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‘Anything’s possible’: Sen. Scott Martin unsure state lawmakers will pass a timely budget

  • By Jaxon White/LNP | LancasterOnline
State Sen. Scott Martin, of Martic Township, was the guest speaker at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon on May 13, 2024.

 Jaxon White / LNP | LancasterOnline

State Sen. Scott Martin, of Martic Township, was the guest speaker at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon on May 13, 2024.

State Senate Appropriations Chair Scott Martin on Monday echoed his past reservations about Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal for next year and made no promise that lawmakers would bring the budget in on time.

Martin, the Martic Township Republican who holds significant sway over the state’s budget bills, said at the monthly Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon that he and his caucus take issue with Shapiro’s pitch to use $3 billion of the state’s fiscal reserves to fund aspects of his $48.3 billion proposal, which would reduce reserves from $14 billion to $11 billion.

That spending path, Martin has said, could drain the state’s stockpile in just a few years.

“We’re going to hold firm in making sure that we don’t put the commonwealth into any kind of fiscal tailspin,” Martin said, addressing whether lawmakers would be able to pass the budget before the June 30 deadline. “Anything’s possible.”

“The goal is always to get it done on time, but most importantly, we want to do it right,” he later said.

Onstage in front of members of the press, lobbyists and other Harrisburg insiders, Martin propped up some of the programs he and his Republican colleagues have pitched as alternatives to Shapiro’s budget items.

To address Pennsylvania’s status as one of the least affordable states for higher education, Shapiro’s budget would redesign its funding system by placing community colleges and state-affiliated schools under one governing umbrella. It also would increase their funding by about 15% and cap the schools’ tuition at $1,000 per semester for in-state students with families making $70,000 a year or less.

Instead, Martin joined other GOP lawmakers last month to introduce a package of bills looking to create new grant programs for university students and expand pre-existing ones.

One of Martin’s contributions would offer $5,000 annual grants to students pursuing a degree in “high-demand industries,” such as teaching and nursing. Those students would be required to agree to live and work in that industry in Pennsylvania after they graduate for at least 15 months, or the grant would become a loan.

“We want to design something that gets more young people into those critically needed fields, but more importantly, get them to stay here,” Martin said.

Other proposals in the GOP’s higher-ed package include performance-based funding standards for state-related universities, including Lincoln University, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and Temple University. That proposal was introduced by West Hempfield Republican Sen. Ryan Aument. Similar programs have drawn past criticism from top Democrats and advocates for harming historically Black colleges and universities.

Martin also highlighted the Senate’s proposed $3 billion tax cut, which passed in a bipartisan 36-14 vote last week. Martin said the legislation, which would reduce the personal income tax rate from 3.07% to 2.8%, was pitched as an antithesis to Shapiro’s planned $3 billion in spending from the state’s reserves.

Each of Lancaster County’s House Republicans, including caucus Leader Bryan Cutler of Peach Bottom, indicated their support of the bill in their digital newsletters last week.

Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for Shapiro, did not say whether Shapiro would support the tax reduction, but he said in a statement that the Senate’s proposal shows Republicans are “coming to the table and acknowledging that we must invest in Pennsylvania’s future.”

Basic education

Funding for Pennsylvania’s K-12 schools will undoubtedly be one of the most prominent debates in the General Assembly next month, as lawmakers must address a court’s ruling that the state violated the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania’s students by underfunding its public schools.

Democrats who served on the Basic Education Funding Commission, led by northern Lancaster city’s Mike Sturla, sent a memo to House legislators last week seeking support for their proposal to implement Shapiro’s pitch to increase basic education spending by $1.1 billion.

Sturla said Monday he was unsure when the House, led by Democrats, would take up the legislation. The chamber returns to Harrisburg next week.

However, Republicans on the commission published a different set of recommendations for how to fund the state’s schools, and the party’s members have broadly stressed supporting alternatives to public education.

Martin said Monday that GOP support for a private school voucher program — a contentious proposal widely blamed for causing a more than five-month budget delay last year — is just as strong as ever heading into next month’s negotiations.

Shapiro said in his February budget address that he supports the program, though he vetoed it from the budget last year, and it was not included in his budget proposal.

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