Identical measure introduced by Aument passed Senate panel in April
HARRISBURG – Rep. Dave Hickernell (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) today hailed Monday’s bipartisan vote of 18-8 by the House Education Committee to report House Bill 1159 to the full House. The legislation would guarantee that all Pennsylvania schools would continue to be funded at the previous fiscal year’s amount if a new budget is not passed in a time for the new school year.
“I saw firsthand what happened to school districts when former Gov. Ed Rendell held out for his tax hikes using schools as political leverage, and we saw it again in this most recent budget with Gov. Tom Wolf. 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.”
Specifically, the legislation provides that should the General Assembly and governor not come to agreement on basic education funding by Aug. 15 of each year, then school districts would begin receiving basic education subsidy payments in the amount they received the previous fiscal year until an appropriations bill is passed.
In 2003, then-Gov. Ed Rendell vetoed school funding in an effort to force his tax hikes on the middle class. At that time, Hickernell and former Sen. Noah Wenger authored legislation nearly identical to House Bill 1159 and put it on Rendell’s desk. Rendell vetoed the bill because he did not want to give up the only leverage he had to force his tax hikes, which was threatening to close Pennsylvania’s schools.
“Sadly, Rendell did not release the schools’ money until four months into the school year, forcing schools to borrow to keep their doors open,” Hickernell said. “The interest money for those loans was not repaid by the state. Instead, residents saw their property taxes go up to pay for Rendell’s little gambit.”
“This past budget with Gov. Wolf was even worse,” Aument said. “Wolf repeatedly vetoed school funding in an attempt to pressure lawmakers to pass his unpopular middle class tax hikes. Wolf’s vetoes of education funding went on for nine months.”
“While my colleagues and I are all working to meet the June 30 budget deadline, history has shown that intractable positions can result in costly delays,” Hickernell said. “According to the Auditor General, schools racked up $40 to $50 million in interest alone to keep their doors open with bank loans. Repayment of that money will again fall on the backs of those who pay property taxes.”
Aument’s identical measure, Senate Bill 807, passed the Senate Education Committee April 12 with a similarly strong bipartisan vote of 9-1.
“The only budget item the Pennsylvania Constitution requires us to fund is education,” Aument said. “We can have a debate about a governor’s proposed tax hikes or other requests for new spending, but while that happens our schools should continue to be funded without interruption.”
Hickernell’s and Aument’s measures would establish the Emergency Basic Education Subsidy Fund, which would be a separate fund in the Pennsylvania Treasury.
In the event of a future budget stalemate, existing revenue in the state Treasury would be deposited into that fund and would be used exclusively to meet scheduled state basic education subsidy payments.
“We have an absolute constitutional duty to provide for a thorough and efficient system of public education,” Hickernell said. “This is not about the status quo; this is about not going backwards.”