Governor Tom Wolf delivered his annual budget address today, officially kicking off the 2019-2020 budget season and subsequent negotiations. In an attempt to strike a bi-partisan tone and in reference to Washington, DC, the Pennsylvania Governor called on lawmakers to show the nation how democracy was intended to work, here in the very state that gave birth to the nation. The major focus of the Governor’s address was on education funding and workforce development. He started by noting that he would not be proposing any new taxes. Instead, based on higher than projected revenues over the last several months of the current fiscal year, the Governor’s proposed budget is a $927.3 million increase (or 2.79%) in funding, totaling a General Fund Budget of $34.15 billion.
The overall education budget is increasing to $13.14 billion. Areas that should be noted are the following:
- Basic Education Funding: an increase of $442 million ($259 million of which accounts for the Ready to Learn Block Grants);
- Special Education: an increase of $50 million;
- Career & Technical Education (PA Smart): an increase of $10 million.
Some hallmarks of his proposal include:
- Statewide Workforce, Education & Accountability Program that will work with business, labor, families, students, and the education community to build on successes that have taken place in the past year regarding career readiness;
- He will also seek to put in place the Keystone Economic Workforce Development Command Center which will act as a clearing house to partner industry and educators with the resources to prepare Pennsylvanians for the workforce. He stated that he wants to ensure that workforce development opportunities are not falling through the cracks;
- Lowering the compulsory minimum school age of attendance to six and raising the drop-out age to 18;
- Empowering teachers through a new program called TeacherWORKS that provides teachers with workplace experience to understand what PA business needs are;
- Increasing the minimum wage for teachers to $45,000/year;
- Continued investments, in the amount of $10 million, in PA Smart, a workforce development program focused on CTE, STEM, and Apprenticeships.
The House and Senate Republican Leadership teams (who control both legislative chambers) assembled for a joint press conference to respond to the Governor’s proposal. Overall, the address was well-received, noting that many of their priorities aligned with the Governor’s. “Productive” is how one Republican leader described the Governor’s budget address. Senate Republican Leader Jake Corman added that the Governor’s budget is about $5 billion less than what it could have been.
All in all, Republican leaders offered what was perhaps the most conciliatory-worded post-budget review that Governor Wolf has ever received. And so, at least on Day 1 of the Commonwealth’s official budget season, the casual observer should be cautiously pleased with the state of Pennsylvania politics, especially when juxtaposed against the continuing hyper-partisanship the nation is likely to witness this evening in Washington, DC.
However, there are still hurdles for Harrisburg policymakers to face, starting with a continuing structural deficit that, depending on incoming state revenue, will be upwards 1 to 1 ½ billion dollars. And though the Governor did not include it in his budget address, last week he announced his support for soon-to-be introduced legislation which would use a new natural gas severance tax to securitize an upfront injection of $4.5 billion for a slew of popular spending initiatives, from infrastructure improvement to broadband expansion to underserved, rural areas. If the Governor and his legislative allies are serious about this proposal it is likely to become part of the spring budget negotiations.
The Governor’s priorities will be addressed in further detail as the budget hearings commence over the next month.