Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro (D) is already claiming high ranking Republicans “are praising” his first budget. Those Republicans’ actual remarks tell a different story.
A press release from the governor selectively quotes eight GOP state lawmakers’ reactions to the budget he unveiled last week. While the snippets accurately capture areas of agreement, they leave out decidedly negative sentiments the Republicans voiced about the $45.9 billion plan which would hike state spending by about four percent over the current level.
In insisting Shapiro’s proposal “is receiving bipartisan praise from leaders all across the Commonwealth,” the governor quotes Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Greensburg) as saying, “The governor said a lot of things that we can all get on board with.”
Governors rarely if ever give budget addresses that don’t offer at least a few uncontroversial items. And Ward’s decision to highlight them was among the more diplomatic things she said in a press conference held in response to Shapiro’s budget address last week. While she observed that the governor’s first budget speech “wasn’t as ideological” as several orations given by his predecessor Tom Wolf (D), she reproved the governor for drawing too heavily on the state’s $7 billion General Fund balance.
“There are some things that are nonstarters like spending money we don’t have because we still have a structural deficit,” she said.
The state’s nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office projects that the commonwealth will incur deficits that will start at around $1.5 billion in the next fiscal year and reach over $3.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2027-28. Many legislators have castigated Shapiro for drafting a budget that fails to arrest that problem.
Ward also said she wished Shapiro’s education policy included “lifeline scholarships,” a proposed private-school choice program for students in poorly performing school districts. The governor’s plan does not provide for such scholarships.
Shapiro’s release also cited a statement from Senator Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) in which she lauded his ideas on property-tax rebates, workforce development and infrastructure improvements. But like Ward, Baker suggested caution at significantly depleting the state’s Rainy Day Fund to fill in an expected structural deficit or overspending to an extent that could intensify inflation.
“Inflation is still running too high and hurting too many Pennsylvania families,” she said. “We cannot approve a state spending number that will fuel further inflation or draw heavily against our Rainy Day Fund.”
Among the lawmakers that Shapiro cited, Baker was among the more diplomatic. The governor quoted from an Indiana Gazette article in which Representative Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana) backed several relatively uncontroversial budget items. But Struzzi also bemoaned Shapiro’s preparation to implement Pennsylvania’s full participation in the Regional Green House Gas Initiative (RGGI), a de facto carbon-tax scheme a number of northeastern and mid-Atlantic states are undertaking to address global warming.
“During the prior administration, then-Attorney General Shapiro played coy with his opinion,” Struzzi said. “He’s now shown his hand. The governor wants to create 32 RGGI-related jobs but, like his predecessor, has no plan to address the pending job losses in local communities, the inevitable rise in statewide energy prices and recognition of Pennsylvania’s existing natural resources as part of a balanced energy portfolio.”
Another blurb in the governor’s statement came from Representative Seth Grove (R-York), who called the budget proposal “a reasonable start to the process.” But the representative’s two-paragraph reaction didn’t nearly amount to the “praise” the governor suggested it did. “I am disappointed,” Grove went on, “the governor did not address our structural deficit or include enough program integrity initiatives to reduce fraud.”
Then, Shapiro quoted a tweet from Senator David Argall (R-Mahanoy City) stating that the governor “offered many good ideas,” but didn’t include the end of Argall’s sentence wherein he said “we need to determine what we can afford without overburdening PA taxpayers.”
Further down, the governor cites a Twitter post by Representative Sheryl Delozier (R-Camp Hill) who endorsed Shapiro’s proposed tax credits for nurses, teachers and law enforcers. But in a longer statement, Delozier also had this to say: “My main concern with his proposal is the increase in spending from this current year by six percent. This will deplete the Rainy Day Fund in five years and the Commonwealth’s reserves in three years.”
Senators Tracy Pennycuick (R-Red Hill) and Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) also looked more warily at the governor’s spending plan than his characterization of their remarks would suggest. While both senators said publicly that they saw potential for common ground, Pennycuick regretted that the proposal excluded lifeline scholarships and Laughlin called the spending level envisioned by the budget as “unsustainable.”
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Josh Shapiro” by Governor Tom Wolf. CC BY 2.0. Background Photo “Pennsylvania State Capitol” by Farragutful. CC BY-SA 4.0.