According to a Capitol Recap report from Pennsylvania Legislative Services, by Sunday evening (July 26, 2009), the Capitol was empty and, according to those familiar with the conversations, there was a feeling nothing more could be achieved before Senate Republican leaders meet with their returning caucus members today (Monday, July 27) about options. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, cautioned in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon that he saw no reason to believe a solution is around the corner. “We’re still very far apart, and we still have a lot of ground to cover before we come to an agreement,” said Pileggi, who last spoke directly with Rendell late Saturday night.
House leadership (Speaker McCall, Rep. Eachus and Rep. Roebuck) introduced another omnibus School Code bill (HB 14) that contains the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) amendments supported by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC), plus the summer recess pre-K amendment. Unfortunately, nonpublic line items are not mentioned or discussed in the bill. This is a step in the right direction according to Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin County), Senate Education Committee Chairman, who is committed to changing the way we create education policy in this state. Senator Piccola mentioned that education issues must be introduced and then vetted appropriately through the legislative process. He says he will not support past practices of creating 200 plus page bills on which members and the public do not have an opportunity to react and shape the issues. Senator Piccola believes in the fall, when the education budget is done, there will likely be opportunity to create an “omnibus” bill, but it will be issues that are vetted and at least passed through one chamber before they are considering for inclusion.
The Democratic House bill (HB 1416) is where non-public schools still fare the best. Although it gives public schools a better advantage, nonpublic line items are level funded and actually increase by 2.2% due to the November 2008 budget cut. The EITC program is left alone at $75 million. Governor Rendell did mention to reporters that he would be willing to accept something smaller than his 300 million dollar increase to K-12 public education, but it would have to be larger than what has been previously discussed in earlier Republican budget bills. The Senate, House and the governor are still miles apart when it comes to education spending and have not made any progress in resolving this impasse.
Last Week’s Budget Negotiations
The House voted 49-150 to defeat HB 1416, which sends the budget discussions to a House-Senate conference committee. Two House Republicans said widespread dissatisfaction with the new Senate budget proposal, included as an amendment in House Bill 1416, led to roughly half the caucus voting to non-concur with it Tuesday afternoon. Although Governor Ed Rendell tried later in the day to portray the defections as a sign lawmakers support his education-funding plan, GOP members who spoke about the bill said the bill’s local funding cuts made it a legislative poison pill for some.
Governor Rendell reacted positively to the House’s vote to non-concur in the Senate’s amendment to HB 1416 yesterday, calling it a “tremendous victory for the children of Pennsylvania.” Speaking alongside Democratic leaders at a press conference, the governor reported the process will now move to a conference committee following a Senate vote to insist on its amendment on Monday. Given the protracted nature of negotiations thus far, Governor Rendell denied feeling any added pressure following the release of a Quinnipiac University poll showing his approval rating at a meager 39%.
The PCC continues to keep a close eye on state budget negotiations to be sure Catholic school students, Catholic hospital and nursing home patients, and recipients of services from Catholic Charities are not overlooked. Subscribe to pacatholic.org to receive the latest updates.