With less than one week to the June 30 deadline to enact a balanced state budget, I wanted to take a minute to update you on some of the recent votes, debates, and action – or lack thereof – in the Senate this month. We are no closer to enacting a state budget today than we were at the beginning of June and Senate Republicans have even canceled session days last week on Thursday and Friday and then again today because they refuse to come to the table to negotiate a fair budget that utilizes some of our more than $10 billion budget surplus to help Pennsylvania families, our student, and our workforce. 

And while budget negotiations take place behind closed doors and without any input from many legislators, the Senate majority party has continued to force their agenda and priorities through our Committees and to the Senate Floor for votes. Since the beginning of June, we have voted on 54 bills on the Senate floor – only three of which were prime-sponsored by Democrats. 

By a party-line vote, the Republicans passed HCRRR1 – a resolution designed to undermine our public schools and allow charter schools to continue to operate with little regulation or oversight. In a 2021 State of Education report, 82 percent of our school districts – in red and blue districts – identified mandatory charter school tuition payments as one of their biggest sources of budget pressure. The regulations that the Majority is seeking to overturn take important steps toward transparency and accountability in our charter school system and, importantly, will reduce the risk of the misuse of our public funds. Charter and cyber charter school reform will benefit our entire public education system – and after 25 years, something must be done to regulate charter schools and provide greater transparency and oversight of this industry. ​​

The average Pennsylvania school district pays nearly $4.4 million in total charter school tuition. These institutions use taxpayer money to sell the promise of a better education – but rarely, if ever, deliver on that promise and instead have more money than they know what to do with. And because of our lack of charter school funding reform, those tax dollars are paying for charter school field trips and giving cash payments to families. This is not just a funding problem – research shows that our public schools are still doing a better job educating our children. A study of Pennsylvania’s charter school performance released in June 2019 by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that students enrolled in cyber schools post significantly weaker growth than the average student in a traditional public school and the average brick-and-mortar charter school student. The report noted that “any potential benefits of online schooling such as student mobility and flexibility in curriculum are drowned out by the negative impacts on academic growth of students enrolled in such schools.” 

Republicans also passed Senate Bill 1124 –  unnecessary, duplicative legislation that seeks to implement steps already being taken by the Department of Human Services. This bill is a racist attempt to ​​demonize the Medical Assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – programs that are a lifeline for so many Pennsylvania families – and make it seem like there is something illegitimate or unlawful taking place. After the vote, the senate republican campaign committee (SRCC) that helps Republicans get elected to the senate took cheap shots on Democrats that voted against this bill. 

The Majority Party also voted down two of the six Discharge Resolutions filed by my Senate Democratic colleagues in an effort to move legislation on bipartisan gun control issues supported by the majority of Pennsylvanians. The prevalence and frequency of senseless violence in our country is taking a toll on everyone – and we need to do something about it. We can and we should ban assault rifles. We can and we should require universal background checks. Politics are standing in the way of real action on gun control issues and mental health support.

Senator Muth

The one glimmer of hope from this past week was that three of my bills were voted unanimously out of Committee! This is such a rare occurrence because Majority leadership is reluctant to consider anything with my name on the top line. Senate Bill 1286, which would increase the minimum daily pay rate for our National Guard members from $100 to $180 per day, unanimously passed the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. And Senate Bill 1160 and Senate Bill 1161, which would modernize the laws governing our athletic trainers, both passed unanimously out of the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee. I am grateful for the bipartisan support for my bills and thank my Republican colleagues Senator Lisa Baker and Senator Pat Stefano for working on these bills with me! Too bad Senate Republican leadership put their partisan agenda ahead of actually serving the public, otherwise these bills would pass out of the Senate and House and to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law, but that seems to only happen if you cut deals with the bought and paid for politicians in the House and Senate. Fingers crossed that some miracle occurs and our common sense legislation makes it across the finish line so that people’s lives can be improved! 

While those Committee votes were encouraging, I have not seen the same bipartisan support on the Senate floor. So far this month, I have offered amendments to four separate bills – not one of my amendments received a single Republican vote and were all voted down by a party-line vote. My amendments were not “radical” or “crazy” as some Republicans try to frame my efforts – they were all supported by public policy stakeholders, such as the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Centerthe Humane Society of Pennsylvania, and would have improved the mediocre /harmful legislation to actually benefit Pennsylvania residents, taxpayers, our small businesses, our environment, and even our animals.

On Senate Bill 1094, which made changes to the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, my amendment would have added the representation of alternative fuel or electric vehicle manufacturers; a member of a Hazardous Materials Response Team; and two representatives of organized labor that represent a commercial vehicle driver or operator.  My amendment failed because Republican leadership in the Senate would not support an amendment with my name on it and erroneously indicated that these perspectives were already included on the Committee.

Our efforts to improve biased legislation backed by special interests continued when I offered amendments to two separate bills that would have both reduced our Corporate Net Income (CNI) Tax and mandated a system of combined reporting to align Pennsylvania with 28 other states and ensure that big corporations operating in Pennsylvania pay their fair share. While I agree that our current CNI is too high, we cannot continue to allow tax loopholes (i.e., Delaware loophole) that enable big, wealthy multi state corporations operating to skirt their share of the tax burden. Reports show that our tax loopholes allow 73% of corporations that do business in PA—including most wealthy multinational corporations—to escape from paying any corporate taxes. A shift to combined reporting levels the playing field for Pennsylvania businesses playing by the rules; it helps stop corporate tax avoidance; it modernizes our tax system; and perhaps most importantly, it helps pay for the reduction in our corporate net income tax by increasing the amount of businesses subject to our CNI.  My two amendments A04694 to Senate Bill 447 and A04266 to Senate Bill 771 both failed by a near party-line vote of 30-20

And just this week, I offered an amendment to Senate Bill 907, which, as currently written, would create an Animal Welfare Board that is clearly intended to allow industry interests to dictate public policy on animal welfare. My amendment, drafted with the help of stakeholders, would have simply balanced the board appropriately with those who actually enforce, use, and support the laws designed to protect the welfare of our animals, instead of having members who use animals for profit. The Humane Society wrote a letter to our office indicating their concerns with the Board composition in the current Senate Bill 907.   

Republicans also voted down an amendment to Senate Bill 1083 offered by my friend and colleague Senator Lindsey Williams that would have allowed striking workers to collect unemployment compensation. Senator Williams’ amendment would have allowed a claimant, who files a UC claim and meets the existing eligibility provisions, to be eligible for UC benefits if the claimant is unemployed due to stoppage of work caused by a labor dispute. In the case of a strike, there shall be a 30-day waiting period, but the waiting period shall not apply in the event of a lockout. Under current law, no matter how long these workers have paid into our unemployment system, they are ineligible for benefits in the event of a labor dispute, lockout, or strike.

Because the senate rules are passed by a majority vote, and the senate rules state that the majority party is the only party with the power to decide to the legislative calendar, the Majority party continues to hold Democratic-sponsored legislation hostage, refusing to add minority sponsored bills to committee meeting agendas for a vote, and they are primed to do the same with our over $10 billion budget surplus – taxpayer money, YOUR money, money that can help address decades of underfunding of our public education system, make significant investments in our infrastructure, support programs and services for Pennsylvania families and workers, create family sustaining jobs, and begin to transition our Commonwealth to clean, renewable energy sources.  

We have less than one week to finalize a balanced spending plan that makes sustainable, prior-centered investments, which will continue to pay dividends in the years to come – unfortunately, I am expecting the Majority Party to continue to prioritize profit  over people, and using the excuse of “saving our surplus for a rainy day” but they fail to realize that it has been pouring on Pennsylvanians for far too long already.