5 Minute Read: How the Republican Budget Fails to Fund School Construction

By: Jeff Sheridan, Press Secretary

March 30, 2016

You may have read about the lack of funding for school construction (“PlanCon” as it is commonly called) making the news recently. While Republican leaders want to place the blame on Governor Wolf, make no mistake: schools are not receiving the reimbursement they need for construction projects because the Republicans did not include funding in their budget for school construction.

Let’s break it down.

Plain and simple, this is where things stand now.

As you may know, to date there are currently $120 million in reimbursement payments waiting to be paid to school districts for school construction for the 2015-16 school year.

Also, you may have heard that last week, Governor Wolf vetoed the Republican’s fast and loose fiscal code while also allowing their budget — which underfunds education and will create a $2 billion plus deficit in 2016-17 — to become law without Governor Wolf’s signature.

The Republican budget — that went into law on Monday — did not include funding for the over $280 million in total reimbursement payments for school construction this year.

Ok, got that. So this is why the governor vetoed the fiscal code.

The governor vetoed the Republican fiscal code because it contained unconstitutional provisions, gutted important environmental regulations, and undercut the executive authority of the governor. The Republican fiscal code also included a provision directing the administration to borrow up to $2.5 billion for school construction projects — which were not funded in their budget that did become law — while doing nothing to address the structural budget deficit.

Let’s reiterate: Republicans did not fund school construction in their budget.

Although earlier this week Republican leaders pretended to be shocked saying PlanCon projects are not being reimbursed because of the veto, their budget is responsible.

Plain and simple: districts are not receiving the reimbursement they need for construction projects because the Republicans did not include funding in their budget for school construction.

Without an appropriation, the Wolf Administration does not have the ability to provide reimbursements to school districts for school construction.

As a result of the Republican irresponsibility, school districts will be forced to take money directly out of the classroom to foot the bill for these projects.

So what are Republicans talking about?

Republican leaders will tell you they expected the Wolf Administration to borrow money to cover these PlanCon costs, which was part of the agreement reached late last year.

It is true that Governor Wolf agreed to borrow money in order to pay for school construction — this was part of the bipartisan, compromise budget that Republicans jettisoned before Christmas — but Republicans also pledged in that compromise to fix the structural budget deficit with new, recurring, sustainable revenue.

Unfortunately, Republican leaders did not hold up their end of the bargain. In fact, the Republican budget that became law on Monday not only leaves the deficit unaddressed — it actually grows the multi-billion deficit that Governor Wolf inherited from the previous administration.

This deficit is reality and it has been independently verified by rating agencies and financial institutions. But Republican leaders would rather play politics than work with the governor to fix it.

Why you need to be worried about Pennsylvania’s finances.

Republicans refuse to admit the deficit exists because they would rather be seen opposing the governor than working with him. But more than that, they have also denied the reality of the fiscal cliff warnings from PNC, S&P and Moody’s, all of whom issued warnings late last week. The highlights:

“We do not expect the budget to come close to solving Pennsylvania’s fiscal pressures, including its structural budget gap, which is sizeable and growing.” – PNC

“By failing to address long-term structural balance in fiscal 2016, lawmakers have pushed difficult fiscal decisions to the fiscal 2017 budget…Our negative outlook rather reflects our view that the state’s fiscal issues lie in lack of political will.” – S&P

Republicans legislators know that passing fiscally unsound budgets make lenders and banks leery of giving loans to the commonwealth, yet they continue to pass unbalanced budgets.

If we continue to ignore the fiscal reality that is a multi-billion dollar deficit, the commonwealth will plummet over the fiscal cliff and we will be forced to make drastic cuts to schools and human services. Without state funding, local governments will be forced to increase already too-high property taxes for middle-class families and senior citizens to pay for these services. So Pennsylvania taxpayers will pay higher taxes and get fewer services.

Let’s wrap this up.

History shows that Harrisburg Republicans cut $1,000,000,000 from education. So if you want to believe it’s Governor Wolf’s and not Harrisburg Republicans’ fault that schools are suffering now, think again.

Plain and simple: districts are not receiving the reimbursement they need for construction projects because the Republicans did not include funding in their budget for school construction.

School districts — and property taxpayers — are also facing the possibility of getting squeezed even more if Republicans do not balance our budget with real, sustainable revenues.

It’s long past time for Republicans to face up to our deficit and work with the governor on real solutions.

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