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Budget deal teased in Pennsylvania

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(The Center Square) – On the 28th day overdue, a key budget negotiator released a hopeful, albeit stern, message indicating a budget deal may come together in August after all.

Senate President Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, said Friday that Republican leaders in the chamber are “actively negotiating” with Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro and “things are moving forward.”

“We understand the importance of getting the general appropriations budget to the governor before the school year begins, as well as funding for many organizations,” she said, adding that once a deal is finalized, lawmakers will return to Harrisburg in August to finish the process.

Still, she said, Shapiro could speed things up by keeping “his word” on supporting a $100 million program that gives scholarships to students who want to transfer to a private school, rather than attend their assigned school with a record of low standardized test scores.

The news comes nearly a month after Ward adjourned the Senate until mid-September, leaving the $45.5 billion budget deal unsigned on the chamber desk. Without it, the bill could not advance to Shapiro’s desk, where he promised to line-item veto the scholarship program.

The stalemate jeopardized millions in funding for school districts and public agencies that rely on monthly payments from the state to operate.

Even if Shapiro and Senate Republicans come to an agreement, House Democrats must also support it. The governor said earlier this month that Ward’s failure to broker an agreement with the lower chamber derailed the budget, and it was up to legislators to fix it.

House Democratic leadership agreed to the budget only because Shapiro promised to veto the scholarship program, believing it to be an unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer money to private schools.

It’s unclear what common ground may have been found in the intervening weeks. Until then, the House remains adjourned until Sept. 26 – though lawmakers remain on a 12-hour call.

The Center Square reached out to House Democrats for comment, but had yet to receive a response at time of publication.

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