Image courtesy of The Office of Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr
Governor Wolf unveiled his FY 2020/2021 state budget, February 4th, 2020.
The Governor’s $36.056 billion budget, a 4.2% or $1.4 billion increase over the current fiscal year would include no new taxes and invest in workforce initiatives as well as education across all levels and economic development.
In his proposal address, Gov. Wolf highlighted the work of the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, created last February. This Command Center is led by representatives from both business and labor community, as well as state officials. The Governor touted the group’s inaugural report and recommendations released last week which cites 42 recommendations in an attempt to address five major barriers to improving workforce readiness and development: transportation, affordable and reliable childcare, lack of access to certain types of training, the complexity of the state’s occupational licensure system and the challenges of re-entry into the workforce from the criminal justice system.
A number of the Governor’s 6th budget address proposals focused on addressing elements of the Command Center’s recommendations, including:
- The Governor intends to add $200 million in grant monies for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to cover the full cost of tuition, up to six years for full-time students, to make available for both in-state and out-of-state students. Graduates would be required to remain in Pennsylvania for the same number of years they received the grant funds; otherwise, the grants would convert into low interest loans. Those students with the most need, including Pell Grant and PHEAA aid recipients, would be prioritized applicants. The $200 million needed for this grant program, the Governor said, would be repurposed from existing tax dollars flowing into the Horse Racing Development Fund.
Early Childhood and Public Education
- The Governor also proposed universal, free full-day kindergarten across the state – a proposal that would not be optional. Currently, there are 72 schools that do not offer full-day kindergarten.
- The Governor’s plan would also increase funding to PreK Counts by $25 million and Head Start Supplemental by $5 million. However, there is no proposed “per child” rate increase for PreK funding – a factor that is especially important to providers as they grapple with dwindling budgets and high-quality requirements.
- The Governor once again asked for an increase to the minimum teacher salary from $18,500 to $45,000.
- While the Governor recognized the importance of school choice, he still; however, proposed dramatic and burdensome changes to the charter school law that he suggests will save school districts $280 million per year. These proposed changes include a new (tiered) special education funding formula to charter schools as well as the establishment of a statewide tuition rate for cyber schools at $9,500 per student, per year while current rates hover between $7,700 and $21,400. Note: Our charter school clients see the savings number that the Governor cited as completely unfounded and believe that the proposed reduction in funding would be devasting to charter schools and the students they serve.
- Finally, the Governor called on the legislature to allow school districts to apply for capital grant funding by expanding Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) by $1 billion to upgrade and fix “toxic” lead- and asbestos-tainted school buildings.
Workforce and Economic Development
- The Governor spoke of his Innovation Pa proposal, released last week, which would boost investments totaling $12.35 million and focused on spurring more high-tech start-up companies, bolstering a growing advanced manufacturing segment of the economy and helping to increase support for the PREP network, including the Local Development Districts, who are the leading community and economic development agencies across the 52 Appalachia counties.
- The Governor again called on the General Assembly to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Additional topics reflected in the Governor’s budget plan for the year were assistance to citizens with intellectual disabilities and autism, the mitigation of gun violence, a healthcare reform plan, a greenhouse gas initiative and the re-training of citizens released by our Corrections system.
Intellectual Disabilities and Autism
The Governor also advanced a proposal to invest an additional $15 million in funding to serve 100 more individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism which will help to reduce the size of waiting lists. Providers such as SPIN and Keystone Human Services will be able to expand their services to this population in the state. Additionally, he has proposed $10.5 million for residents in the state facilities of White Haven and Polk, currently slated to close over the next three years, so that they may transition into community centers.
Reduce Gun Violence in PA
Gun violence also returned to center-stage as the Governor appealed to lawmakers to come to agreement on $6 million in grants to advance strategies and policies that reduce and prevent gun violence and killings in communities statewide.
Governor Wolf also shared that he will be unveiling a Healthcare Reform plan in the coming weeks for Pennsylvanians. He stated that his plan will be addressing prescription drug costs, consumer protections and the empowerment of citizens with regard to health insurance.
Greenhouse Gas Initiative
On the Governor’s agenda this year and reflected in his budget proposal, he anticipates that his regional greenhouse gas initiative will raise millions more and improve transportation. With this he is proposing a Department of Environmental Staff increase.
Reduction of Re-entry Barriers
The Governor stressed the importance of better re-training and assistance with re-entry for citizens released from prisons in PA. He stressed that it is not only a kind and responsible manner of approach but it also makes good economic sense for our communities.
The Governor’s address is the starting point for our 2020/2021 debate and conversations. The legislature will now pour through the details of our Governor’s budget. At Pugliese Associates, we will do the same and continue to share more details with our clients in the coming days, as well as advocate accordingly for their relevant concerns and potential impacts.