Thu. Sep 29th, 2022

Harrisburg, Pa.— The Pennsylvania General Assembly recently moved to pass a state budget of $42.8 billion for 2023 that would see large increases in spending for education.

The budget would also see funding for new environmental services and create a $5 billion surplus for the state’s rainy day fund.

K-12 education spending is set to go up by half-billion dollars, with the 100 poorest districts in the state splitting an additional $225 million. The budget also increases subsidies for early childhood education, special education and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

$220 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds will be used to help clean streams, with about $150 million to fix up parks and forest land, and more for sewer and water infrastructure, flood control and storm water projects. These are all move directed toward the environment.

The budget agreement does not include any broad-based tax increases and is structured in a way to minimize the risk of tax increases in the years ahead.

The spending plan also reduces the state’s Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT), which currently stands as the second highest in the nation.

The budget passed through the House with a vote of 180-20. All 20 “no” votes came from Republican lawmakers. It would go on to pass through the state Senate 47-3 July 8. 

Governor Tom Wolf, Democrat, said that the passage of this budget solidified his administrations commitment to funding education, with $3.7 billion in increases since 2015.

Gov. Wolf said, “Securing $1.8 billion for education in this budget furthers these efforts and results in a historic $3.7 billion in investments my administration has made in education at all levels over the last eight years.”

State Rep. Joe Hamm is one of 20 House members to vote against the passage of the budget. 

“It increased total year-over-year spending by 10.7%,” Hamm said. “Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve a more responsible and respectful budget that keeps spending under control.” 

Various other lawmakers have chimed in with their perspective of the budget, but most are calling it an “historic investment” in the Commonwealth.

Republican state Senators Scott Martin, Dan Laughlin, and Gene Yaw released a joint statement praising the $220 million in ARPA funds being used for stream maintenance through the Clean Streams Fund.

“This is a momentous investment in our rivers and streams to improve water quality for all Pennsylvanians,” Martin said. “We will be able to reduce pollutants to support healthy habitats for fish and humans alike, decrease flooding in prone areas, while reducing water treatment costs. This is all at no additional expense to taxpayers.”

“I’m happy that we could get this done as part of the budget,” Laughlin said. “In a year where we had this type of surplus, it would be a travesty if we couldn’t invest in our environment the way we have with the Clean Streams Fund.”

“The Clean Streams Fund puts money into action by correcting decades of non-point source pollution with innovative solutions, like farming cooperatives and strategic tree planting, without demanding a single cent from taxpayers,” Yaw said.

The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC) said the budget has “historic investments in education, housing, and gun violence prevention.”

The PLBC specifically cited the $225 million being divvied up between the state’s poorest school districts and an additional $100 million each in special education funding and mental health, school safety, and security funding. There is also a violence intervention and prevention grant program receiving $75 million.

“These investments will improve the quality of life and create opportunities for Black Pennsylvanians, but there is more work to do,” said the PLBC’s statement. “The members of the PLBC remain diligent and committed to advancing equitable budget proposals that meet the basic needs of our most vulnerable communities and continue to invest in PLBC’s ongoing priorities.”

The PLBC is a collection of Black members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that seeks to advocate for people of color throughout the state. It currently has 31 members, and it was founded in 1973.

State House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff was also glad to see the “commitment” to education within the budget.

“This year’s state budget continues our commitment to Pennsylvania’s public-school students, and I am thankful that all school districts represented in the 171st District are receiving funding increases as part of this historic state budget,” Benninghoff said. “Such substantial increases in state support for public school students should allow for full student support while mitigating any need for increases in school district property taxes.”

Bennighoff’s fellow Republican House leaders also saw the budget as an “historic investment” while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

“Right now, families across Pennsylvania are forced to make difficult financial decisions due to out-of-control inflation. Our key goal in this budget is to promise taxpayers this budget does not contribute to that on-going crisis, and works to reverse it,” Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler said.

“The budget that we passed today is the most comprehensive budget-related legislative package I have experienced in a long time. It is a budget that puts the needs of the people before the needs of the government,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor

State Rep. Tina Pickett, Republican, said the budget was business friendly and would benefit the rural communities she serves.

“This budget addresses many of the Commonwealth’s needs, and it also sets some new directions,” said Pickett. “The spending we approved that makes a difference in the communities I represent includes an even greater investment in educating our children and enhanced health care for our seniors.”

Fellow State Rep. Kurt Masser, Republican, said he was pleased with the budget’s investment in environmental programs while also “protecting taxpayers.”

Republican state Rep. Clint Owlett echoed Masser’s comments on taxpayers.

Owlett said, “the budget includes no new or increased taxes and actually sets aside more money for the Rainy-Day Fund and carries additional funding into the following fiscal year to help mitigate the impacts of the anticipated economic downturn.”

The $45 million being spent on election funding was also seen as a win, but Owlett still sees a way to go until “confidence” is restored.

“While this is a good step for election integrity, we have more work to do to restore confidence in the system,” Owlett said.

State Rep. Martin Causer, Republican, said this budget fulfilled his top priorities when looking over a budget.

“My top priority in every single state budget is to be fiscally responsible while funding the core functions of government, including public safety, health care and education,” Causer said. “We have achieved that goal with this budget.”

The budget was also touted for the ways it planned on using the influx of federal funds after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The responsible approach was taken when dealing with the influx of federal COVID-19 funding combined with a state revenue surplus,” said Republican state Rep. Lynda Culver. “We paid off outstanding debt that was accessed to pass prior budgets before adding more than $2 billion to our Rainy Day Fund, bringing it in line with other states. We also reserved more than $3 billion in the General Fund to address future budget shortfalls.”

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