Budgets, and other legislative concerns.
The ghost of budgets past
The deadline for passing a state budget is quickly approaching. The legislature has until the end of June to put together a deal that will please both the Republican-led legislature and the Democratic governor. That’s a precarious process that rarely happens before the June 30th buzzer — last year’s budget negotiations lasted as long as the human gestational period.
But not this year! (Maybe.) Governor Wolf has scaled back his big asks in an effort to compromise with the legislature. Rather than $350 million for education, he’ll settle for $250 million and $34 million for tackling the opioid crisis.
The legislature could begin voting on the budget as early as this week, according to The Morning Call.
Other legislative priorities
Sure, the budget is still being worked out, and without it, schools, social service agencies, and hospitals face crippling cuts and suffocating interest rate hikes. But that isn’t going to stop the legislature from getting other work done at the same time.
The House passed a bill on Tuesday that would curtail access to abortions at 20 weeks, rather than the state’s current 24 weeks. According to Philly.com, abortion-rights activists say this would make Pennsylvania the strictest state in the country when it comes to abortion regulations. The bill goes to the Senate now, but the outcome is already decided: Governor Wolf has promised to veto the bill should it end up on his desk.
The House and the governor find themselves on the same side of the pension reform issue, but it’s the Senate that won’t play ball. The House passed a bill that would tie future pension plans for teachers and some state workers to the market, like a traditional 401(k). The Senate decided not to move forward with the bill. Advocacy groups say it makes teaching a less desirable profession. Some Republicans would rather see the state pension system dismantled completely.
New money, old money
Earlier this month, Governor Wolf signed into law a new education funding formula to distribute new state money added to the education budget line.
The formula takes into account student enrollment, number of students in poverty, number of English Language Learners, number of charter school students, median household income, and other factors to determine how much new money a school district should receive from the state.
In this year’s budget, that means $152 million will be distributed through the new formula. That’s a drop in the bucket — three percent — compared to the state’s $5.6 billion going toward education.
Keystone Crossroads reporter Kevin McCorry shows how the total money and the new formula are divided up — per pupil — with two interactive maps.
Suns out, guns out
Gun control has been in the news a lot since a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando. On the federal level, Democratic lawmakers are doing everything in their power — from filibustering in the Senate to sitting-in on the floor of the House of Representatives — to push for stronger gun control laws. Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators expressed disappointment with the gridlock around the issue in Washington. Both Senator Pat Toomey (R) and Senator Bob Casey (D) have proposed various types of gun control legislation in the past.
At the same time, the issue is playing out on a state level in Pennsylvania. Since 2014, Pennsylvania has had a controversial law on the books that’s made it easier for gun rights groups, like the NRA, to sue municipalities that enacted gun laws stricter than the state required. Fearing an expensive lawsuit, many cities rolled back their existing laws. This week, the state Supreme Court rejected the law.
The ruling took issue with the way the law was passed — tacked onto an unrelated bill — not with the content of the law. Lawmakers in Harrisburg are already preparing to propose similar legislation in a different, more airtight way.
Meanwhile, cities like Allentown are considering implementing previous bans on firearms it repealed because of the state law.
This is one issue that won’t be quickly resolved, on the federal, state, or local level.