Gov. Tom Wolf today delivered his fifth budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly. While there’s a lot to dig into, here are five quick takeaways from the governor’s budget proposal.
1) The new budget is nearly $1 billion more than last year…
Wolf, freshly reelected, proposed a $34.1 billion budget, a nearly 2.8 percent increase over last year. That’s about one percentage point above the rate of inflation.
However, despite the increase in spending, the administration says that increases in spending will be covered by the natural growth in tax revenue and some proposed fees.
2) …with no tax increases.
In fact, Wolf is even proposing slashing the state’s corporate tax rate of 9.99 percent to 5.99 percent by 2024. To be revenue neutral, the cut would be combined with closing an out-of-state loophole.
One fee that proved controversial in the past was a charge for small municipalities that were policed by state troopers. Rather than a blanket fee, Wolf is now proposing a charge based on a sliding scale.
3) Wolf is calling for an increase in the minimum wage
Part of the administration’s math is an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour by July 1. The minimum wage is currently $7.25.
From 2019, the minimum wage would gradually increase in 50-cent intervals to $15 an hour by 2025. The administration says an increase in the wage will lead to $36 million in savings in 2019-20 by reducing use of medical assistance. By 2020-21, those savings will be at $120 million.
4) Wolf still wants to be the education governor
One billion dollars in basic education funding was returned to state schools during Wolf’s first term, even if it might not have always ended up in classrooms.
The governor wants to to build on that legacy, asking for $200 million more in school funding for this budget. Nearly $14 million would increase state teachers’ minimum pay to $45,000 a year.
Another $50 million in funding would go to special education.
5) Not just for kids in school
On top of increased education spending, Wolf wants to coordinate state, labor and industry resources under a new executive order.
That initiative includes an extra $10 million for the Wolf’s PASmart workforce development plan and $8 million divided into $2,500 grants for in-state community college graduates who work in the commonwealth.
But Wolf also hopes to aid students before they even step foot in school, by putting another $50 million for pre-K and implementing a study of the impact of universal free full-day kindergarten.
The budget also calls for the state to lower its compulsory school attendance age to six years old from eight, which could increase attendance by 3,300 kids, while raising the dropout age from 17 to 18.