Governor’s Budget a “Bold Proposal”

Governor Wolf’s proposed $29.88 billion General Fund budget is being called a “bold proposal” that fleshes out his campaign promises (although the actual amount is already up for debate). It is framed around the priorities outlined in his inaugural address: jobs that pay, schools that teach, and government that works. In dollars, this includes $1B for adding (or restoring) to education funding, a $1.75B job growth plan, & a proposal to reduce school property taxes by $3.8B beginning in 2016. The budget also fills a $2B shortfall between expected revenues & expenditures.

It will, if adopted, significantly change the Commonwealth’s approach to taxation, including an expected tax on natural gas extraction, but also increases in certain state sales tax and income taxes while calling for reductions in property and business taxes.

Reaction to the budget has been strong, with something to love or hate for just about everyone. What seems certain is that it will not stay in its current form as Harrisburg enters budget hearings and negotiations heading toward the deadline of June 31. This article from Politics PA positions the budget as a high stakes referendum on the vision for the future.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has a comprehensive summary of the budget.

Budget areas of particular interest to LAMPa in our two core areas of addressing hunger and improving education include:

16.6% Increase in State Food Purchase Program Funding

LAMPa, along with other hunger organizations, delivered a briefing paper to the Wolf Transition team highlighting the important of the State Food Purchase program as an indispensable source of critical resources for food banks to acquire and distribute nutritious food. SFPP has been level funded at $17.438 million for the past four years. Advocates requested $21 million and are pleased that the Wolf budget increases spending by $2.9 million to $20.338 million for FY 15-16.

“Historic” Basic Education and Pre-K Funding Increases

The spending plan includes what Governor World termed the largest investment in public education to “prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow”. The proposed budget would increase basic education funding in fiscal 2015-16 by $400 million, bringing total basic education funding to $6.13 billion. The additional funding amounts to a 7 percent increase to this line item, which is the core funding source for educating every public school student in the commonwealth.

While the governor’s budget address did not provide detail on a long-term funding formula for public education, LAMPa’s work with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding has outlined a structure for a basic education funding formula to be implemented over the next six to eight years to ensure every student has the resources necessary to succeed academically.

Special education would increase by $100 million to about $1.147 billion under the governor’s spending plan. State funding for special education has increased only once in the past six fiscal years (a 2 percent increase in fiscal 2014-15) and this nearly 10 percent increase in special education funding would be unprecedented.

The governor has strongly prioritized the expansion of high-quality pre-kindergarten in his spending plan, calling for an additional $120 million to benefit more young learners. This includes nearly doubling the funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts to $197.3 million in fiscal 2015-16, up from the current $97.3 million this year. Funding for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP) would be increased by $20 million for a total state allocation of $59.2 million.

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