October 12, 2023
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kirstin Snow, firstname.lastname@example.org
Is new leadership showing a new approach to legislating?
Marc Stier, Executive Director
Since Democrats finally took control in March, we have seen the House of Representatives pass a raft of legislation and budget proposals that not only reflect the priorities of Democrats and progressives but also has broad support in the state.
Little of this legislation has be taken up, however, let alone passed, by the Senate. Three months after the start of the fiscal year, the code bills necessary to complete the budget have not been enacted.
Last week, Democrats took a new approach, one that not only has the potential to finish the budget but could radically change the legislative process in Harrisburg for the better.
In three key areas, House Democrats, led by Speaker Joanna McClinton and Majority Leader Matt Bradford, put forward code bills and legislation that are bipartisan in spirit and detail. They advance Democratic priorities but also recognize Republican priorities, albeit in ways that make them more acceptable to Democrats.
Last Tuesday night, the House passed a tax code bill that offers Republicans net loss operating provisions in the corporate net income tax (CNIT) as well as an acceleration of the cut in the CNIT rate passed in the Wolf administration. In return, the Democrats propose to institute combined reporting for the CNIT. Combined reporting would ensure that multi-state and multi-national corporations doing business in Pennsylvania pay taxes to the state and ensure that CNIT rate cuts don’t make the state deficit bigger. Democrats also propose a state earned income tax credit (EITC) that piggybacks on the federal program, a cost-of-living inflation adjustment to the tax forgiveness program, and an expansion of the dependent care tax credit enacted last year with bipartisan support. The bill balances benefits for corporations with benefits for Pennsylvanians with low incomes. And it provides help for Pennsylvanians with low incomes in the form of tax cut programs long supported by Republicans, not spending programs.
Drafts of the education code bill balance authorization for $100 million in Level Up funding for public schools with expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (the other EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), programs that provide public support for children attending private schools. And it includes a number of reforms to make these programs more transparent and accountable, which Democrats and Republicans who are concerned about waste in government have supported.
The House also considered an election voting bill that changes the date of the Pennsylvania primary and allows county election boards to pre-canvass mail ballots, which both parties want. It adopted a Democratic proposal to change the mail voting process to reduce the number of rejected ballots and to require counties to take steps to help voters fix incomplete mail ballots. It also includes a new voter ID requirement, which Republicans have long supported. To ensure that legitimate voters are not blocked from voting, the plan gave voters many ways to identify themselves and allows everyone to vote provisionally and show their ID at a later time.
The first two bills passed the House. The voting and election bill failed, in part, because Republicans and Democrats reasonably complained that they did not have enough time to consider it and because the voting reforms got cause up in the dispute about moving the upcoming primary.
None of these packages are perfect from my progressive perspective. In particular, I’d like to see same-day registration instituted in return for Voter ID. But any genuine compromise is likely to have elements that people on both sides don’t like.
Two things are truly impressive about these bills, however.
The first is that Democrats are making an effort to forge bipartisan agreements, not just advance their own agenda. They did the same thing earlier this year in passing a minimum wage bill that paralleled as bill introduced by Senator Laughlin, a Republican.
The second is that they are legislating in public rather than behind closed doors. They are putting forward ideas that they know may be disputed or modified on the floor of the House or in the Senate and challenging the Republicans to do the same.
This is an extremely welcome change from the past when key legislative decisions were made in private meetings of a few people. This was always a bad practice. Without public discussion, debate, and votes, it is impossible for voters to know where the two parties stand or for them to weigh in on the merits or defects of legislation.
So far, the Republican response has been mixed. Republicans in the House unanimously opposed the tax code bill. Republican minority leader Cutler even, complained that the bill wasn’t negotiated behind closed doors before it came to the floor.
The reaction of Republican Senate president pro tempore Joe Pittman to the tax bill was quite different. He called the bill “intriguing” and a “step in the right direction.”
We can hope that, as a new leader, Senator Pittman’s response indicates the potential for Republicans to embrace this new approach to legislating. If both parties in the General Assembly and Governor Shapiro embrace this new legislative approach, they can work out some of the kinks in it by starting the public process of deliberation and debate earlier, giving both parties time to consider legislation in detail. (The House Democrats tried to do this on the budget by passing a budget proposal in the beginning of June, long before the deadline.)
If this new legislative practice takes hold, both parties and our representative democracy will benefit. And Pennsylvania will show other states—and the US Congress—how democracies can best function.
The Pennsylvania Policy Center aims, through its research and policy development, to create the tools that political officials, opinion leaders, grassroots organizations, and the people of PA need to expand our vibrant democracy, secure our freedom, and seek economic justice in Pennsylvania.