to get the required two-thirds vote to pass bills funding the state related universities-- Penn State, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln and Penn Veterinary College-- in Senate Bills 912 through 916 by votes of 116 to 75 along party lines.
This is deja vu all over again. On June 28 the House also failed in its first attempt to get a two-thirds vote for its own versions of funding for state related universities-- House Bills 1385 through 1389-- by similar margins.
House Republicans Tuesday passed a Fiscal Code bill-- House Bill 1327 (Peifer-R- Pike)-- back to the Senate for a concurrence vote with a controversial provision changing the current basic education funding distribution formula which has not yet been agreed to by Senate Republicans.
The bill also still includes provisions adding yet more review time for any plan DEP develops to meet EPA’s Clean Power Climate Plan regulations and would kill DEP regulations due to be finalized at a February 3 Environmental Quality Board updating conventional drilling rules and force them to start over.
In both cases, House Democrats opposed the bills saying Republicans needed to stop wasting time and finish work on a complete budget.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) commented on the unfinished work and said Republican leaders have failed to engage in substantive discussions since December.
"Pennsylvania still needs a full-year budget and what we need from House Republican leaders is seriousness. Three weeks ago we were on the cusp of getting such a budget finished, less than a day away, but the Republican leaders instead shut the House down and sent everyone home.
"The House resumed session this week and lawmakers returned hoping to get real work done, but all we got was more delay and distraction.
"The House Republican leaders dictated that rather than work on a real balanced budget, the House would spend its first two legislative days of 2016 considering bills to inadequately fund local schools for the remainder of the fiscal year, increase funds to a select group of universities even though there's no budget to fund those appropriations, and reject a negotiated bipartisan funding plan that would be fairer to all schools.
"Pennsylvania continues to make history with this budget impasse and the House Republican leaders are on the wrong side of that history.
"They need to stop playing games and concentrate – along with the governor and the rest of the legislature -- on passing a complete, balanced and full-year state budget that fairly restores education funding at all levels, supports human services, invests in communities and fixes the budget deficit with predictable and sustainable revenues."
Rep. Dermody noted the House adjourned Tuesday and is not scheduled to return to session until January 25, at which time the budget impasse will have stretched to almost seven months.
Jeff Sheridan, Gov. Wolf's Press Secretary, said, “We need a real budget – one that is balanced, fixes the deficit and invests in education at all levels. Unfortunately, House Republican leaders are still not serious about the budget.
“Today, they tried to enact new funding for the state-related universities without paying for it. This comes on the heels of their budget that was $500 million out of balance, would grow the deficit to over $2.3 billion and would have cut funding to K through 12 education by $95 million.
“Investing in higher education is important and Governor Wolf has been fighting to restore the cuts made by Republicans to education at all levels, including our state-related universities. The reality is that the Republican math does not add up.
“The time for political posturing is long over – it is time for House Republicans to pass a balanced budget that fixes the deficit and truly funds education.”
Rep. William Adolph (R-Delaware), Majority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement Monday, "I am very disappointed to see that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have joined Gov. Tom Wolf in opposing this needed funding for our state-related universities. Our students should not be held hostage during this budget impasse. This 5 percent increase was agreed to by the governor in November and received a vote of 48-2 in the Senate.
"Let me be very clear -- there are available current year revenues to pay for all five of these appropriations. The vote today by House Democrats was a vote to use our students as unnecessary leverage in an effort to raise taxes.
“The governor certified available revenues for FY 2015-16 at $29.82 billion. By blue-lining House Bill 1460 to a spend number of $23.4 billion, the governor left $6.3 billion of available funds on the table. The total cost of all five non-preferred appropriation bills is approximately $578 million.”
Aren’t these the same things each of these parties were saying in June? Yep!
The Senate returns to voting session January 19 and the House on January 25.
Gov. Wolf’s second budget address is February 9.
Senate and House Appropriations Committee hearings on Gov. Wolf’s FY 2016-17 budget request will start February 22.
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