Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee Majority Chair Jordan Harris covered plenty of topics during his speech at Monday’s Pennsylvania Press Club lunch, from policy wins in the 2023-24 state budget to priorities like legalizing adult-use marijuana and how to go about further reducing the state’s Corporate Net Income Tax.
While there are plenty of conversations to be had on issues like cannabis legalization and tax policy, Harris said the issue that will likely take precedence in January is education, especially in the wake of the Commonwealth Court’s 2023 ruling on the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s public school funding system.
Here are takeaways from Harris’ Pennsylvania Press Club speech.
Education is the ‘No. 1 thing that we must address’
Harris made very clear on Monday that the issue of education – and how to remedy the state’s now-unconstitutional public school funding system – will be a focal point in 2024.
“What's important to me is we have to finally address the Commonwealth Court’s ruling about the fact that how we fund education in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional. It is probably the No. 1 thing that we must address as a commonwealth,” Harris said. “It is unconstitutional, and we have to fix that.”
When asked about the prospect of using state funding for private school scholarships, Harris said lawmakers should take a holistic view of education, rather than viewing it through a silo. “We actually have to look at the full breadth of education … in its totality. We have to get into compliance, we have to be constitutional with regard to how we fund education. That’s first; then we also actually have to do an overview of all the options that we already have on the table.”
Harris also cautioned against the at-times antagonistic nature of discourse around education. “The other thing that I believe that we have to do in the education space is we have to stop this adversarial part of it. We actually need everybody sitting down at the table. You need the district-run schools. You need the brick-and-mortar charters, the cyber charters, the private school sector – because these are all Pennsylvania’s children,” he said.
‘I want an on-time budget, but I’d rather get it right.’
With last year’s state budget completed well after the state’s June 30 deadline, Harris said that while he would like to see the next state budget be on time, it’s more important that lawmakers address issues facing Pennsylvanians.
“I want an on-time budget, but I’d rather get it right. For me, that's the most important thing. June 30 is a deadline and I think it’s a deadline we should hit,” Harris said. “But we have so many pressing issues right now in this budget cycle – that I believe will determine the future of Pennsylvania for five, 10, 15, 20 years in the future – that more than talking about the deadline, we need to talk about what we’re actually going to achieve and accomplish in this budget for the people of Pennsylvania.”
Democrats’ budget wins
Harris took time to tout several policies included in the 2023-24 budget that he says will bring tangible results for Pennsylvanians, including the state’s expansion of its Child and Dependent Care Enhancement Tax Credit, which now makes the state credit equal to 100% of the federal credit. As a result, Pennsylvanians can now receive a maximum credit of $1,050 for one child, and $2,100 for two or more children, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.
“Taking what the federal government did and matching that at the state level, I think is big,” Harris said. “There are Pennsylvanians who are going to get (up to) $2,100 back in a tax credit that’s money in their pockets because of the cost of child care.”
Harris also celebrated the enactment of Clean Slate 3.0, a bill signed into law by Gov. Josh Shapiro that will allow criminal records with nonviolent drug offenses with a maximum sentence of 30 months eligible to be automatically sealed.
“It covers nonviolent drug felonies, so that our brothers and sisters who want to get back to work, who have changed their lives, who have shown that they deserve a second chance – that they get that second chance,” Harris said.
Harris whipped votes from ICU in 2020 during COVID-19 hospitalization
During his speech, Harris reflected back on his time as minority whip of the state House, and revealed that he was hospitalized in 2020 following his COVID-19 diagnosis.
“COVID was crazy for us in the legislature. I honestly remember whipping votes for a supplemental budget from my bed in the ICU because I had COVID. ... You remember the supplemental budget we did in 2020. What you did not know is that while I was doing my work, I was literally sitting in a hospital bed because I had pneumonia in both of my lungs”
Legalizing adult-use cannabis
Harris doubled down on his support for legalized recreational marijuana during Monday’s appearance, and said the state needs to ensure it helps those who have received criminal convictions for marijuana crimes once lawmakers eventually come around to the legalization conversation.
“I believe we should legalize it. I believe we should tax it. But I also believe that we should deal with the restorative justice part of it. That means that everybody who has a criminal record for possessing marijuana and using marijuana – those things should be taken care of at the same time (we legalize) adult-use marijuana,” Harris said, adding that “there should be nobody walking around on the streets of Pennsylvania who has a record for using something that the state now sanctions.”