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Pa. House passes $45.5B budget bill, now heads to governor’s desk

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
The House chamber inside  state Capitol building in Harrisburg on March 24, 2023.

 Jeremy Long / WITF

The House chamber inside state Capitol building in Harrisburg on March 24, 2023.

Correction: HB1300 proposed to amend the Pennsylvania election code. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed it in part because, he said, the bill was crafted by lawmakers who supported the election-fraud lie that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Information in the original version of this story was incorrect.

The 2023-24 fiscal year has commenced.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to pass the annual state budget 117- 86 around 9:30 Wednesday night, five days after the deadline to do so.

The House had previously voted on the bill in June, but hours before the midnight deadline on June 30, the state Senate voted to amend the bill sending it back to the lower chamber.

House Appropriations Chair Rep. Jordan Harris, D- Philadelphia, introduced the bill, emphasizing its impact on education.

“$567 million increase to basic education subsidies, a hundred million dollars in level up funding, $50 million dollars for special education funding,” Harris said. “This represents the second largest increase for basic education since the 2015-2016 year.”

A key point of contention was the issue of school vouchers. The Senate amendment included approximately $100 million for a program to help pay for students to attend private or religious schools. 

Proponents said that would let students in areas without good schools travel to better ones. Critics argued it would take money away from public education.

Originally, Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro was in favor of the voucher program, but a report by SpotlightPa published hours before the House vote said he was exploring ways to scrap the program.

Later in the day, Shapiro confirmed the report and released a statement saying he would line-item veto the full $100 million, and that he did not want to prolong the budget debate.

“Our Commonwealth should not be plunged into a painful, protracted budget impasse while our communities wait for the help and resources this commonsense budget will deliver,” Shapiro wrote.

Democratic Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, who previously stated she would never vote for a bill with vouchers, signed on after Shapiro’s statement.

“I want to stand in support of HB 611,” Madden said. “And I’d like to mention that I’ve heard from many of our education advocates, and while they acknowledge that the House bill that we sent originally was a much better bill, they are happy with the funding of education in this bill, and because we’re trying to achieve equity.”

House Republicans, including Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, criticized Shapiro for going against his word.

“Backtracking on a handshake deal. If that’s the case, how do we move forward as a commonwealth? How do we trust anything anybody says in this body?” Grove said.

Grove previously authored a bill concerning the election process following the 2020 election. Then-Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill, tweeting that the “lawmakers behind this bill are the same ones who asked Congress to throw out PA votes and whose lies directly contributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Republican House leader Bryan Cutler, R- Lancaster, also criticized the bill.

“Shame on those who came up with a plan that put the desires of this institution and the inability to debate an issue ahead of the children that are trapped in failing schools,” Cutler said.

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