by John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
December 29, 2023
Gov. Josh Shapiro has adopted the phrase “getting stuff done” (sometimes using a different word than “stuff”) as the slogan for his first year as the state’s top executive. And to be sure, there is a decent list of accomplishments he can take credit for— including perhaps his favorite, the rebuilding of a portion of I-95 in Philadelphia in just 12 days’ time.
However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Shapiro. A top aide in his office resigned abruptly amid sexual harassment allegations from another employee, which resulted in questions about how Shapiro’s office handled the matter. And his first attempt at passing a state budget ran late after disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over school vouchers.
But he ends the year with a majority of Pennsylvanians approving of his job performance, according to a new poll, and a high national profile as a potential future leader, although he still has a long list of “unfinished business” heading into 2024.
Here are the top five stories (in no particular order) from Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration in 2023, compiled by the Capital-Star team:
Legislative Affairs Secretary Mike Vereb, a longtime ally to Gov. Josh Shapiro, abruptly resigned on Sept. 27. Shortly after his resignation, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported details of a sexual harassment complaint against Vereb from a former employee.
Shapiro’s office paid $295,000 in public money to settle the former employee’s complaint against Vereb. Criticism has persisted against Shapiro’s handling of the matter, including from Republican women lawmakers in the General Assembly.
Despite Shapiro’s vocal support for a school vouchers program, he announced that he would deliver a line-item veto for a $100 million plan as House Democrats said they wouldn’t support the $45.5 billion budget. Republicans in the state Senate accused Shapiro of betraying a “good faith agreement” on school vouchers in the budget bill, although Shapiro said there was no agreement in place.
Shapiro signed a partial budget in August and the final portions of the budget bill into law on Dec. 13. The spat over school vouchers has widened a rift between Shapiro and Republicans in the state legislature, although Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) said at an event the day after the budget was finalized, that she’s working to rebuild that trust with Shapiro and his administration.
A truck explosion on June 11, caused a section of Interstate 95 to collapse in Northeast Philadelphia. Initial reports suggested that it would take up to two months to repair the busy highway, but Shapiro and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll officially reopened this section of I-95 just 12 days after the collapse.
The news garnered national headlines, and Shapiro has touted the accomplishment often enough that ABC27 anchor Dennis Owens recently joked that the road “unofficially, in the Shapiro household it is the Washington, D.C. expressway,” an allusion to the ongoing chatter that Shapiro will make a run for the White House in the near future.
On National Voter Registration Day, Shapiro signed an executive order to add automatic voter registration for eligible residents when they obtain a driver’s license or ID card at PennDOT driver and photo license centers. Republican lawmakers grumbled that the governor should have gone through the legislative process, instead of using an executive order.
Shapiro said the order delivers on a campaign promise, one he views as a “commonsense step to ensure election security and save Pennsylvanians time and tax dollars.” Pennsylvania became the 24th state to enact an automatic voter registration policy.
Shapiro, who campaigned on a pro-choice platform during his run for governor, announced that Pennsylvania would no longer provide funding for Real Alternatives, an organization using reportedly deceptive practices that partners with anti-abortion centers to persuade pregnant women from seeking an abortion. While abortion opponents like state Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair) described the move as “sickening,” reproductive rights organizations like Planned Parenthood PA Advocates lauded the move as an “enormous win.”
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