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Wolf's Budget Proposal Seeks More Money for Basic Education, Flat Funding for Penn State

by on February 06, 2018 8:42 PM

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday presented his 2018-19 budget proposal, a $33 billion plan that includes no increase in income and sales taxes, boosts basic education funding and keeps appropriations level for Penn State.

The fourth and final budget proposal of Wolf's first term is an increase of about $1 billion in spending, or 3 percent of the 2017-18 budget's $32 billion.

Continuing a push for more money for schools, Wolf proposes adding $100 million for basic education funding, $20 million for special education, $30 million for Pre-K Counts and $10 million for Head Start. 

While the State System of Higher Education would see an increase of $15 million, or 3 percent, to $468 million, the proposal keeps the funding for state-related universities flat. That includes Penn State, which would have it's general appropriation remain at $230.4 million for the third consecutive year, with funding for Penn College ($22 million) and Agricultural Extension ($52.3 million) staying level.

Wolf has long said restoring Penn State to the funding level it was at before 2011, when the university and other higher education institutions saw massive cuts, is a priority. He and the legislature did deliver Penn State's first general appropriation increase in seven years in 2015, but the General Assembly and the governor have been at odds over the state budget most years of his term, resulting in lengthy impasses in 2015 and 2017.

The governor also is proposing $50 million for career and technical education in high schools and colleges.

"Developing a workforce that can compete and win in the 21st-century economy is the single best way to help Pennsylvania businesses grow – and attract new businesses to our Commonwealth," Wolf said in remarks on Tuesday. "It’s also the single best thing we can do to help more of our people find better jobs – not just tomorrow, but today."

Health and human services would see a net gain of about 2 percent, with some areas getting increases. The biggest of those is about $74 million for services for people with intellectual disabilities and autism. An additional $34 million, including available federal funds, is proposed for programs to battle the opioid epidemic.

With no increase to the state's two biggest sources of revenue -- income and sales taxes -- Wolf is looking to balance the budget by renewing calls for proposals that have been blocked in past years by the Republican-controlled legislature. He is seeking a new tax on natural gas production based on the price of gas that would generate about $250 million in revenue.

He's also seeking an increase in the state's minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour, which he says would save $100 million in social and human services costs. Wolf additionally called for a $25 per person fee for municipalities that use Pennsylvania State Police instead of employing their own law enforcement, a cost of $63 million last year.

And he's expecting increased revenue from the state's expanded gaming law that passed in the fall, allowing for additional casino games and airport gaming terminals. 

State Sen. Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, had a mixed reaction to the proposal.

“The budget is a work in progress, but we are optimistic in seeing a number of shared priorities, including education funding. The Governor is asking for $1.2 billion in new spending and a $250 million tax increase that will not happen, all while making cuts to programs like cancer research that are important to people," Corman said, noting a proposal, which has failed in the past, to eliminate regional cancer institute funding. "This means that as talks begin, we are looking to find about a quarter-of-a billion dollars in efficiencies in state government. We remain hopeful that we will be able to work with the Governor to deliver a responsible, frugal, timely budget this year.”

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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