Capitolwire: Two Republican lawmakers announce ‘hold harmless’-type bill for schools, in case there’s budget impasse
By Christen Smith
HARRISBURG (April 13) – Two Republican lawmakers announced plans Monday to introduce what they call “School Funding Guarantee Legislation.”
Rep. Dave Hickernell and Sen. Ryan Aument, both representing Lancaster County, in a joint statement issued Monday afternoon said “protracted” budget negotiations sometimes leave school districts without dedicated funding, and their companion bills, to be introduced in both chambers, would be designed to prevent it from happening again.
It’s especially prudent given Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent comments to the media, saying he plans to be at the capitol all summer long, well beyond the budget’s June 30 deadline.
“The only budget item the Pennsylvania Constitution requires us to fund is education,” Aument said. “We can have a debate about Mr. Wolf’s tax hikes and education funding level requests, but while that happens our schools should continue to be funded without interruption.”
The bill borrows the concept of “hold harmless” — which assures school districts will, at least, receive level funding from the state year after year — and turns it into the Emergency Basic Education Subsidy Fund, to be accessed during budget stalemates that extend beyond August 15 each year.
“This legislation is not about keeping schools level funded,” said Hickernell and Aument. “It’s about preserving their existing state appropriations while a debate on future funding occurs if there is a delay in meeting the June 30 budget deadline.”
Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, well-known to history for his late budgets, once delayed signing the 2003-04 general appropriations bill for six months. Hickernell said the Legislature that year passed a similar school funding measure, but Rendell vetoed it, causing the state to default on two subsidy payments owed to districts.
“I saw firsthand what happened to my school districts when former Gov. Rendell held out for his tax hikes using schools as political leverage,” Hickernell said. “Given Gov. Tom Wolf’s most recent statements about his unwillingness to compromise on his request for $4.7 billion in new taxes, I think it’s only prudent that we enact legislation to ensure our children’s schools are funded without interruption in the event of a stalemate.”
Jeff Sheridan, a Wolf spokesman, stressed the importance of the governor’s proposed education spending increases – $400 million for basic education and $100 million for special education – and emphasized the additional dollars will funnel directly into the classroom.
“Pennsylvania cannot afford the same old tired ideas to solve our recurring problems,” he said. “It’s time to move Pennsylvania forward.”