Government Affairs & General Updates
July 12, 2023
1. 10 things you need to know about PA’s budget impasse - Pennsylvania’s state budget is currently stuck in legislative limbo as the result of an impasse between the politically divided state legislature and the state’s Democratic governor – with no clear sign of the gridlock breaking any time soon. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any action – lawmakers have advanced spending proposals, voted on education funding bills and even negotiated across party lines with Gov. Josh Shapiro, but due to a multitude of reasons, a finalized state budget package has yet to reach the governor’s desk and be signed into law. In both chambers of the General Assembly, lawmakers have approved a $45.5 billion spending plan. The proposal includes a $567.4 million basic education funding increase and would expand funding for two educational tax credit programs by $150 million. The plan also allocates $100 million for Level Up funding for cash-strapped public school districts. The spending plan, which is contained in House Bill 611, would also deposit $500 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and includes funding for 384 new Pennsylvania state troopers. Before the bill goes to Shapiro’s desk, it needs to be signed by the presiding officer of the state Senate – a key procedural step for all bills. However, the state Senate’s next scheduled session day is on Monday, Sept. 18 – and Senate Republican leaders have not given any indication that the bill will be signed before then. Kate Eckhart Flessner, a spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, said: “While the Senate currently stands recessed until Sept. 18, we remain on a 24-hour call. We continue our work to complete the necessary components of the budget for FY 2023-2024.” Read More
2. Senate leader calls for action on code bills in budget standoff. Almost two weeks into the new fiscal year with the state's budget still very much in flux - the path forward only got muddier on Tuesday. While the state House last week approved a version of the 2023-24 general appropriations bill that originated in the Senate, Republicans in the state Senate have given no clear indication when they will send the measure to the governor. The Senate adjourned for the summer on June 30 after passing the GA bill, with the next scheduled voting day set as Sept. 18. The House adjourned for the summer on Friday, and Tuesday House leaders released a notice that their next session day isn't until Sept. 26. Leaders in both chambers can call members back before those dates if they determine there is a need to do so but neither chamber seems willing to make the next move - even as funding for the state-related universities and the code bills that authorize programming funded by the general appropriations bill, House Bill 611. "We still do not have a completed budget product. Please let me know if you plan to vote on any of the remaining budget implementation legislation. The Senate sees little value in returning to session and allowing House Bill 611 to reach the Governor's desk without addressing the remaining work needed to implement a budget," wrote Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, in a letter to House Democratic Leader Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery.
3. First state payments to schools are supposed to be transferred within days but delayed budget would hold them up. Late state budgets can lead to delayed state payments. The lack of an enacted budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 eleven days after the start of the fiscal year threatens several payments normally sent out in coming weeks. Payments to school districts, career and technical centers and charter schools are in this category. School districts are supposed to receive 15 percent of their special education funding allocation at the end of July, said Taj Magruder, spokesman for the state Education Department. Any delay past mid-July will impact those payments, he added. They are supposed to receive 15 percent of their basic education funding at the end of August. Any delay beyond mid-August will impact those payments, said Magruder.
4. Shapiro taps Comcast executive as administration’s information technology chief - Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration announced Monday that Amaya Capellán has been appointed as the commonwealth’s Chief Information Officer, leading Pennsylvania’s Office of Information Technology. Capellán is currently a vice president at Comcast, where she oversaw the launch of the cable and internet provider’s Xfinity app, and also worked on the roll-out of the Xfinity Mobile and Comcast Business Mobile wireless services, according to the administration. As CIO, Capellán “will lead efforts to improve online services and user experience,” the governor’s Office of Administration wrote in a news release. This will involve standards and policy-making as well as oversight of initiatives on computer services, data management and cybersecurity, according to the office. “Amaya is a proven leader with an impressive track record of digital transformation throughout her career,” Secretary of Administration Neil Weaver said in the release. “Her breadth of experience delivering results in the private sector will help us advance the Shapiro Administration’s priorities for digital transformation and customer service, and further solidify Pennsylvania’s place as a leader among states in information technology.” Capellán’s office has oversight on a number of crucial state database and digital system overhauls – some of which have seen delays that have generated pushback from lawmakers, such as the Department of State’s planned replacement of its voter registration and professional licensing databases. Read More
5. Williams calls for ban on legacy admissions at colleges after SCOTUS admissions decision. Days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities should not give preferential treatment to Black and Hispanic students when making admissions decisions, a Senate Democrat has responded with a proposal that would bar those colleges and universities from giving preferential treatment to wealthy, well-connected students. "In the recent Supreme Court decision, Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. V. President And Fellows Of Harvard College, 600 U.S. ____(2023) the highest court in the land struck down affirmative action in admissions at both public and private colleges and universities. Justice Roberts stated in the Majority Opinion that, ‘Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.' And the Equal Protection Clause, we have accordingly held, applies ‘without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality'-it is ‘universal in [its]application,'" wrote Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia in a cosponsor memo released Tuesday. "However, while striking down affirmative action in admissions, the Supreme Court failed to outlaw meritless based "legacy admissions," which is the practice of favoring applicants with family ties to alumni. Banning legacy admissions would be consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling which focuses on merit-based admissions rather than admissions based on preference." Colorado banned legacy admissions at state universities in 2021 and lawmakers in several other states have introduced similar measures, Williams said. Williams, of course, is the favorite Democrat of conservative Republicans in the state since he made an impassioned defense of a proposal to give school vouchers to help poor children escape failing schools. So, surely this proposal will be quickly and widely embraced by other lawmakers.