Bipartisanship shatters after Shapiro washes hands of budget compromise

By Christen Smith | The Center Square 

Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro unveils his budget proposal on March 7, 2023.
Commonwealth Media Services | Contributed photo

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated since initial publication to include a statement from Senate President Kim Ward, R-Greensburg.

(The Center Square) – Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro blamed legislators, namely those across the aisle, for botching the budget proposal he walked away from earlier this week and instead telling them to fix the problem amongst themselves.

“But in the end, Senate Republicans did not close the deal with their House counterparts,” Shapiro said. “Rather than closing a deal that was within reach with House Democrats, instead they chose to send the state House a budget that was not agreed upon by all three parties.”

He also noted that House Democrats had other legislative priorities that the upper chamber refused to advance.

“Look, I am unwilling to engage in the small ball which for so long has stymied progress in this building when there was a chance to adopt a budget with historic investments in priorities of both parties and one that is fiscally responsible,” he said. 

Senate President Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, said Republicans spent two months “giving him all the goodies he wanted” in exchange for brokering a deal with House Democrats on the scholarship program.

“The truth is there was a deal regardless of what Gov. Shapiro says publicly and he knows there was a deal,” she said.

The comments come five days after the Senate approved a $45.5 billion spending plan that included $100 million for a school choice scholarship program the governor said he not only supported but helped draft.

The program provides scholarships worth up to $15,000 for students from low-income families attending the lowest-performing schools in the state. The money could pay tuition at a private school, among other services outside of the public system.

Supporters say it will help 250,000 children bound to “failing schools by ZIP code alone” – some of which have no students reading at grade level.

House Democratic leadership, however, said they’d refuse to entertain any budget that includes the program, believing it to be an unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer dollars to private schools. 

Five days after the Senate passed the budget, Shapiro said he’d strike the money earmarked for the program in order to preserve the rest of the plan. He said he changed his mind to prevent a protracted impasse, but parliamentary procedure will make that strategy ineffective, sources recently told The Center Square.

No spending plan can become law without enabling legislation, called code bills, in place. The Senate must not only return to session to sign the budget but also agree to the enabling proposals.

“It’s now the responsibility of the House and Senate to find a way to work together and iron out those details,” Shapiro said. “They need to talk to one another. They need to understand each other’s perspectives, and they need to meaningfully engage with one another, and they need to learn how to close the deal together with one another.”

The upper chamber remains adjourned until Sept. 18, and Senate leadership said Thursday there are no plans to return any sooner. The chamber will instead “await legislative action by the House on the remaining budgetary components, to see what House Democrats, with the slimmest majority, are able to advance.”

On Wednesday, in the moments before the budget passed the House, Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, questioned how a deal can be reached given the governor’s actions.

“How do we work together moving forward if we can’t count on a simple handshake agreement,” he said.

Shapiro deflected the criticism to reporters on Thursday, saying, “There was never a deal between all three parties that was acknowledged by all of the parties privately and publicly.”

“I recognize that some of them want to distract from the reality that they now find themselves in…,” he said, referring to Republicans. “They now need to get in a room with the House Democrats, and they need to learn to work together, and they need to work on these code bills and return to Harrisburg to get the budget bill to my desk.”

The state’s annual budget was due June 30. Without a new plan in place, funding will eventually dry up – leaving school districts, county agencies and scores of other programs unable to operate. 

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