The Pennsylvania budget is due June 30. These issues could be sticking points.

Questions about education, income tax and recreational vice remain unresolved as Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro's second budget proposal approaches the June 30 deadline.

The 2023-24 spending plan wasn't fully completed until mid-December. Shapiro's veto of a $100 million Lifeline Scholarship voucher program he'd vocally supported angered Republicans in Harrisburg and contributed to a contentious budgeting process.

Professor Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown, said the environment in Harrisburg is tricky and fairly unique because Democrats control the House of Representatives while Republicans control the Senate.

"Like most election year budget cycles, there is a pressure to get things wrapped up fairly quickly. That doesn't mean it's going to get done in a perfect, timely manner," Borick said.

"That's tough to achieve in Pennsylvania these days."

Will Pa. public education spending increase?

In February 2023, Commonwealth Court judges ruled in favor of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the NAACP in a landmark education case. The decision amplified an already lively debate about how schooling for children should be handled in Pennsylvania.

House Bill 2370 is part of Democrats' answer to this question.

Adopting recommendations from the Basic Education Funding Commission — comprised of six Democratic legislators, six Republican legislators and three Shapiro appointees — the bill would increase public education spending by more than $1 billion in 2024-25 and cap per-student spending for private cyber schools at $8,000. This plan was adopted in a largely party-line vote of the commission, with all Republican members in opposition.

“We are constitutionally required to enact a thorough and efficient system of public education and in this historic moment we are finally realizing fair, equitable and adequate funding for all schools,” state Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Philadelphia, said in a prepared statement.

“As a member of the Basic Education Funding Commission, I talked with students, faculty and staff across the state to help devise our recommendations which are reflected in this bill today. This is a big win for the School District of Philadelphia and underfunded rural, urban and suburban schools across Pennsylvania."

Though five Republicans joined Democrats in supporting this measure in the House, it faces longer odds in the GOP-led state Senate.

Republicans and other school choice allies have instead pushed for a voucher system designed for low-income students in school districts that perform in the bottom 15%. House Bill 2370 includes no money for this program.

Further, Democrats' ambitious seven-year public school spending increase could directly conflict with another Republican initiative: cutting taxes.

Will Pa. cut the income tax rate?

Senate Bill 269 would reduce the personal income tax rate from 3.07 to 2.8% and eliminate the Gross Reciepts Tax on electricity effective at the start of 2025. The income tax reduction amounts to approximately 10%, and an estimate from the libertarian-leaning Commonwealth Foundation suggests that an average family of four would save approximately $900 annually.

This bill enjoyed partial bipartisan support in the Senate, passing by a 36-14 vote that included several Democrats.

“As we go through budget negotiations, and the push and pull of wherever we may end up, our Senate Republican Caucus is going to continue to fight for Pennsylvania taxpayers, first and foremost," Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said in a prepared statement. "There has been a lot of discussion about $3 billion of additional spending.

"Our point of view is if we’re going to invest $3 billion, we should invest it back into the taxpayers."

The $3 billion referenced by Pittman is part of more than $13 billion in surplus and Rainy Day Fund money that could be used in Shapiro's budget. Republicans have generally argued against spending increases, as the commonwealth's Independent Fiscal Office has projected that reserve funds could be depleted as soon as 2026-27.

According to a Senate Appropriations Committee analysis, the GOP plan to slash the income tax to a level unseen since before former Gov. Ed Rendell was in office would reduce state revenue by $614 million in the first year alone.

"It opens the door for those partisan preferences," Borick said of the commonwealth's fairly comfortable fiscal situation. "With those drivers in place, and all coming in an election year, you start to think, is there room for a compromise on those big-ticket items? Can something be reached?

"I think the answer is yes."

Recreational marijuana, skill games taxes possible

In Shapiro's budget address, he called for the Legislature to come up with a regulatory and tax structure for Pennsylvania skill games and for recreational marijuana. Both topics remain in limbo amid budget negotiations.

Borick said he wouldn't be shocked if lawmakers make a deal on taxing skill games, as the courts have ruled that these electronic consoles can't be outlawed as games of chance.

Main Street, not mafia: How gaming in Pennsylvania entered a new era, and what's next

"There's a fiscal upside to obviously engaging on that. It sounds like a place where a compromise wouldn't be incredibly hard to achieve," he said.

"Of course, that's easier said than done."

Borick is less bullish about recreational marijuana's prospects. He noted that some conservative Republicans are reluctant to repeal its prohibitions.

"I don't know that its time has come yet," Borick said.

More: Time to legalize pot? Shapiro calls for Pa. to join neighbors on cannabis policy

What if the Pa. budget isn't passed on time?

Though a brief budget impasse won't create any immediate problems, prolonged delays can disrupt state funding to the subdivisions of government. Various school programs — or county-run mental health services, for example — can be affected if the budget remains incomplete for months.

County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania Executive Director Lisa Schaefer said local officials sometimes take on new loans or tap into reserves to prevent communities from feeling the squeeze.

"It is a matter of trying to keep things going in that interim period," said Schaefer, who's been engaged with the state budgeting process for more than two decades. "Counties will do everything to make sure their residents aren't impacted."

She added that she has no prediction on the outcome of this budget, noting that there's often an unexpected twist in the process.

Rabbi Michael Pollack, a political observer and activist with the nonprofit March on Harrisburg organization, said he doesn't expect any radical departures from the Capitol's status quo. He pointed out, however, that every seat in the state House is on the ballot, which can affect how the incumbents handle their jobs.

"(The budget) could happen smoothly because everyone just wants to go home and get to campaigning," Pollack said.

Elizabeth Rementer, press secretary for House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, expressed some optimism regarding the prospect of an on-time budget. She told the USA TODAY Network in an email that conversations with the governor and caucus leaders are ongoing.

"Given our ongoing positive financial health, we have a historic opportunity to advance Pennsylvania’s competitiveness by investing in our children and promoting growth," Rementer said.

Bruce Siwy is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania state capital bureau. He can be reached at bsiwy@gannett.com or on X at @BruceSiwy.

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Will PA lower income tax rate in 2024?

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