Gov. Tom Wolf had a few surprises in the more than $36 billion budget proposal announced Tuesday at the Capital for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The spending plan, as proposed, is a $1.4 billion, or a 4.22 percent, increase over current, approved spending.
The highlights of the budget were broken down into a few key categories:
Keeping college kids in Pennsylvania
In his proposal, Wolf announced a more than $200 million grant program for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, funded on the backs of the state’s ailing horse racing industry.
The “Nellie Bly” scholarship program will be available to in-state and out-of-state students, according to the administration. It will cover the full cost of tuition up to six years for full-time students.
Scholarship recipients will be expected to stay in the commonwealth for time equal to the number of years they received the funds. If they leave early, the grant turns into a loan that recipients will be expected to repay.
About 25,000 low-to-middle income students are expected to benefit from the program. Administration officials said they anticipate the fund to be a recurring source of aid for students in need, prioritizing Pell Grant and PHEAA aid recipients first.
More money for early childhood education
Wolf also proposed instituting universal, free full-day kindergarten for all students. The move to full-day programs would not be optional for districts or students.
Right now, only 72 schools across the state do not offer full-day kindergarten programs, the administration said.
Wolf also asked for an increase of the minimum teacher salary from the current $18,500 to $45,000.
In addition to calling for an increase in teacher salaries, Wolf made good on his earlier promise to take workforce development recommendations from the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.
The Command Center cited barriers such as transportation, childcare, training, licensure and re-entry as areas of need for the commonwealth.
In the proposed budget, a $12 million grant program will address the five main barriers.
In his budget proposal, Wolf once again proposed a fair-service fee for police coverage of municipalities by the Pennsylvania State Police.
Administration officials said they worked with the Pennsylvania State Police to come up with a method of calculating fees through factors such as population, coverage and revenue.
Every municipality would pay the fee, but the administration could not comment on what that fee might be or a range for local governments to expect.
The governor also proposed $6 million in grants to evidence-based strategies to reduce and prevent gun violence in communities statewide.
The last big ask to know by Wolf was $15 million in funding to serve 732 individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism on the waiting list through the Community Living Waiver and 100 individuals through the Consolidated Waiver.
The more than 300 individuals who call White Haven and Polk centers home, which are slated to close over the next three years, are not apart of that $15 million, but would be covered as part of the $212 million outlined for the Community Living Waiver program.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the individuals included in the waiver waiting list.