Published On: Sun, Aug 30th, 2015

Pennsylvania Week in Review: Nope, no budget yet, but online voter registration arrives

NO DEAL: So far, the building blocks of a state budget haven’t fallen into place

NO DEAL: So far, the building blocks of a state budget haven’t fallen into place.

By PA Independent Staff

Another week down, another week without a state budget.

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf — big surprise here — still haven’t reached an accord on a spending plan. That led to some political theater this week as talks continued, but no real movement.

Outside of the morass that is the budget impasse, school choice advocates scored a big win this week, Wolf unilaterally enacted online voter registration and we took a look at how much taxpayers have spent to fly governors around Pennsylvania on the state plane.

Here’s a look back at another budget-less week in Pennsylvania:

Wolf implements online voter registration

Wolf on Thursday announced Pennsylvanians can now register to vote online. The only odd thing — lawmakers have yet to approve any legislation allowing it.

The administration contends existing laws already give the state the ability to implement it by obtaining electronic copies of signatures on record with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and allowing applicants to electronically sign applications.

So, people who pay their bills online can also register to vote on the web, too.

“Online Voter Registration is about making the voting experience more convenient and more accessible,” Wolf said in a statement. “It is about giving citizens an easier way to exercise their right to vote and establishing a clearer connection between the political system and the citizens. Online voter registration is secure, it improves accuracy and will reduce costs for counties by cutting down on time-consuming data entry.”

Twenty-two other states already offer online voter registration, with some finding savings attached to such programs. Wolf drew praise from advocates of easier voter registration protocols.

“For too many eligible voters, the registration process is a major barrier,” Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “Online voter registration will bring more Pennsylvanians onto the voter rolls, increasing participation and strengthening our democracy.”

PA school choice advocates get a big win in court

School choice advocates won a victory in court this week when a Delaware County judge rejected Wolf’s plan to de-fund charter schools in the cash-strapped Chester Upland School District.

As a means to mend the district’s bleeding budget, Wolf proposed slashing special education funding to Chester Upland charters and other cost-cutting actions.

Judge Chad Kenney ruled late Tuesday night Wolf’s proposal to slash $24 million in charter school funding was “wholly inadequate” and found the state’s lawyers offered a flimsy argument for doing so.

Pennsylvania school choice advocates leery of Wolf’s plans

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to plug the bleeding budget of one school district has school choice advocates bracing for a war on charter schools.

Earlier this year, Wolf proposed a state spending plan that called for seizing charter school savings and reduced funding for cyber charter schools.

Last week, amid a budget impasse in Harrisburg that’s frozen those proposals, the Wolf administration filed an amended financial recovery plan in Delaware County’s Court of Common Pleas for the Chester Upland School District that calls for reduced special education funding for the cash-strapped district’s charter schools.

PA taxpayers spent $357K since 2010 to fly around governors

Wolf doesn’t always drive the used Jeep that has given him such folksy appeal.

Photo courtesy of PennDOT

Governors are busy people, and Pennsylvania is a big state. That means Wolf sometimes trades in his vehicle for the state airplane, a Beechcraft twin-engine King Air. Those flights can be pricey, costing more than a grand per hour.

Since 2010, Pennsylvania taxpayers have spent more than $357,000 to fly around three different governors. So far, Wolf’s flights have cost just under $25,000. He’s not flying as much as his predecessor, Gov. Tom Corbett did in 2013 and 2014, or as much as former Gov. Ed Rendell flew in 2010, his last year in office.

Wolf has placed an emphasis on visiting constituents around the state, said his press secretary, Jeffrey Sheridan.

“He’s the governor of the entire state. He wants to get out and talk to people,” Sheridan said.

As budget stalemate drags on, GOP plan to override veto falls short

Republican lawmakers swooped back to Harrisburg for a one-day session Tuesday with a plan to override select portions of Wolf’s veto of the entire GOP spending plan passed in June.

It wasn’t exactly effective.

In fact, the constitutionally questionable strategy offered little more than political theater, looked doomed from the outset and ultimately left the state in the same place it was when the day started — without a budget in place and negotiations ongoing.

Making good on statements from earlier in the day, Democrats withheld the necessary votes to help Republicans reach a two-thirds majority, the requirement for a veto override.

“This is simply a ploy to try and get people to vote against human services,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.

Republicans said that wasn’t the case.

“What we’re doing today isn’t about politics. It’s not about trying to admonish the governor. It’s not about getting people on the record voting against stuff,” said state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York. “It’s literally about trying to fund these organizations and these services that literally everybody has agreed to.”

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