Feds Shoot Down Pennsylvania Plan to Funnel Virus Relief Money to School Districts

The Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg.

The Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | D.C. transit agency looking at buyouts to avoid 1,400 layoffs … Missouri state Senate postpones session because of Covid outbreak among members … Texas AG controversy continues with whistleblower lawsuit.

The federal government rejected a plan that Pennsylvania lawmakers approved earlier this year to make up for shortfalls in certain state payments to school districts by using up to $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funding the state received. The payments—typically funded by gambling revenue, which is down 72% from last year amid a casino slump due to the virus—enable school districts to lower local property tax bills. In the majority of school districts, the payments lower homeowner tax bills by $100 to $400. Districts are now stuck waiting for about $200 million they’d expected. “That is the challenge that folks are dealing with right now,” said Hannah Barrick, assistant executive director for the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. “There’s not a lot that school districts can do at this point to adjust should those funds not come.” [Spotlight PA]

BUDGET WOES | To help avoid about 1,400 layoffs, the transit agency that serves the Washington, D.C. metro area is planning to offer retirement-eligible employees buyouts—basically bonuses to quit their jobs. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro, like many transit agencies around the U.S., has seen its finances battered by the pandemic as ridership collapsed and further federal aid failed to materialize. The agency is currently looking to cut over $176 million from its budget. [The Washington Post]

DELAYED SESSION | The Missouri state Senate has postponed a special legislative session following a Covid-19 outbreak among senators and staff. Lawmakers had planned to consider legislation during the session to protect businesses from Covid-related lawsuits. The size of the outbreak wasn’t immediately clear. Republican senators in the state held a retreat last week in the vacation town of Branson. Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Republican, said the upper chamber now plans to convene after Thanksgiving. "This decision was not made lightly and, although disruptive, is in the best interest of protecting members, staff, and the public," he said. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WHISTLEBLOWERS | Two former top aides to the Texas attorney general filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging unlawful retaliation over being fired from the department after accusing Attorney General Ken Paxton of bribery and abuse of office. The former deputy attorney general for criminal justice and the former director of law enforcement, along with two other aides, filed their suit in Travis County District Court under the Texas Whistleblower Act, which states that any adverse action taken against whistleblowers within 90 days of their actions is “presumed” to be retaliation. Paxton said that he did not fire the aides in retaliation, but because of “legitimate issues unrelated to me that ended up resulting in their termination.” Attorneys for the fired aides said that “Ken Paxton keeps doubling down on his lies. Fortunately, we do not think anyone believes a word he says.” [Austin Statesman; Texas Tribune

FOOD ASSISTANCE | Thousands of people lined up in their vehicles and waited for hours over the weekend at a food distribution event in North Texas. The North Texas Food Bank says it handed out Thanksgiving-themed foods, including frozen turkeys, to about 8,500 families. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it was more typical for about 500 families to turn out for events like this. [The Dallas Morning News]

TOURISM | It could be 2025 before tourism returns to normal levels in New York City, according to a new forecast from the city’s tourism promotion agency. “It’s going to be a very slow build initially,” said Fred Dixon, the chief executive of the agency, NYC & Company. [The New York Times]