How Pa. lawmakers, interest groups reacted to Wolf’s 2021-2022 budget proposal

By: - February 3, 2021 1:38 pm

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget, while avoiding a tax increase, uses an accounting technique reminiscent of a GOP budget plan he blasted in 2017. (Flickr)

This developing story will be updated. 

Following Gov. Tom Wolf’s Budget Address Wednesday, state lawmakers and interest groups shared their thoughts on the newly proposed budget.

Here’s what they had to say.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District:

LeadingAge PA:

  “One year ago, Pennsylvania had no idea it would soon be engrossed in an unprecedented pandemic that would change our communities forever. Nursing homes have been at the epicenter of the war against COVID-19 ever since. That’s why today’s news that Gov. Wolf is yet again flat-funding Medical Assistance for Pennsylvania’s nursing homes is devastating for all of our front-line workers. This follows years of underfunding by the Wolf administration. In 2019 alone, flat funding led to a $632-million loss that hurt nursing homes’ ability to maintain high quality care, as well as retain and attract talented staff. Imagine what we could do to fight this pandemic and save lives if Gov. Wolf would simply provide fair funding.

“We urge the Pennsylvania General Assembly to include a rate increase in the budget to cover the growing costs of providing quality nursing home care. This would help us defeat COVID-19 once and for all, which should be a common-sense goal for all.”

State Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie:

“Restoring the strength of our local businesses and communities will dominate budget planning this year as we work to distribute additional federal COVID relief funding. Speeding funding to our community’s restaurants, bars, shops and other local businesses will be critical. As we await more federal funding, I support the governor’s proposal to immediately allocate $145 million in state funding now to help these businesses survive.

“While federal funding will obviously play a major role in economic recovery this year, our plans for allocating state funding in other critical areas like education are going to shape our community’s rebound and recovery. I strongly support the governor’s proposal to make education funding more equitable through a significant investment in the fair funding formula. Public education can be one of life’s greatest equalizers – but only if every student has access to the same high-quality curricula regardless of household income.

“I also support continued investments to make public college more affordable, so young adults don’t start off in life struggling under a huge student debt burden. I am encouraged to hear about proposed investments in Erie County Community College, which promises to expand affordable education opportunities, while also generating jobs and economic growth for our region.

“I support the governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage, which is below the minimum of many other states. For years, Pennsylvania working families have been forced to make unacceptable compromises, picking and choosing among basic life necessities. Raising the minimum wage to a living wage would allow families to thrive, and it would also help jumpstart the local economy by giving people more disposable income to invest back into local businesses.

“Finally, I support the governor’s proposed investments in public health, including more funding to local and county health departments to help them combat the ongoing pandemic. We need to fortify our local response capability and also improve preparedness so we can respond as quickly and efficiently as possible both now and for future emergencies.

“Of course, these proposals from the governor are just a starting point, and the plan now moves to the House Appropriations Committee. In the weeks ahead, I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to hammer out a plan that works best for Erie’s working families.”

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh:

“If there is one message I continue to hear from people living in Allentown or South Whitehall, it is their frustration over the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have nots that continues year after year.

“Pennsylvania’s tax laws make it worse. Underfunded schools make it worse. A rigged criminal justice system makes it worse.

“This budget takes a forward-looking view of these inequities and tries to make good on the notion of ‘Liberty and Justice for All.’ It would make taxes fairer, so that middle-class and working-class residents can pay fewer taxes. It would undertake the challenge of making our community schools the best in the nation. It would give workers a better shot at jobs that pay.

“This budget is focused on delivering things that matter to the people of the district I am honored to represent and that matters deeply. I truly want to praise the governor, and this budget, for seeking to make a more equitable society. America is not about guaranteeing outcomes, only opportunities.

“This budget would help make sure that all my constituents have the same opportunity, and I am looking forward to learning more about this budget as the process continues.

“For those not happy with the proposed budget, please, put forward concrete ideas that address the inequities in Pennsylvania’s tax laws, create public schools that are the model for the nation, provide jobs that pay and help to dismantle the rigged criminal justice system. The status quo is not working. We need solutions to address these problems,”

State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie:

“None of us could have imagined the widespread havoc COVID would wreak or the toll it would take, especially on our small business community. A major priority in the year ahead will be ensuring additional federal COVID relief funding makes it into the hands of our local businesses – and specifically the restaurants, taverns and bars and social clubs that are hanging on by a string – as quickly as possible.

“In addition to the anticipated federal funding, I support the governor’s plan to distribute $145 million in state funding to help our small businesses survive.

“Beyond helping our business community recover, education funding on all levels is a major priority, and I support the governor’s proposal to increase the amount of basic education funding that is distributed through the fair funding formula.

“Household income should never determine a child’s future, and the way to level the playing field is by ensuring that high quality public education is equally available to all kids and does not depend on a family’s ZIP code. I was encouraged by the governor’s proposal that would significantly increase funding for the Erie City School District, both in terms of basic education and special education programs.

“I was also encouraged to hear about proposed investments for start-up and capital costs for the new Erie County Community College, which promises to broaden affordable education choices and stimulate jobs in our region.

“I strongly support the governor’s proposal to raise the minimum wage. For years, working families have been struggling because they are not being paid a living wage. It’s time to change that and start paying workers what they deserve so they can provide for their families and invest back into the local economy. I also support the proposed budget’s increased investments in public health, including more funding to local and county health departments to help them combat the ongoing pandemic.

“Finally, I was encouraged to hear the governor discuss proposed investments in infrastructure. After the immediate priority of recovery from the pandemic, I hope to see more funding – including federal funding – for the kinds of infrastructure projects that put people back to work and infuse money into communities like ours. For years, those big projects have been put on the back burner, but we owe it to future generations to invest in these projects and create those opportunities just as our parents and grandparents did.”

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster:

“Today we learned exactly what priorities Gov. Wolf has for the people of Pennsylvania.

“While I respectfully disagree with many of these proposals, including raising income taxes and full legalization of marijuana, my deepest concerns are related to the actual administration of our government.

“I cannot – nor will our citizens – tolerate the quiet dismissal of the open mismanagement that has occurred in our executive agencies.

“Almost a year ago, the Department of Community and Economic Development instituted a business waiver program for employers shut down by the governor’s executive order. The program, by all accounts and measures, was a failure.

“The Department of Health took the lead on COVID-19 testing. Headlines from statewide media said gaps in the system led to a ‘systemic failure to collect critical data.’

“The shutdown forced millions of Pennsylvanians out of work, but when they sought out unemployment compensation, money they had paid into the system themselves, the Department of Labor’s system failed.

“Just this week, we learned that the Department of the State failed in its most basic duty – to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment intended to help victims of childhood sexual abuse, delaying this important reform that was years in the making.

“The Department of Education, in support of public health goals, closed all Pennsylvania schools and issued guidance encouraging some schools to remain closed for the foreseeable future. As a result, academic progress has slowed or stopped across the state, hitting children in need the hardest. Another failure of the executive branch.

“Finally, Pennsylvania ranks 44th in the nation in vaccine distribution. More than 40% of the vaccines our Commonwealth has received have failed to make it into people’s arms.

“There can be no greater goal of state government at this moment than to ensure our people have access to the vaccine. If it is not our top priority, then the pandemic and all that is associated with it will continue. Ensuring vaccines are available and reaching Pennsylvanians is the most important role leaders of today have ever faced.”

“The executive branch’s failures must end. People were promised and rightfully expect a government that works.

“To that end, I again reiterate that the House of Representatives – which has heard directly from the people impacted by all of these issues – stands ready to help our citizens.”

State Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia:

“Since the beginning of this health crisis, we’ve seen firsthand how this deadly virus has adversely impacted children, women, local businesses and working families across the commonwealth. The governor’s budget plan would help remove many of these unnecessary barriers by implementing substantial change using an equitable lens, starting with a massive tax break for the working class.

“First-and-foremost, a quality education provides a strong foundation for a child’s future and should never be based on zip code but be accessible to all students. By making historic investments in our public schools and funneling all of it through the fair funding formula, we help close the digital divide and ensure children on our side of City Avenue receive the same resources as everyone else, giving them the best chance to succeed whether they’re learning at home or in the classroom.

“Along those same lines, the fact this proposal devotes ample funding to workforce development programs aids in our ongoing efforts to connect our young people with the skills they need to get a job and provide for themselves in a global economy. However, it must be good paying jobs, which is why it’s imperative we raise the minimum wage to a livable one once and for all to $15 an hour, as laid out by the governor.

“As vice chair of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus, I understand women, specifically women of color, have disproportionately suffered pandemic-related job losses, and a major part of that has been due to COVID crippling child care centers. According to the recent report produced by the National Women’s Law Project, nearly 2.2 million women left the workforce due to the added pressures of the pandemic. The increased financial support proposed in this budget is vital to keep crucial services open and affordable so working mothers have a safe place to drop off their children and be able to still work to pay the bills and put food on the table.

“Criminal justice reform is truly the civil rights issue of our time, and I join the governor in fighting to build on our bipartisan efforts to prevent a single mistake from determining a person’s future. Expanding on our Clean Slate law and imposing bail and probation reforms will help reduce recidivism and crime while strengthening our economy.

“Moving forward, I will use my role as a member of the House Appropriations Committee to pass a budget that works for every Pennsylvanian and addresses issues that matter most to residents in West Philly, which includes reducing gun violence and maternal mortality along with delivering relief for the unemployed and aid to our commercial corridors to get them through COVID safely.”

State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny:

“Once again, Governor Wolf has made a bold attempt to push our commonwealth and its many kings and queens of the General Assembly forward. He has put forth a reasonably straightforward budget proposal that attempts to put equity and fairness at the center and begin to modernize our very outdated and insufficient revenue structures, while simultaneously focusing on our hard-working men and women.

“Some legislators will focus on those elements they believe will make easy political points, but we should applaud our governor for being bold and focusing on our state’s future and not on its past.

“I am looking forward to working with this administration as we move ahead over the next few months and embark on ways to bring our families and communities’ interests to the budgetary process. Whether it’s enacting an adult-use cannabis legalization system; further reforming our criminal justice system; or leading the charge to bring more Pennsylvanians tax relief while also finding the needed revenues to continue long term investments in our educational system, childcare systems and workforce systems, I’m here to be an advocate, partner and active participant.

“Governor Wolf has set the stage and laid out a pathway forward. Now, it’s time to see if my fellow colleagues are courageous enough to join his bold vision and find common ground for the long- term future and success of all Pennsylvanians!

“Now is not the time to run scared and hide or wait for some outside saviors. Each legislator has been asked to serve as a leader, and it is time to come to come to the collective table for the benefit of the greater good. Our governor understands this and has shown his willingness to work across ideological, political and geographic lines – and now it’s time we work together as a collective elected body.”

Keystone Votes State Coordinator Ray Murphy:

“As sweeping and as bold as they were, the bipartisan reforms that Pennsylvania put in place with Act 77 of 2019 and Act 12 of 2020 were just the beginning.

“The administration and lawmakers should be proud of the changes they made. But the job is hardly finished. Pennsylvania still lags behind the vast majority of states when it comes to making improving security and making elections more convenient and accessible to all,” Murphy said. “The governor’s proposals are an important step forward and should be part of the mix as lawmakers continue their review of the 2020 election and related policy proposals.”

Pennsylvania Health Care Association:

“Noticeably absent from the Governor’s budget address today was an acknowledgment of the existing and ongoing crises facing Pennsylvania’s long-term care providers, their frontline staff – our healthcare heroes – and the vulnerable residents they serve.

“We can no longer afford to ignore our most vulnerable population in nursing homes, which continues to be unequivocally and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the Governor’s vision didn’t focus on the challenges facing the long-term care community, we hope the legislature will.

“Federal stimulus dollars have been critically important, but it’s time for a long-term investment and not a short fix. An increase in Medicaid reimbursement can help deliver the meaningful change these providers so desperately need.

“Our message to the Governor and Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is simple: don’t give up on our vulnerable residents and our healthcare heroes in nursing homes. Don’t give up on Pennsylvania’s seniors who, one day soon, may need long-term care. Invest now in the state’s Medicaid program to provide a more sustainable future.”

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia: 

 State Rep. Emily Kinkead, D-Allegheny: 

“The governor’s budget address laid out a clear path that moves our state forward in the right direction. I was pleased to hear him outline his plans on infrastructure investment, which includes long-overdue expansion of broadband access across Pennsylvania, notably in our unserved and underserved communities, safer roads and bridges, and investments to removing lead and asbestos from many of our aging schools.

“Our schools have also suffered for many years due to not being fully funded and the governor’s plan will provide our public schools with the resources they need and deserve. For far too long, homeowners in many school districts have had to bear the brunt of skyrocketing property taxes. Governor Wolf’s plan would ensure our districts receive this vital support and that includes raising the salary for teachers to a $45,000 minimum annual salary. No doubt about it — our teachers have gone above and beyond, even before the pandemic, and they should be fairly compensated for all they do in providing education and support to our children.

“Governor Wolf’s support of the Clean Slate Law was just the beginning as it relates to criminal justice reform in our great commonwealth. I was pleased to hear his plans to reform the bail and probation systems in our state, along with the support for legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis. Such an effort would not only provide substantial, much-needed revenue, but it would also support job creation and several social programs and initiatives to strengthen our communities that have been devastated by the years’ long War on Drugs, including after-school programs, support for minority and women-owned businesses, and a student loan reimbursement program.

“This is a strong, realistic budget proposal. Now it is incumbent upon us in the legislature to have intellectually honest debate to move this budget forward for a stronger, better Pennsylvania.”

State Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny:

“The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of every Pennsylvanian last year, and today Governor Wolf outlined a plan with an emphasis on helping people get back to work and providing recovery efforts that would help hard-hit businesses get back on track.

“Today’s proposal shows support for workforce development and puts forward a path to raise the minimum wage, touching on key issues that are important for working-class families in the Mon Valley. The pandemic has shown how critical it is for people to be able to provide necessities, like food and shelter, for their families.

“I’m also encouraged to see the governor is also addressing the digital divide in schools by removing barriers that would close that gap, as well as making sure school buildings are safe from lead, asbestos and other hazardous materials for when students are able to return to classrooms.

“The governor has laid out a plan that’s focused on bettering the lives of all Pennsylvanians and falls in line with my priorities for our region, which includes putting people first, creating family sustaining jobs and ensuring every child has access to a quality education. I look forward to assessing this budget proposal in the coming weeks as member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“As the chairman of the Allegheny County House Democratic Delegation, I am committed to working with my colleagues and the Governor’s Office to continue to champion what matters most to residents in our community.”

State Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon:

“The governor’s budget priorities are simply wrong. Right now, we need to focus on efficient and effective vaccine distribution to everyone who wants and needs it.

“Instead, the governor is focusing on raising the Personal Income Tax on working Pennsylvanians; crushing businesses that are already on the brink following his drastic pandemic shutdown orders by forcing a minimum wage increase; and raising energy bills and hurting job-producing businesses with additional tax burdens on the natural gas industry.

“This is absurd. We need to stick to a financially sound budget that funds our priorities while NOT raising taxes. His proposed Personal Income Tax increase alone is not even for the purpose of fulfilling a specific need, but rather to generate money for an even larger state budget.

“While the governor seeks to continue to erode the financial health of every man, woman and business in the state, House Republicans are working to redesign the governor’s failed vaccine distribution plan with legislation to use the National Guard to set up county vaccination sites and handle logistics, as they have been doing in more than 20 other states with great success. Once people are vaccinated and we can get them back to work, back to school and back to business as usual, our economic revitalization will follow.”

State Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-Lehigh:

“Today, the governor’s proposal showed a dedication to helping get our commonwealth back on track,” McNeill said. “There is no doubt we have far to go with regard to helping people get back to work and ensuring the negative impacts of the COVID pandemic transition into part of our collective history as we move forward toward a recovery that prioritizes helping those hardest-hit.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues so that we do all we can to emphasize and echo what the governor outlined today,” McNeill said. “With a critical eye, we have an opportunity to look at the last 10 months, identify areas that are in need of improvements, and come together as a bipartisan legislative body to put forth a path to recovery that enhances and supports those items contained in today’s budget proposal.” 

State Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny:

“I believe that budgets are moral documents,” Benham said. “They express not just our priorities but show our values. I’m happy that today, the governor prioritized the working Pennsylvanian, and includes a proposal for investments in job opportunities and local businesses, as well as a huge tax cut for working families. But it’s important that these opportunities are more accessible to everyone without burdensome red tape plaguing the process.

“That’s why I also call on the federal government to quickly provide additional aid. We are still facing an unparalleled crisis caused by COVID-19 and, in order to truly recover, we must have the resources to correctly address issues like housing, mental health, education, unemployment, vaccine distribution and more.

“Our commonwealth must also begin exploring new revenue sources, like a severance tax, the legalization and taxation of cannabis, and the closure of tax loopholes that have for too long allowed corporations to avoid paying their fair share.

“While I am enthused to see proposed investments in our schools, an increased minimum wage, and a tax cut for working families, we must not forget that many families across our commonwealth are still facing a looming eviction crisis on top of the global pandemic,” Benham said. “We must ensure that community health — including mental health, hunger, housing and stability — are priorities in this moral document.”

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rick Askey:

“We commend the governor for his ongoing commitment to public education,” Askey said. “There is nothing more important than investing in our schools and students. Gov. Wolf has been a leader on these issues, and PSEA looks forward to a continued partnership with him and lawmakers from both parties to ensure our students are successful and our schools are fairly funded.

“Like PSEA, Gov. Wolf has made it a priority throughout his term in office to advocate for equitably and adequately funding all of Pennsylvania’s schools. These issues are very important to PSEA, and we are grateful that this historic proposal elevates these critical issues.

“We look forward to fully reviewing this plan and identifying opportunities for PSEA to work with the governor and the Legislature to find the best and fairest way possible to achieve greater equity and adequacy in school funding. This is an issue that PSEA has long championed and will continue to do so.”

Feeding Pennsylvania Executive Director Jane Clements-Smith:

“We are grateful for the support the commonwealth has provided to get food to our most vulnerable residents in response to the current health-care crisis and hunger epidemic. With no end in sight, however, even more help will be needed in the next fiscal year.

“The state’s charitable food network continues to meet higher-than-usual demands across the state, but we need help,” said Hunger-Free Pennsylvania Executive Director Sheila Christopher. “We look forward to continuing our work with the administration and General Assembly to help the increasing number of neighbors in our communities who are struggling with hunger and food insecurity.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared. Follow her on Twitter: @Wordsby_CassieM.

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