‘Your silence is deafening’: Here’s who came away empty-handed in this year’s Pa. budget vote | Monday Morning Coffee

June 28, 2021 7:19 am

The Pennsylvania House (Capital-Star photo).

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Sometime this week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign the $40.8 billion budget that the Republican-controlled General Assembly sent to his desk during the late hours of Friday night.

Finding themselves awash in cash — thanks to healthier-than-expected tax collections and an infusion of $7 billion in federal stimulus money, this budget season was one of the least contentious in recent memory.

The two sides announced a negotiated product on Friday afternoon, and hours later, it was done. And Pennsylvania’s full-time General Assembly promptly skedaddled out of town, not to return to voting session until mid-September.

Activists and advocates across the issue spectrum each found something to like about the new spending plan, which, among other things, pumps hundreds of millions of dollars in new money into K-12 education, early childhood programs, and special education.

“With the education investments made in the state budget, schools will have to rely less on local taxpayers to pay for the growing cost of charter school tuition. For this year alone school districts are expected to see charter school tuition costs balloon by more than $375 million. Instead, school districts can now better focus on the needs of their students,” the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials said in a Saturday statement.

Earlier this month, PASBO released a survey of hundreds of school superintendents and district officials statewide that showed these officials planned to use the expected infusion of cash to help make up for a year of pandemic-inspired lost learning.

In its statement, PASBO reflected that priority, noting that “this is a pivotal moment for public education in Pennsylvania—and across the country—and how policymakers respond to this challenge over the next few fiscal years will define the success of our school districts.

“School districts recognize the weight of this moment, the challenges ahead and the absolute priority of moving students ahead—socially, emotionally, and academically—in a way that is sustainable and long-term,” the group said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, speaks a press conference on June 25, 2021 after the General Assembly approved the 2021-22 budget. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Similarly, with Pennsylvania’s cities — including its largest — facing a surge in gun violence, and with officials racing to stem the tide, activists welcomed the $30 million in new funding earmarked for violence prevention programs that will be administered through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency.

“This funding is a start in delivering on the foremost goal of the government: protecting the lives of its citizens. As this funding helps programs succeed in reducing violence in communities throughout the Commonwealth, legislators from both parties should continue and expand the support,” Adam Garber, the executive director of the gun violence prevention group CeaseFirePA said in a statement, adding that lawmakers still have more work before them.

“We must make this investment — not only to save lives, but to address the massive societal costs of gun violence in Pennsylvania, estimated at $12 billion each year, of which $567 million is paid by taxpayers,” Garber said.

Marilu Saldaña, a Harrisburg waitress who came to the United States from Mexico when she was 13, speaks at a Capitol news conference on Wednesday, 6/23/21 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

Lawmakers also praised other parts of the fiscal blueprint.

That included language in the budget-enabling bill known as the Fiscal Code that uses stimulus money to help municipal governments meet federal matching requirements for public transportation programs, as well as a $2.3 billion deposit in the state’s Rainy Day Fund as a hedge against future economic downturns.

“Our municipalities have navigated shut downs and regulations that change by the day,” Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, of Erie, who chairs the House Democratic Policy Committee, said in a statement. “Revenues were nowhere near what they would have been in a regular year and they were hit with all the additional expenses of operating during a pandemic. This legislation eases the burden of transportation improvements, and is the least we can do.”

But progressives, who spent the days before the vote pressing their colleagues to spend the full $7 billion in stimulus cash to fund a New Deal-style reimagining of Pennsylvania’s post-pandemic economy, shredded the spending plan that passed on a 140-61 vote in the House, and by a margin of 47-3 in the Senate.

Outraged that the Legislature’s Republican majority socked away $5 billion in federal assistance for future spending, progressives cast the state’s 2021-22 fiscal blueprint as a missed opportunity at best, and an abandonment of working Pennsylvanians at worst.

State Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, a “no” vote, slammed the spending plan “because it irresponsibly hoards billions of dollars of surplus funding that could be used to lift millions of Pennsylvanians out of crisis — some of which was exacerbated by COVID-19, but much of which was there long before the pandemic.”

Lee’s Allegheny County colleague, Democratic Rep. Jake Wheatley, accused Republicans of “[hoarding] money that was sent to support our schools, essential workers, and out-of-school programs. They want to control and hide these funds for their secret pet projects instead of giving it back to the residents of this great commonwealth.”

Majority Republicans repeatedly defended their decision, arguing they wanted to avoid a repeat of the 2010 meltdown that led to hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to public education when federal stimulus money ran out.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat [it],” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said during floor debate on Friday night.

Survivors of clerical sexual abuse rally at the state Capitol on Monday, 5/24/21, calling for passage of legislation that would create a two-year window allowing them to sue in civil court (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

But the voices filled with the most incandescent rage this budget weekend belonged not to lawmakers or those looking to their bottom line: It belonged to survivors of childhood sexual abuse who now must wait until the fall for lawmakers to provide an avenue to justice that some among them have spent years waiting to open to them.

“After the state failed to get a look-back window legislation on the ballot earlier this year, it is appalling that Gov. Tom Wolf and state legislators continue to be silent on this issue and therefore, are denying justice for child sex abuse survivors across the commonwealth,” Kathryn Robb, the executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy, said in a statement released ahead of the state Senate’s final budget vote on Friday night.

“It is beyond time for our elected representatives to stand firm and keep their promise to thousands of constituents and provide a window of justice for abuse victims and protections for Pennsylvanian children. Be warned, your silence is deafening and survivors and advocates across the commonwealth will not forget your [cowardice] come election season,” Robb said.

The Senate returns to voting session on Sept. 20, the House comes back on Sept. 27, according to the Legislature’s official homepage.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketCassie Miller leads our coverage this morning and dives into new polling data showing that younger Americans are tired of waiting for their elders to do something about climate change.

David Bowie and The Kinks gave her the courage to come out. Our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News explain how a Philly community program helped a transgender woman finish the journey.

A quiet spring has brought some encouraging seeds for Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party, Correspondent Nick Field reports, as he parses the latest voter registration data in the commonwealth.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a Michigan State law professor explains why a free speech win for a Pennsylvania cheerleader won’t do much to improve the civility of our discourse. And the Catholic Church’s latest contortions over communion for abortion rights-supporting pols won’t do much to keep folks in the pews, opinion regular Dick Polman writes.

En la Estrella-Capital, pidiendo financiamiento escolar justo, el clérigo, los activistas, la Concejal Helen Gym de Philly fue detenida después de interrumpir la Sesión del Senado de Pa. Y el proyecto de ley del Partido Republicano que elimina los poderes del Secretario de Salud y prohíbe los controles públicos de vacunas avanza a través de la Cámara de Pa.

Spotlight PA explains the consequences of state officials failing to clarify the rules around medical marijuana (via the Inquirer).

After 439 days, Pennsylvania’s mask mandate officially comes to an end today, the Post-Gazette reports.

PennLive talks to Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, reporting that she’s much more than her official role (paywall).

LancasterOnline takes a look at the legacy of Libre’s Law, and its impact on animal cruelty cases (paywall).

The Morning Call talks to Lehigh Valley law enforcement about the possibility of local police finally gaining the ability to use radar to snare speeders.

The Citizens’ Voice delves into lawmakers’ reluctance to change the funding model for the Pennsylvania State Police – which remained untouched during last week’s budget debate.

Over the border, New Jersey may create a new cabinet post to combat food insecurity, WHYY-FM reports.

The Associated Press considers whether Pennsylvania will see a spike in evictions — despite rental assistance programs (via WITF-FM).

City & State Pa. runs down last week’s winners and losers in state politics.

Erie County residents expressed their need for American Rescue Plan fundingGoErie reports (paywall).

The past year was the ‘best ever’ for the school choice movement, reports.

Politico takes stock of the ramped up Republican attacks on President Joe Biden on … well … everything.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The Legislative Budget & Finance Committee meets at 9:30 a.m., a live-streamed session today. And there’s a rally for probation reform on the Capitol steps at 10 a.m.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
Republican Commonwealth Court candidate Stacey Wallace holds a 5 p.m. reception at Federal Taphouse in Harrisburg. Admission runs $250 and $1,000.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s a solo track from Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton. It’s called ‘Who Are You,’ and it’s the latest piece of new music from the two halves of the veteran Washington D.C. trance act. Hilton’s Thievery partner, Rob Garza, also has been releasing new music at a rapid clip.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The Montreal Canadiens, who are headed to their first Stanley Cup final since 1993 tonight, are ‘historic underdogs’ in their match-up against the Tampa Bay takes stock of some of the obstacles facing the Habs as they make their run for Lord Stanley’s most famous piece of silverware.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.