Wolf lets last budget bill become law without his signature
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Legislation directing the distribution of $200 million to Pennsylvania’s public school districts and authorizing up to $2.5 billion in borrowing for the state share of school construction costs will take effect Monday, the governor’s office said.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday in a brief statement that he would allow the bill to become law without his signature, after a fight with the Republican-controlled Legislature over which school districts should benefit most from the money. It is the same approach he took last month after a long fight with the Republican-controlled Legislature toward a $6.6 billion spending package, part of an overall $30 billion budget that he viewed as inadequate to fairly fund schools and wipe out a long-term deficit.
The law takes effect barely two months before the 2016-17 fiscal year begins July 1.
“As we enter 2016-2017, I look forward to coming together to reach a long-term solution to fix our deficit and to fund education at all levels,” Wolf said in a statement. “I remain adamant that we must take additional steps to restore the cuts from the previous administration.”
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Senate Republicans were pleased with Wolf’s move.
“We are pleased schools will receive their $200 million increase in funding under a bipartisan formula while at the same time fulfilling our commitments to funding school construction and renovation,” spokesman Jennifer Kocher said..
Wolf had initially sought $400 million extra for public school instruction and operations, a 7 percent increase to $6.1 billion, to begin wiping out cuts to school aid under his Republican predecessor, Gov. Tom Corbett. Those post-recession budget-balancing cuts, enacted in 2011, swiped about $860 million from public schools, most of it from the state’s poorest districts. The cuts dramatically widened the gap in per-student funding between the state’s wealthiest and poorest districts. That gap is the nation’s largest, according to federal statistics.
But Republican lawmakers resisted the tax increase necessary to generate the extra $400 million, and instead passed a no-new-taxes budget package with $200 million in additional school aid. They also passed a provision requiring that the aid be routed through a bipartisan funding formula produced last summer in an effort to distribute state aid through a standard formula going forward.
However, no school district will get less under the formula, even districts that get outsized contributions from the state compared to their relative wealth.
The bill also authorizes up to $2.5 billion in borrowing for the state share of school construction costs. Districts had complained that they had been waiting for years to be reimbursed by the state’s backlogged school construction bureaucracy.