Pennsylvania’s Constitution grants Josh Shapiro “supreme executive power” as governor. He is the elected official who is not only legally authorized but ethically responsible to ensure that the state budget is passed. However, Shapiro does not seem to view it this way. On July 5, he released a statement blaming the budget impasse on the divided legislature.
“Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with a full-time, divided legislature,” he said, “meaning nothing gets done unless it can make it through our Republican-led Senate and our Democratic-led House.”
The lawyerly precision in this statement is a little too cute — Virginia also has a divided legislature but they aren’t “full-time,” as though working more hours would change how much the two parties agree.
READ MORE — Sen. Jarrett Coleman: Shapiro sold out students
Shapiro called on the Senate to return to session in order to finalize the budget, stating that he will veto the Lifeline scholarships he supported. “Now, we stand at an impasse largely over one provision of this budget, PASS Scholarships, a proposal I support that has been passed by the Senate but one that [Democratic House Majority] Leader [Matt] Bradford has made clear does not have the support of the House, where it was voted down in committee on Friday.”
Shapiro’s request to the Senate came less than two weeks after his appearance on Fox News where he spoke passionately about education opportunities for all children. “Let me just say, in general, I believe every child of God deserves a shot here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and one of the best ways we can guarantee their success is making sure every child has a quality education,” he said. “I’ve been very clear that I’m open to that concept that you described a moment ago, but I’ve also made it crystal clear that I won’t take a dollar out of our public schools in order to achieve that.”
As the supreme executive power in the commonwealth, Shapiro should be capable of working with Bradford and other reluctant house members to pass the budget with the scholarship program intact. Shapiro not only owes this much to his constituents who voted for him based on this campaign promise but also to the will of the public based on a recent poll.
An opinion survey conducted by Arc Insights and published by the Commonwealth Foundation found that the majority of Pennsylvanians believe Shapiro is responsible for finalizing the budget. The poll surveyed 600 state residents with representation across age, race, and political registration. When asked “who do you think is ultimately responsible for making sure the state budget gets finalized,” 55 percent of respondents answered with Governor Josh Shapiro.
Of those surveyed, 93 percent believe the budget agreement should be bipartisan, and 65 percent believe Shapiro should honor his campaign promise and not veto the Lifeline scholarships.
The governor can keep his promise to Pennsylvania children and families — all it takes is a little courage.
It’s time for the governor to put his big-boy pants on and stop blaming a few house Democrats for the impasse. Shapiro’s job is to close the deal he negotiated with both the House and the Senate. Is he really going to let Representative Bradford, whose local office sits in one of the worst-performing districts in the state, have the final say on the Lifeline scholarships? Shapiro should be calling on Bradford and the remaining hold-out Democrats to come back to the table and negotiate in good faith, rather than asking the Republican Senate to return after passing a “reasonable budget.”
The senate managed to complete its job and work across the aisle with support from Democratic senator Anthony Williams from Philadelphia. In a recent interview with Broad + Liberty, Williams explained his position on the Lifeline scholarships. “My hope is that this new energy around the possibility of a scholarship is viewed as simply what it is — and that’s support for a population of people who don’t have the financial means to move their children to where others would move their children to a school that works and educates and is safe. And that’s all we’re trying to do.”
One of the unwritten parts of that “supreme executive power” Shapiro possesses is the bully pulpit — the power to get the state’s attention and speak to a point more forceful and with more widespread coverage than any other state official.
He would be speaking to an electorate that, as the Arc Insights poll shows, widely supports school choice — an electorate that voted for him overwhelmingly in part because he supported it, too. That same electorate elected a Republican majority state senate. That same electorate voted for Republican state house candidates over Democrats by 379,000 votes and only gave the gerrymandered House to Democrats by a single seat. (If these numbers were reversed, they would be mentioned in every mainstream media story about the state legislature).
Even among the Democrats that make up the one-seat (whoops, now zero-seat) majority in the House, there are school choice supporters. The votes are there. The public support is there. The governor can keep his promise to Pennsylvania children and families — all it takes is a little courage.
Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at email@example.com.
Kyle Sammin is Broad + Liberty’s editor-at-large.