Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes Investments in Education, Jobs, Protections for Vulnerable
Gov. Tom Wolf’s final budget proposal contains historic increases for education, among investments in infrastructure, jobs, and services for vulnerable Pennsylanians.
Continuing a focus on improving public education and erasing one of the largest funding equity gaps in the country, Wolf outlined an additional $1.9 billion to benefit students from pre-k through college as he unveiled a $43.7 billion spending plan on Feb. 8. On the heels of a record $416 million increase last year, the governor proposed a $1.75 billion increase for K-12 schools.
Wolf also called on lawmakers to raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour on July 1, up from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, with annual increases of 50 cents until the minimum wage reaches $15 in 2028. Wolf’s proposed increase includes tipped workers. He also asked the legislature to address the state’s corporate net income tax — reducing the current 9.99% tax rate on corporate profits to 7.99% in 2023, 6.99% in 2026 and 5.99% in 2027.
Wolf, who ran for office on a pledge to improve Pennsylvania’s public schools, put forth a plan that includes $1.25 billion in basic education funding, bringing the total going through the Fair Funding Formula to more than $2 billion, plus another $300 million for the Level Up initiative launched last year to support the 100 most underfunded schools. Lutheran advocates helped advance both Fair Funding and Level Up — bipartisan funding initiatives to address adequacy and equity gaps in the commonwealth’s education system. Wolf’s budget also includes a $200 million increase for special education and $373 million in savings through charter school accountability reform.
LAMPa and other hunger advocates cheered increases for food security programs in Wolf’s 2022-23 budget proposal. The spending plan calls for a $2 million increase in the Pa. Agricultural Surplus Program (PASS), plus two new food security measures – a $1 million grant to encourage colleges to address hunger, and a $14 million provision to increase minimum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for seniors and Pennsylvanians with disabilities to $35 from $20. The State Food Purchase Program, which saw a $3 million increase in 2021, is proposed to be level funded at approximately $20.2 million.
“As the economy recovers from the pandemic, some households, especially those who were already living at or near poverty, are still experiencing hardship,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. “Rising food prices are putting a strain on family budgets, increasing the need for charitable food, while at the same time, decreasing the purchasing power of food banks.”
Raising PASS funding to $4.5 million would also help Pennsylvania’s farmers, who are struggling against rising fuel prices and the effects of climate change among other market pressures.
Including federal dollars, human services spending, which makes up about 40 percent of the state budget, would rise to $49 billion, up from $47.2 billion last year. Those programs include nursing and personal care homes, mental health care and substance abuse treatment, medical care for people with lower incomes and services for people with intellectual disabilities.
The governor proposed a $36.6 million increase in county mental health funding to address the increased demand for services, staffing shortages and years of underfunding. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania had identified increased state support for mental health services as one of their top priorities in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
In addition, the spending plan proposes items sought by social ministry organizations serving vulnerable Pennsylvanians, including a $190 million increase for nursing homes, with more than half coming from federal funds, and a $50 million increase in state payments for people who need personal care. The monthly payment would rise to $1,351.80 from $439.30. Those payments had not seen an increase in years.
LAMPa also applauded a $10 million proposed state disaster assistance fund for those experiencing a federally declared disaster who do not qualify for traditional assistance.