By Marc Stier
Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019-2020 budget proposal reflects the unique political moment in which it is presented. Pennsylvania is a state poised between two visions of government in Pennsylvania.
The governor’s budget points to a future in which Pennsylvanians act together to create the inclusive prosperity that allows everyone to live a life of dignity, prosperity, and opportunity.
But the budget is constrained by another vision, one that prioritizes cutting taxes for the rich and spending for everyone else, that is not dying as quickly as we would like.
In the areas of wages, education, workplace development, and corporate tax reform, the governor’s budget takes important steps for Pennsylvanians and points the way to the future most Pennsylvanians want, one we will be able to fully realize once the General Assembly better reflects the priorities of the vast majority Pennsylvanians, which includes generating new revenues by making the very rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
By proposing a significant increase in the minimum wage, Wolf’s budget points the way to a future in which wages and benefits, and thus living standards, rise for all, driving our economy forward as people gain the means to purchase the goods and services that enable them to live increasingly comfortable lives.
The governor proposes to immediately increase the minimum wage to $12, with 50-cent increments to $15 by 2025, and cost of living increases thereafter, which would benefit over 2.2 million Pennsylvania workers – nine out of ten of them being adults, aged 20 and older.
By including new funding for K-12, pre-K, higher education, and workforce training, Wolf’s budget points us towards a future in which we invest much more in education at all levels and in workforce training, making Pennsylvania’s workers and the businesses who hire them that much more productive.
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After adding $1 billion in funding for K-12 schools in his first term, the governor calls for increases of $200 million in Basic Education and $50 million in Special Education funding. At a time when it is becoming hard to find qualified teachers, the governor proposes to raise the minimum starting salary for Pennsylvania teachers from $18,500 to $45,000.
After increases in pre-K funding by $115 million over the last four years, the governor proposes another $50 million investment. This will enable an additional 5,550 children to enroll in high-quality early learning programs.
Wolf includes a $7 million increase in funding (1.5 percent) for the 14 colleges in the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education after a slightly larger increase last year. He also includes $8 million in community college tuition assistance.
The governor has created a workforce command center under the Statewide Workforce Education and Accountability Program that will coordinate a number of programs that provide training that to enable employees to develop the skills that Pennsylvania’s employers seek.
He also proposes to build on last year’s major initiative in this area with an additional $4 million investment in the state’s Manufacturing to Career Training Grant Program; $6 million for adult career and technical education training programs; and $12 million for the Employer Skills Fund, a public-private partnership that will provide grants to businesses to develop innovative paths to raising employee skill levels.
By presenting an innovative plan to use debt repaid by a new shale tax to fund infrastructure, Wolf’s budget points us toward a future in which the public investment supports thriving communities and expanding businesses.
Proceeds bond backed by severance tax revenues will be used to fund major projects such as broadband expansion, flood prevention, public transit and urban blight remediation, which would set the stage for new business investment in our cities and towns..
And by calling for corporate tax reform that finally closes the Delaware loophole, his budget points to a future in which everyone—including the rich and multinational corporations—pay their fair share of taxes, which generates needed revenue for these public investments.
These are all important steps forward. But the aspirations evident in the governor’s proposals are constrained by the need to put forward budget proposals that can win the support of legislators who have a very different view of the role of government.
Wolf has proposed a budget that moves as far as possible towards our vision of government while also making the first task of government, actually enacting a budget and the revenues to pay for it, possible.
We urge the Legislature’s Republican majority to recognize the practical and moral necessities of governing and enact this budget.
Marc Stier is the Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a progressive think-tank in Harrisburg.