Pa. Budget Deal With Education Funding Boost Hinged On Compromise, Avoiding Controversy
The dust has settled on the 2016-17 Pennsylvania budget, and, as usual, debates over education funding and policy dominated much of the negotiations.
Last year this time, Democrats and Republicans were still miles apart on budget talks, and it took until March to come to resolution.
This year, a final deal was hashed out a mere 13 days late.
So how, in sharply divided government, do you get a deal done — almost on time?
By compromising, and punting on the most controversial elements.
"We made marginal gains this year, but it's progress nonetheless," said Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, minority chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "We don't seem to have the capacity to address major issues and come up with very significant solutions. We're inching along."
Gov. Tom Wolf had initially sought a $577 million boost to the state's main pot of public school cash this year, but he was willing to settle for $200 million to avoid another fight over proposals to hike sales or income taxes.
In the end, boosts were also made to special education ($20 million), early-childhood education ($30 million) and higher education ($40 million).
State Education Secretary Pedro Rivera says that's good enough for now — even if it doesn't yet restore the cuts that occurred in 2010-11 after federal stimulus funds dried up.
"When you think of the fact that the General Assembly and the governor were able to find a way to increase education as significantly as it has, I think it's a good budget for us to have this year," said Rivera.
Among the ways the state plans to pay those tabs is by hiking the cigarette tax and expanding gambling options.