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Pennsylvania Budget Stalemate Ends, Clearing Way for School Aid

An eight-month budget stalemate in Pennsylvania ended Wednesday when Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, backed off his threat to veto a spending plan passed by Republican lawmakers, freeing up millions of dollars in education funding to districts.

But the plan, which will go into effect Monday, provides school districts with just half of the $400 million funding increase Wolf originally sought, according to the Associated Press. It will will distribute $6.6 billion—a 3 percent increase in statewide spending— without raising taxes. 

It's the last piece of a $30 billion spending plan, of which more than $9 billion will be spent on the state's K-12 system. 

The standoff, which started in July, had pitted the legislature against Wolf and led school districts to borrow up to $900 million to stay afloat as of last December and to threaten to shut their doors. Later that month, Wolf signed an emergency reprieve that released money to districts. In January, the state's school boards association sued the state, arguing that Pennsylvania had failed to uphold its constitutional fiduciary duty to adequately fund schools.  

At the center of the debate was a proposal by Wolf to provide hundreds of millions of more dollars to public schools and pay down a ballooning public employee pension fund liability by raising taxes. 

The plan approved Wednesday does not resolve those issues, and Wolf insisted that the state will still need to raise taxes in the coming years to avoid a crisis. Wolf refused to sign the document.  

"What I did do is bring attention to the fact that we have this big structural deficit, we have this train wreck coming at us July 1 ... and I believe that everybody in [the state capital of] Harrisburg now understands that," Wolf told the AP.

With the 2015-16 budget passed, the legislature now will attempt to create a budget for the next fiscal year.  

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