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Pennsylvania Gov. Shapiro calls on divided Legislature to finalize budget past deadline

 Governor Josh Shapiro in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Commonwealth Media Services
Governor Josh Shapiro in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro called on the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday to return to the Pennsylvania Capitol to finalize a state spending plan, as the state government neared a week without full spending authority.

He disputed Republican’s accusations that he went back on his word on the $45 billion spending plan. Rather, Shapiro said it was a failure of the Senate and Democratic-controlled House to reach a deal on the final budget, and he blamed Senate Republicans for sending the other chamber a bill that they knew might fail.

“They may not like how this process played out, but it’s the process that they put into effect because of their inability to close the deal,” he said.

The House approved the plan late Wednesday. Negotiations had hit a wall over education funding, particularly $100 million to create a school voucher program to let students use state funds to attend private and religious schools.

Senate Republicans pushed for setting up the program, finding an ally in Shapiro, who reaffirmed that he supported the measure on Thursday. But Democrats in the House objected to the program, and Shapiro pledged to line-item veto to kill it.

It rankled Senate Republicans, who said they had agreed to provisions in the budget bill in exchange for the vouchers. Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward wrote on Twitter she missed his predecessor “because as much as we disagreed on the issues, his word actually meant something.”

Senate Republican leadership criticized him for lacking “enough respect and standing within his own party to follow through with his promise.” Shapiro said that was an “inaccurate assessment of the situation” that he was meant to get the House to approve it.

Republicans who control the chamber haven’t scheduled the Senate to return to session until Sept. 18, giving them the ability to hold up the budget bill until then without the constitutionally required signature of the presiding officer, they said.

Shapiro urged the Senate to return to Harrisburg to sign off on the budget bill, and also to work with the House to pass legislation to direct how money in the budget bill can be spent.

Other items that Shapiro had wanted in the budget bill — and that Senate Republicans agreed to in exchange for the private schools program — might need separate legislation to allow that money to be spent.

“It’s now the responsibility of the House and the Senate to find a way to work together and to iron out those details,” he said.