Today, Gov. Tom Wolf delivered his fourth budget address to a joint session of the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives.
This year’s spending plan represents a 3.1% increase over last year’s budget and includes no broad-based tax increases. Relying on examples of where the Wolf Administration and the legislature have worked together so far – responding to the opioid crisis, lowering the state’s prison population, reforming pensions, legalizing medical marijuana and reforming the liquor system – the Governor encouraged the General Assembly to join him in building a brighter future for Pennsylvania.
Keeping with his themes from previous years of schools that teach, jobs that pay and government that works, Wolf is proposing an additional $225 million in education funding, including a $100 million increase in basic education funding, $20 million more for special education, $30 million for Pre-K Counts and $10 million for Head Start, as well as $50 million for a “PAsmart” program for workforce development efforts.
“Developing a workforce that can compete and win in the 21st century economy is the single best way to help Pennsylvania business grow – and attract new business to the Commonwealth,” said Wolf today. To that end, PAsmart will provide $40 million more in STEM and computer science-related education, and $10 million for the Department of Labor and Industry to expand industry partnerships. Wolf is also proposing a total of $20 million for PA First Initiatives and $12 million to fund Manufacturing PA.
Citing his efforts to streamline government services that, to date, have saved the Commonwealth $2 billion, Wolf pledged to continue those efforts. His proposal includes the consolidation of the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services. In addition, the Governor proposes the continuation of GO-TIME efforts such as modernizing hiring practices, reducing inmate healthcare costs, and increasing oil and gas drilling inspections.
Which brings us to the issue of a severance tax. Wolf encouraged the General Assembly, once again, to pass a severance tax. However, Wolf did not call for any additional tax increases for the people of Pennsylvania.
The speech was short and to the point, and Wolf encouraged the General Assembly to make “tough decisions with courage and conviction.”
“I have never been more proud to be a Pennsylvanian. I have never been more confident of our people. I have never been more hopeful of our future,” Wolf offered in conclusion, and invited the General Assembly to join him in building that future together.
The General Assembly will now begin budget hearings with the executive departments. The first hearings will be held on Tuesday, February 20.