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HARRISBURG — Gov. Josh Shapiro made a lot of promises on the campaign trail. Now, he faces the new challenge of keeping them.
A month into his tenure as Pennsylvania’s top executive, Shapiro has so far avoided conflict and focused on what he can do unilaterally. He nominated his cabinet and issued four executive orders: one that updated administration ethics rules, and others focused primarily on economic development. None prompted much controversy.
But in order to tackle most of the bigger issues on the long agenda Shapiro laid out while running for governor, he will have to work with a divided legislature on notoriously fraught issues like regulating Pennsylvania’s energy industry and updating the state’s election laws.
He’ll also have to take some firm positions on topics he has previously avoided, like whether he’ll continue his predecessor’s commitment to keeping Pennsylvania in an organization that would cap carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants.
In the coming months, Spotlight PA will track Shapiro’s progress on some of the key commitments he made on the campaign trail, highlighting specific promises for the following reasons:
Shapiro emphasized them during his run for governor;
Passing them would require collaboration with the legislature;
Or they could bring different factions of his supporters into conflict.
One of the biggest focuses of Shapiro’s platform was a promise to bolster the economy and lower consumer prices for Pennsylvania residents. But he’ll need support from the legislature to implement nearly every one of the major policies he has proposed to that end.
Promise: Against a backdrop of rising food and gas prices in 2021, Shapiro said he would provide a $250 gas tax refund for every personal passenger car registered in the state (up to four per household) and eliminate the state’s 11% sales tax on cell phone service.
What’s next: Such tax refunds or changes in tax policy are either negotiated in the budget or via legislation, both of which would require the legislature’s cooperation.
Promise: Shapiro has said that the state “needs” to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15, a position that legislative Democrats have long championed.
What’s next: The move would require legislative approval, and many Republicans in the state House have previously opposed increasing the minimum wage. However, Democrats are now in control of the state House for the first time in more than a decade, giving Shapiro more leverage. The GOP-controlled state Senate previously agreed to a smaller minimum wage increase.
Promise: On the campaign trail, Shapiro said Pennsylvania needs to attract more businesses. To do so, he announced a plan to lower the state’s corporate net income tax — paid by businesses that are headquartered in the state and based on their total profits — to 4% by 2025.
What’s next: A change to this tax would likely be codified during budget negotiations. Last year, then Gov. Tom Wolf and the legislature agreed to lower the tax rate to 4.99% over the course of the next decade. Shapiro’s plan would cut that timeline in half and reduce the CNIT even further.
Pennsylvania’s corporate net income tax was previously the second-highest in the country, at 9.99% — a perennial topic of conversation when lawmakers negotiated state budgets.
Energy and the environment
During his campaign, Shapiro had the support of two factions that are often at odds: environmental protection advocates and the energy industry.
He repeatedly argued that the choice between the two was a false dichotomy, but has made commitments that could conflict with one another.
Promise: Shapiro pledged to have the commonwealth generate 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, one of his boldest goals.
What’s next: Shapiro said that this would be done by changing the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act to require that companies selling energy to the commonwealth’s Public Utilities Commission include a higher percentage of energy from alternative resources. The current requirement is between 8% to 10% depending on the kind of renewable energy source.
The act was previously amended in 2020 under Wolf. To change the percentage again, Shapiro would need the legislature to act.
Promise: Shapiro said he will put Pennsylvania on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
What’s next: Shapiro has indicated he wants to put money into plugging abandoned wells — a significant source of emissions in Pennsylvania — and said such an effort could create jobs. Likewise, he said he supports investments in and tax incentives for “zero carbon technology.” None of these plans have included specific details or timelines.
At the same time, Shapiro hasn’t committed to maintaining his predecessor’s biggest environmental accomplishment: joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
RGGI is an agreement among a consortium of states to reduce emissions by requiring fossil fuel power plants to purchase allowances to emit carbon dioxide.
Over the course of his campaign, Shapiro declined to say whether he’ll stay in RGGI, and committed only to consulting with experts in the energy and environmental fields to see if the program would raise energy prices, cost jobs, or adequately protect the environment.
If Shapiro were to pull out of RGGI, it would signal a “lack of seriousness,” according to University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann.
Mann has said that reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is possible, but will require Shapiro to “take advantage of the bully pulpit” and convince voters that legislative Republicans “block efforts to create a livable future.”
Justice system and public safety
Violent crime and public safety were popular talking points in the 2022 election cycle, and Shapiro brought the topics up often during his campaign. He made pledges that reflect the priorities of a range of Pennsylvania’s political factions, saying he will support “data-driven” changes to policing policy but also calling himself “pro-police,”
Many of Shapiro’s proposed criminal justice changes focus on the prison system rather than law enforcement.
Promise: Shapiro has “pledged to help hire 2,000 more police officers across the commonwealth.”
What’s next: Shapiro has not specified how he plans to accomplish this goal, but it will require collaboration with the legislature during budget negotiations and working directly with counties.
Promise: Shapiro said he would include a line item in his first budget that funds legal representation for indigent Pennsylvanians. Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allocate any state funding for the criminal defense of the poor.
What’s next: While Shapiro can easily include such a proposal in his budget recommendation, the legislature ultimately has to agree to fund it. Despite some bipartisan support for funding indigent defense in the past, no proposal has ever gotten traction.
Promise: Shapiro wants to implement new programs regarding commutation and recidivism. One would allow older incarcerated people to apply for geriatric parole. Shapiro also said he would sign legislation to expunge the records of those serving time for nonviolent marijuana convictions.
What’s next: Both of these policy proposals would need to come from the legislature, as the governor does not have the ability to introduce legislation. However, the governor’s office can grant clemency and commute sentences.
While there have been some similar attempts to expunge records, those past efforts lacked the reach of the policy Shapiro has proposed. Similarly, there have been bills introduced to allow for geriatric parole, but they have never gained traction in the state legislature.
Promise: Shapiro made several commitments to tighten gun control. He has said he plans to close a “ghost gun” loophole that allows sales of gun parts that can be assembled into untraceable firearms, enact universal background checks as a condition of gun purchases, and pass a “red flag” law that would temporarily withhold guns from people experiencing a mental health crisis.
What’s next: Many of these proposals would require the approval of the legislature. Republicans in Harrisburg have generally been unwilling to tighten gun laws despite being open to some of Democrats’ criminal justice priorities in the past. However, the new Democratic majority in the state House gives Shapiro an edge in the legislature.
The last significant change to the commonwealth’s firearm regulations came in 2018, when the General Assembly passed a bill that made it easier for law enforcement to take away weapons from people convicted of domestic abuse.
Throughout his campaign, Shapiro highlighted his work defending Pennsylvania against former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, and he framed his victory as a rejection of radicalism and misinformation.
Because the legislature has been unwilling to consider single-change election legislation in the past, Shapiro would likely have to agree to a more comprehensive bill that contains his priorities as well as compromises he’s willing to accept in exchange for GOP support.
Promise: Shapiro said he will sign legislation to allow counties to begin tabulating mail ballots before Election Day, a process known as pre-canvassing that is common in states with widespread mail voting. County leaders have been asking for this change since 2020, and Pennsylvania’s lack of pre-canvassing is frequently blamed for the commonwealth’s slow election results.
What’s next: Republican lawmakers and Wolf spent the past two years intermittently trying to pass an election bill that would have expanded pre-canvassing. It never happened, but not because there’s significant opposition to the measure.
The effort stalled because GOP lawmakers pushed to also include other major election changes, including expanded ID requirements at the polls.
Shapiro has signaled that he would likely accept some kind of stricter voter identification requirement in order to enact his priorities.
Promise: As a part of his campaign platform, Shapiro promised to improve access to the ballot box. He published a plan that said he will sign bills to pass automatic voter registration, which would sign up eligible people when they apply for a state ID or driver’s license; a pre-registration process for 16- and 17-year-olds; and a firearms prohibition at polling places.
What’s next: Like pre-canvassing, these kinds of changes could be included in a broader election package. Compromise would likely be essential.
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