HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Governor Tom Wolf has signed the Pennsylvania State Budget more than a week after the state’s deadline.
The budget includes significant funding for public schools, environmental programs and long-term care facilities. It will also leave some $5 billion in the state’s rainy day fund, create a multibillion-dollar cushion for next year and cut the tax on corporate net income.
“Since I took office, Pennsylvania’s students and families have been my top priority. We have made long overdue investments in the people of Pennsylvania, including better education for all, safer communities, and a brighter future,” 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. I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished.”
On Thursday the House passed the deal with a 180-20 vote, while all but two in the Senate approved the deal.
The $42.8 billion spending plan includes hundreds of millions to clean streams and renovate or repair parks and forest land, and new money for home repairs, flood control, sewer and water infrastructure, child care, additional state troopers, anti-gun violence efforts and mental health support.
K-12 education spending jumps by more than a half-billion dollars, and Pennsylvania’s 100 poorest districts are splitting an additional $225 million. There are also larger subsidies for early childhood education, special education and the state-owned Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Republican House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) and Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor (R-York) highlighted environmental, education, and mental health funding in the proposed deal. Rep. Saylor said the budget puts $100 million into mental health to avoid tragedies that have occurred across the country.
An additional $100 million would go towards school security following a deadly shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
This year’s $1.8 billion increase in education spending includes:
- $525 million increase through the Fair Funding Formula. On average Pennsylvania schools will see their funding increase by 8 percent.
- $225 million increase for Level Up to provide targeted support to the 100 most in-need school districts, ensuring that every child in Pennsylvania has the opportunity to thrive and succeed through equal access to a high-quality education no matter their zip code.
- $100 million increase for Special Education.
- $79 million increase for Early Education through Pre-K Counts and Head Start.
- $220 million for public higher education.
“We are very pleased that the lawmakers who voted for this budget joined Gov. Wolf in making public education and Pennsylvania students a priority,” Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association said.
Meeting the Needs of Pennsylvanians
The Governor’s office says the budget prioritizes direct resources for Pennsylvanians and Pennsylvania families, and makes legacy investments in state parks and the environment, including:
- $140 million in direct property tax relief to implement Gov. Wolf’s proposed one-time bonus rebate through the Property Tax Rent Rebate Program.
- $375 million for safe and affordable housing by creating new units, repairing existing units and funding home repairs.
- $90 million to stabilize the child care workforce through recruitment and retention payments.
- $25 million for a new Child Care Tax Credit to benefit Pennsylvania’s working families with children in child care.
- $2 million for women’s reentry to give reentrants the best opportunity to start fresh and reduce recidivism.
- $1 million for a Hunger Free Campus Initiative that will provide grants to higher education institutions to create or expand food pantries and further address college food insecurity.
- $100 million for adult mental health services, and the creation of a dedicated Behavioral Health Commission to make recommendations for allocating the funds.
- $100 million for student mental health support to ensure Pennsylvania’s youth have all the resources they need to overcome challenges and succeed through Ready to Learn Block Grants.
- $35 million to recapitalize the Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program.
- $696 million for conservation, recreation, and preservation, including funding to support the creation of three new state parks and a new ATV park.
In addition to these investments, the budget “supports a stronger business economy to bring new business and good paying jobs to Pennsylvania. This is a result of reforming Pennsylvania’s Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT) to ensure tax equality and fairness and reduce the CNIT to 4.99 percent by 2031.”
Supporting Safer Communities
This budget includes funding to help make Pennsylvania communities safer through increased security and grassroots violence interruption efforts, including:
- $250,000 increase for It’s On Us PA to further combat sexual assault and make colleges and universities safer.
- $100 million increase for School Safety Grants to ensure children learn and grow in safe, healthy environments.
- $50 million for Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention programs to promote grassroots efforts for safer communities.
- $105 million for violence prevention, public safety, and safer communities.
- $135 million for local law enforcement support.
- $5 million for Non-Profit Security Grants to provide security grants to organizations targeted by hate crime.
Securing Financial Stability
- Depositing a record $2.1 billion into the Rainy Day Fund, building it to a historic balance of nearly $5 billion.
- Securing a $5.3 billion surplus, on top of the Rainy Day Fund balance, for Pennsylvania’s future.
- Makes strategic investments to set up the commonwealth to support Pennsylvanians without raising taxes or creating a future fiscal cliff.
“We all made compromises,” said Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland. “None of us got what we wanted, but we all came to a good compromise.”
With strong majorities in both chambers, Republicans got a lot of what they wanted, including a 1% decrease in the corporate net income tax and a program to help counties run elections while prohibiting the type of outside financial support that was controversial during the 2020 election.
The state fund will be used to help counties register voters, prepare and administer elections and audit the results.
The budget includes more money for a property tax and rent rebate program for seniors and to help lower-income people afford the cost of heating.
A new $125 million “whole home repairs program” was started, offering grants of up to $50,000 for homeowners with household incomes at or below 80% of local median income. Some landlords will also qualify for forgivable loans. The money can be used to make homes habitable, make utilities more efficient or improve access for those with disabilities.
Ward called it the first functionally balanced budget in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s. In recent years, lawmakers have regularly relied on one-time infusions of cash and accounting tricks to “balance” the state budget, but the 2022-23 plan repays some $2 billion in budget-related borrowing while paying off a $42 million debt in the unemployment compensation trust fund.
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, a state-run effort popular with Republicans that gives businesses tax breaks in return for donating to private school tuition, will rise by 45% to more than $400 million.
As part of the deal, Wolf has agreed to pull charter school regulations that had been approved in March.
On the environment, the framework would spend some $220 million in federal funds to help clean streams, about $150 million to fix up parks and forest land, and more for sewer and water infrastructure, flood control and storm water projects.
A $45 million expenditure for elections through a state agency would help counties with the costs of voter registration, preparing and administering elections and auditing the results. Private donations to pay for elections would be prohibited.
The legislation was in response to Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg’s donation of hundreds of millions of dollars to help fund local elections strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of it was distributed through a nonpartisan organization, the Center for Tech and Civic Life.
In Pennsylvania, more than 20 counties, Philadelphia and the Department of State received funding, totaling nearly $25 million, according to the center’s tax documents. Across the country, the money paid for mail and absentee ballot equipment, temporary staffing and personal protective equipment.
A child care tax credit would be created, along with more money for a property tax and rent rebate program for seniors and to help lower-income people afford the cost of heating their homes.
The corporate net income tax rate, currently 10%, would drop by 1 percentage point this year and then be on track for half-point cuts in future years until it would hit 5%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report