News & Brews March 16, 2023

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Lawmaker warns of deficit under Shapiro’s budget proposal 

House Appropriations Committee Chair Seth Grove (York County) is sounding the alarm over the “reality of a $2 billion deficit, structural deficit within the budget.” The progressive Pennsylvania Capital-Star reports, “Shapiro’s $44.4 billion spending plan masks a structural deficit by drawing more than $2 billion from the state’s nearly $6 billion surplus, Grove said.” What’s more, “Assuming spending continues to grow at 6%, which Grove said is a more realistic figure than Shapiro’s projections, the deficit could top $10 billion in five years.”

Senate committee examines school fund balances

Yesterday at a Senate Education Committee hearing, lawmakers heard testimony on school district fund balances in light of a recent state audit showing some districts are hoarding money while raising taxes. Committee Chair Dave Argall (Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill counties) said, “No one would contest that every school should have money in their reserves for emergencies, but we need to ensure that taxpayers aren’t paying for unnecessary increases. Today’s testimony was valuable as we review legislation to protect local taxpayers from unfair school property tax increases.”

House committee hearing today on school choice

This afternoon at 12:30, the House Republican Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Josh Kail (Beaver and Washington counties), will hold a hearing on educational opportunity in Pennsylvania. Among those scheduled to testify are EdChoice Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Martin Leuken and Logos Academy President and CEO Aaron Anderson. The hearing will be live-streamed here.

East Palestine ‘paradox’

WESA reports on the paradox unfolding in East Palestine, Ohio in the wake of the Norfolk Southern train derailment: “Independent testing overwhelmingly shows no evidence of harmful chemical contamination, while more than 100 residents are complaining that they’ve experienced new or worsening health problems since the derailment occurred Feb. 3.” Pa. DEP Secretary Richard Negrin pointed to “thousands of data points” that all “show that there are no measurements that have exceeded safety thresholds for short-term exposure.” Still unknown, however, are long-term effects. Additionally, health officials admitted they don’t know what to test for when it comes to testing for chemicals in people’s blood. And many residents continue to report health problems.

The latest on the school funding ruling

The Inquirer reports that Gov. Shapiro is saying Republican leaders in the General Assembly have ‘signaled’ to him that they will not appeal the recent Commonwealth Court ruling that found Pennsylvania’s system of funding education is unconstitutional. The story notes, “Senate President Kim Ward and Rep. Bryan Cutler, the House Republican leader, filed a motion Feb. 17 arguing there were errors in the ruling. Spokespeople for both Republicans said Wednesday they would continue to make that case; a hearing is scheduled for May 22.” That said, Ward’s spokesperson noted, “[I]t is our preference for the legislature to begin working together toward a 21st-century education system that helps every child.” Shapiro did acknowledge, however, that an appeal is still possible.

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