House votes to tweak education funding distribution
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Tuesday to stop Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s use of a formula that targets extra subsidy money for school districts hardest-hit by past spending cuts, charging that he lacks that authority.
Representatives voted 111-81 along mostly party lines Tuesday to amend the fiscal code bill, an important component of the various bills that make up a state budget. The bill now goes back to the Senate for further action.
After budget talks collapsed in December, Republicans approved a scaled-down $30.3 billion budget. Wolf released much of the money, including overdue payments for school districts and social services, but has stressed the need for new taxes to increase school subsidies and rein in a structural deficit.
Democrats accused the majority party of wasting time on minor issues while state government scrapes by on a partial budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 while there has been no movement toward reviving negotiations.
“Here we are again, going through a legislative activity that will have no end in sight,” said Rep. Joe Markosek, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “Shouldn’t we be negotiating a real budget?”
At issue is a hybrid formula Wolf is using to ensure that districts disproportionately hurt by cuts under the previous GOP administration, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and many smaller cities, are adequately compensated.
Republicans say that proposal was part of a larger budget agreement that crashed in December and that he lacks the authority to use it. House GOP leaders contend that subsidies that exceed last year’s levels should be distributed through a new permanent formula that a bipartisan commission crafted last year.
“There are good reasons to reject this,” Mike Hanna, the House Democratic whip, told GOP lawmakers before the vote. “Your caucus is the only caucus that believes this is the way to go.”