Gov. Tom Wolf at his 2016 budget address. (Gov. Tom Wolf/Flickr.)
After a month of hints, Gov. Tom Wolf will finally lay out his 2020 budget on Tuesday in front of a joint session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in the middle of a busy news week.
This year, it’s the same day as the State of the Union address, the day after the Iowa Caucus, and two days after the Super Bowl — so you’d be forgiven if it slipped your mind.
In case you were wondering, the timing of the speech — held on the first Tuesday in February — is mandated by the state constitution.
But if you’re somehow craving more news, make sure to check the Capital-Star that day to see what else Wolf asks for, if there are any surprises, and how his budget proposal was greeted by lawmakers and interest groups alike.
We already have some info on what’ll be on the table.
Some proposals are oldies — including a sixth request for a minimum wage increase and the legislative authorization of a four-year infrastructure investment plan, funded through bonds backed by a tax on natural gas production.
The GOP-controlled House has remained steadfastly opposed to any minimum wage increase, despite their Senate allies passing a $9.50 wage hike last year. Restore PA, the infrastructure program, has lost support from Democrats while Republicans have balked at a debt-fueled spending spree.
Despite this push back on big ticket items, here’s the rest of what Wolf has already floated:
Expanding human services
Care for people with disabilities has moved even further to the forefront because of Wolf’s planned closure of two state centers for the intellectually disabled.
The sharp debate divided both parties and support at times looked large enough to overcome Wolf’s veto.
The override threat has declined, but the need to find more funding to help the elderly or disabled has stayed, House Human Services Committee Chairman Tom Murt, R-Montgomery, said.
“That passion you saw with [the state centers] is pointless if we do not continue to pony up the money every budget cycle to take care of this population that struggles with special needs,” Murt told the Capital-Star.
Murt went as far as suggesting increasing taxes to pay for social spending, a view that few of his GOP colleagues share. In fact, human services — making up one third of last year’s approved budget — have been a top target for more conservatives hoping to reign in spending.
The debate won’t be going away this year. Earlier this month, the administration said that “protecting the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians” would be a budget priority.
That includes, among other investments:
- $15 million to decrease the state’s 14,000 deep waiting list for community care for people with disabilities
- $9.1 million to increase state and county oversight of private care for people with intellectual disabilities or autism.
- $1.4 million to increase the state reimbursement for struggling ventilator care operators
- $1.2 million to train in-home care workers
- $1 million for low-income legal aid
Wolf’s biggest budget ask to date so far has been a $1 billion plan to fight lead in Pennsylvania’s aging buildings.
“To build a better Pennsylvania, we first need to fix our foundation,” Wolf said in a statement.
Most of the funding would come by state grants to schools, as districts across the state struggle with the neurotoxin in paint or in drinking water.
Speaking of Philadelphia’s schools, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, a Democrat from the city, called lead exposure a “public health emergency” and said it is a “moral outrage that the toxic conditions continue.”
Childhood lead exposure can hinder brain development, and is irreversible. Pennsylvania’s older buildings make it an “ubiquitous threat,” according to a state report published last year.
Wolf is also asking for a $90 million funding transfer to replace old pipes leaching lead into homes’ drinking water statewide. Another $4 million investment would allow the state to increase in-home lead remediation through CHIP.
At a stop in Pittsburgh, Wolf announced a $12 million initiative last week to provide grants to schools that research advanced manufacturing techniques, such as robotics.
The proposal includes $2 million for a Penn State University business incubator and another $2 million to help keep graduating college students in the state.
Workforce development (again)
A top priority in last year’s budget, Wolf is once again calling for legislative action to increase training opportunities for workers.
The proposals include expanding workers compensation eligibility to match some job training programs, as well as increasing access to child care.
The budget itself asks for $138 million in workforce spending, $14 million of it new spending.
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