News & Politics

PA House passes budget bill as Shapiro vows to veto voucher funding

The Democratic governor said he would veto the funding to allow the state budget to advance.

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at a press conference.

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at a press conference. Commonwealth Media Services

With Democrats and Republicans at odds over the potential inclusion of a $100 million private school voucher program in the state budget, Gov. Josh Shapiro on Wednesday promised to veto the program’s funding to gain the support needed to move budget legislation through the politically divided legislature. 

Lawmakers failed to meet the state’s June 30 budget deadline as disagreements erupted over the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success – or PASS – program, which would distribute $100 million in vouchers for students in low-achieving public schools to attend private schools.

The Republican-led state Senate approved House Bill 611, a $45.5 billion spending plan, last week that included $100 million for the program. Senate Republican Leader Joe Pittman called it a “responsible, sustainable product that allows this commonwealth to meet its constitutional obligation to have a balanced budget.”

After Shapiro promised to veto funding for the voucher program, the Democratic-controlled state House approved the $45.5 billion budget plan with a 117 to 86 vote Wednesday night. 

Shapiro has expressed support for the voucher concept in the past, but with legislative leaders in the Democratic-controlled state House opposed to the voucher program, Shapiro said he would remove the voucher funding to help move the budget forward.

“Knowing that the two chambers will not reach consensus at this time to enact PASS, and unwilling to hold up our entire budget process over this issue, I will line-item veto the full $100 million appropriation and it will not be part of this budget bill,” Shapiro said in a statement released on Wednesday. 

Shapiro went on to say that House Democratic Leader Matt Bradford promised to consider the PASS Program, as well as other tax credit initiatives, in conversations about how to address a Commonwealth Court ruling on the state’s school public education system. 

“Our commonwealth should not be plunged into a painful, protracted budget impasse while our communities wait for the help and resources this commonsense budget will deliver,” Shapiro said. 

“It is our responsibility to deliver a budget that addresses the most pressing issues Pennsylvanians are facing, and so with this commitment, I respectfully urge Democrats and Republicans in the House to now pass the budget bill that has been sent to them by the Senate and send it to my desk.”

Senate Republican leaders criticized Shapiro for promising to use his line-item veto power to remove funding for the program, with Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Martin saying in a joint statement that Shapiro “decided to betray the good faith agreement we reached, leaving tens of thousands of children across Pennsylvania in failing schools.”

The leaders added that House Bill 611 “is not the final step in the budget process” and that Senate lawmakers will await House action on “remaining budgetary components.”

Shapiro’s office said in a statement Wednesday night that the governor plans to sign House Bill 611.

This story is developing and will be updated.