Key Points from Senate Budget Hearing with Department of Education

HARRISBURG – Officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Education struggled to answer questions about Gov. Josh Shapiro’s broad higher education concepts and wide discrepancies in K-12 education funding during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee today.

Democrats on the Basic Education Funding Commission called for a $5.4 billion increase in Basic Education funding over the next several years. Gov. Shapiro is proposing to increase Basic Education spending by nearly $1.1 billion in his 2024-25 spending plan, but his proposed budget shows no increases in Basic Education funding after this year, raising concerns that the administration cannot pay for the billions of dollars in promised new education spending without raising taxes.

Committee members raised questions about whether the lack of funding in future years offered a false view of the true cost of Gov. Shapiro’s spending plan. The Independent Fiscal Office testified last week that the governor’s budget would eliminate all budgetary reserves and emergency savings by 2026-27, and also understated spending and overstated revenues by approximately $14 billion through 2028-29. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee believes that deficit to be $20 billion based on historical spending averages.

The governor’s idea of merging the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the state’s community colleges was also scrutinized by both sides of the aisle. Last week, PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein testified that he was not involved in the planning process of the governor’s plan, and as a result, he could not answer detailed questions about the plan.

During today’s hearing, Education Secretary Khalid Mumin acknowledged the concept was not bill-ready and characterized the plan as “wet cement.”

Full Hearing (Part 1)

Full Hearing (Part 2)

Majority Leader Joe Pittman questions the details and costs of Gov. Shapiro’s higher education plans, encourages incentivizing students to come to PA, and more

Appropriations Chair Scott Martin on the negative impacts Gov. Shapiro’s deep proposed cuts to cyber charter schools could cause for public school students

Sen. Martin on the need for more educational options for students, flaws in the governor’s budget math, closing educational gaps that emerged during the pandemic, the benefits of the Safe2Say anonymous threat reporting system, the importance of supporting career and technical education, and more

Video Highlights

The partisan Basic Education Funding Commission report supported by the Shapiro administration last month called for $1.1 billion in new K-12 funding each year through 2028-29, but the governor’s budget does not include these increases beyond next year. This raised serious questions about whether the Shapiro administration was purposefully underselling the full cost of his spending plan over the next five years.

Questions about the lack of a long-term plan on education funding and reform were raised. The education secretary could not lay out a plan to pay for the billions in new education spending recommended by the Basic Education Funding Commission’s majority report. Concerns were raised about whether the Shapiro administration is being fully transparent about the full costs of its education funding goals.

Secretary Mumin received criticism for not attending a single meeting of the Basic Education Funding Commission, and for withholding support for an alternative report that would have left funding decisions in the hands of the General Assembly and the administration.

Concerns were raised that the governor’s plan to flat-fund K-12 schools could lead to planning difficulties for school districts and potential property tax increases for local taxpayers. Additional questions were shared about how the administration would ensure schools would receive the proper amount of funding.

The department was questioned about the proper level of reserves that school districts should maintain. School districts currently hold reserves totaling nearly $6 billion.

Gov. Shapiro’s budget also proposed flat-funding for special education services after the 2024-25 budget year. Concerns were raised about the potential impact of this idea on vulnerable student populations.

In future years, the Shapiro administration is including reasonable projections of growth for budget items like pensions, but did not include the same assumptions of growth in other educational programs.

The administration’s lackluster support for career and technical education was questioned, especially in light of growing demand for these educational services.

The lack of details about the governor’s blueprint for higher education was roundly criticized. Sec. Mumin acknowledged the concept was “wet cement” and not bill-ready.

Concerns were raised about the fact that many of the key details about the governor’s higher education plan were not shared with PASSHE Chancellor Greenstein prior to his testimony last week.

Questions were raised about why the governor’s higher education plan focuses on building capacity, even as enrollment systemwide continues to decline.

Concerns were raised about the lack of attention to libraries in the governor’s budget proposal.

Gov. Shapiro’s deep proposed cuts to cyber charter schools could have a negative impact on many public school students, including some young people who are already struggling academically.

Details were shared about the department’s support for distressed schools.

An update was provided on the proposed budget’s impact on early childhood education. Questions were raised about previous overpayments to providers.

You can find recaps and video from every Senate budget hearing at PASenateGOP.com.

CONTACT: Jason Thompson

Key Points from Senate Budget Hearings with PA Game Commission, PA Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Agriculture

HARRISBURG – Officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) detailed how they plan to spend their considerable reserves to support the state’s wildlife and aquatic resources during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee today.

PA Game Commission & PA Fish and Boat Commission

The Game Commission’s budget has increased from approximately $130 million in 2019-20 to approximately $350 million in 2024-25. The Fish and Boat Commission anticipates a budget of approximately $95 million in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of $3.4 million.

The Game Commission maintains reserves totaling more than $500 million due to a windfall of new revenue from oil and gas leases in the past several years. PGC plans to spend $250 million over the next 10 years to advance priorities originally proposed by Senate Republicans last year to support clean water and wildlife habitat. The plan would NOT jeopardize federal funding from the Pittman-Robertson Act.

Fish and Boat Commission reserves currently total more than $150 million, approximately $56 million of which is discretionary. PFBC detailed ongoing efforts to use its reserve funds to improve dams, fish hatcheries and boat ramps throughout the state.

Full Hearing

Majority Leader Pittman questioning the need for both the PGC and PFBC, making the best and most efficient use of existing resources, the financial impact of PGC land purchases on taxpayers, and more

Appropriations Chair Scott Martin on using hunting and fishing revenue responsibly, supporting clean water and wildlife habitat, public money held in accounts outside of Treasury, and more

Sen. Martin Closing Remarks

Video Highlights

Concerns were raised about the significant growth in PGC’s budget and whether the new spending would be one-time expenses or recurring expenses that could create future budget holes.

The impact of PGC land purchases on local taxpayers was questioned. The Game Commission currently owns more than 1.5 million acres of land, which shifts a greater portion of the property tax burden onto homeowners and small businesses.

PGC denied offering a position or any advocacy on legislation approved by the Senate last year to use oil and gas royalty revenue to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Questions were also raised about PGC’s conversations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services pertaining to this issue.

PGC testified it will continue to monitor hunters’ opinion of the change in the opening day of deer rifle season from Monday to Saturday.

PFBC spending to improve infrastructure for anglers was detailed.

An update was provided on PGC’s efforts to respond to Chronic Wasting Disease in deer. There are concerns CWD could soon affect the elk herd as well.

PGC was encouraged to support wildlife rehabilitation centers.

An update was provided on PFBC programs to support disabled veterans.

PGC negotiates with the Office of Administration on employment contracts, which creates challenges in hiring.

Department of Agriculture

The state’s efforts to combat avian influenza were highlighted during a hearing with Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding today.

Farming education initiatives and the performance of tax credit programs for PA farmers were also discussed.

Concerns were also raised about Gov. Josh Shapiro’s plan to legalize adult-use marijuana. The budget includes $5 million for the proposed adult-use cannabis program.

Full Hearing

Sen. Martin on the potential impact of legalization of adult use cannabis without answers to key public safety and health questions

Sen. Martin on combatting avian influenza, creating rapid response teams, storage of the state’s current emergency stockpile, efforts to bring a large milk processor to PA, improvements to Farmers Market Nutrition programs, and more.

Video Highlights

An update was provided on water and soil sampling in communities near the Norfolk Southern train derailment last year. No issues have been identified, although the department intends to remain vigilant.

The impact of misguided energy policy on preserved farmland was explored.

Concerns were raised about the potency and public health impacts associated with legalization of adult use cannabis. The Secretary confirmed that no cross-cabinet discussions have taken place about what the public health costs would be to taxpayers.

An update was provided on the department’s efforts to protect pollinators.

Questions were raised about how to make the best use of funding for hardwoods research and development.

The department’s response to the most recent avian influenza outbreak in Northumberland County was applauded.

Gov. Shapiro’s plan to divert funding from the Racehorse Development Fund was scrutinized.

An update was provided on the Fresh Food Financing Initiative program.

The proposed increase in the Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory was questioned.

The success of the tax credit program for beginning farmers championed by Senate Republicans was highlighted.

The department was encouraged to explore ways to make better use of the state’s AgriLink Program that provides low-interest loans to support Pennsylvania farmers.

The secretary provided an update on improvements to the state’s Dog Law.

You can find recaps and video from every Senate budget hearing at PASenateGOP.com.

CONTACT: Jason Thompson

Law to Prevent Pennsylvania Taxpayers Dollars from Supporting Russian War Crimes Takes Effect

HARRISBURG – As the world reflects on the two years of carnage that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sen. Dave Argall (R-29) and Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity announced today that a new law has taken effect that bans companies connected to the governments of Russia and Belarus from receiving state contracts, grants, or tax credits.

“My constituents of Ukrainian descent have been clear. They do not want their tax dollars supporting the war crimes committed by Russia,” said Argall. “We should not be investing in companies that support the attempt of Putin’s Russia to extinguish democracy in Ukraine.”

“After Vladamir Putin’s unjustified and illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, I immediately ended the Pennsylvania Treasury Department’s investments in any Russian and Belarusian entities,” said Treasurer Garrity. “I strongly support Senator Argall’s work to ensure that no state funds are given to any company connected to Russia or Belarus.”

Argall introduced the bill that would become Act 57 of 2023 at the outset of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The bill ultimately received unanimous, bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Shapiro on December 14, 2023.

Act 57 of 2023 prevents companies from receiving state contracts, grants, or tax credits if they are determined by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Treasury Department to be owned, controlled by, or acting on behalf of the Russian or Belarusian governments.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, from the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022 to January 31, 2024, records show that 10,378 Ukrainian civilians were killed and 19,632 were injured. The office expects the actual figure to be much larger due to the difficulty of gathering data in active combat zones. Military casualties on both sides of the conflict are estimated to be higher than a half a million.

Last year, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the war crime of unlawful deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia.

CONTACT: Jim Brugger (Argall), 717-787-2637
Samantha Heckel, Press Secretary (Treasury), 717-418-0206

Bipartisan Committee to Audit Allentown Tax Zone, Study Job Prep Programs Based on Coleman Resolutions

HARRISBURG – A bipartisan committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly today agreed to produce two reports based on measures introduced by State Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-16) – one that calls for an audit of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) and another analyzing the effectiveness of Pennsylvania workforce development programs.

“Citizens need this kind of information to hold accountable their government,” Coleman said. “People want to know if their tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently.”

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) will produce the two reports based on resolutions introduced by Coleman and approved by the Senate.

Coleman’s Senate Resolution 110 directs LBFC to conduct a performance audit of the NIZ and Allentown NIZ Development Authority programs administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

Pennsylvania’s NIZ program was first established by law in 2009. State and local taxes collected within the NIZ are used to repay debt service and bonds issued by the Allentown NIZ Development Authority to fund various economic development projects within the zone, including the PPL Center arena.

More than $500 million has been invested in Allentown’s NIZ during the past decade.

While the authority allocated a lot of money, Pennsylvanians have no way of knowing if the NIZ has been an effective means of generating economic activity.

“The Allentown NIZ audit will give taxpayers their first significant look at how their hundreds of millions of tax dollars are being used by the authority,” Coleman said. “My goal is to give taxpayers the information they need to hold accountable an authority that is supposed to be serving and benefitting them.”

When the NIZ program first was established, estimates suggested it would have no negative impact on tax revenues. That conclusion assumed the NIZ would attract new economic development projects and businesses. The NIZ instead has in some cases resulted in businesses relocating from one municipality to another with no discernible net gain to the local economy.

“Taxpayers deserve to know if their money is being used to create jobs, or if it’s being given to companies that relocate from one part of town to another,” Coleman said. “Moving a company from one location to another doesn’t necessarily create jobs or grow our economy.”

Coleman’s Senate Resolution 169 directs the LBFC to study state workforce development programs and make suggestions to improve delivery of services to better help workers and employers. The resolution gives LBFC up to one year to produce its report.

Pennsylvania state government annually spends hundreds of millions of dollars on workforce development programs, but many unemployed workers lack the skills necessary to obtain good-paying jobs and employers struggle to find qualified applicants to fill open positions.

Pennsylvania operates several workforce development programs under the Department of Labor and Industry, Department of Education, Department of Human Services, and Department of Community and Economic Development.

“Despite the alphabet soup acronyms for various agencies and programs providing workforce development initiatives, we still have companies that can’t find qualified employees and workers who lack the necessary job skills,” Coleman said. “With all the money Pennsylvania spends on workforce development, companies should be able to fill positions and workers should be able to find jobs.”

LBFC is a bipartisan legislative agency serving the state House and Senate, and is composed of 12 members of the General Assembly. Coleman serves as one of LBFC’s members.

The committee, established in 1959, conducts studies and makes recommendations aimed at eliminating unnecessary state expenditures, promoting efficiency in state government, and assuring state funds are spent in accordance with legislative intent and law.

Coleman’s resolutions give LBFC up to six months to complete the NIZ audit and one year to complete the workforce development study.

Residents who want to learn more about Coleman can visit his website at www.SenatorColeman.com, follow him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SenatorJarrettColeman and sign up for email newsletters at www.SenatorColeman.com/eNewsletters.

CONTACT: Leo Knepper

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