Pennsylvania’s $ 40 billion budget includes more money for poorer school districts, saves most federal relief funding
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HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania legislature on Friday brought forward a $ 40 billion budget that sends more money to the state’s poorest school districts, doesn’t include new taxes, and saves billions of dollars in federal relief.
Unlike in past years, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature headed into the June budget season with a financial windfall: $ 7.3 billion from the federal coronavirus relief plan signed in March by the President Joe Biden, and an additional $ 3 billion in tax collection after a surprisingly strong recovery from the pandemic, projections of a multibillion-dollar deficit have been reversed.
The plan is recovering much of that excess revenue – $ 2.5 billion – from the state’s rainy day fund. It also uses just over $ 1 billion in federal relief funds available for nursing and personal care homes, after-school and summer enrichment programs, and road and bridge projects.
That leaves over $ 5 billion, which Republicans have said they want to save for future budgets.
“We went through this in 2008, 2009,” said Rep. Stan Saylor (R., York), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “We got all these federal dollars and what happened was they spent all the dollars right away and then the next governor came in… and there was a $ 4 billion deficit. “
The main budget bill passed the State House 140-61 on Friday night, and the State Senate followed a few years later with a 43-7 vote. A number of other bills need to be finalized to bring the budget process to a close.
Minority Democrats called the spending plan a missed opportunity. Party members from both legislative chambers had called for spending federal money on a variety of causes, including grants for affordable housing programs and wage increases for direct care workers.
A number of interest groups were separately asking for a share of the federal money. Unions representing a variety of frontline workers were seeking wage increases for their base.
“This document which has been unceremoniously imposed on us intends to save money for a rainy day,” Senator Nikil Saval (D., Philadelphia) said on the bedroom floor. “But let’s be clear, this holds a lifeline for the millions of people across our state who are drowning after 16 months of torrential downpours. This rainy day is coming right now.
February of the wolf the budget proposal was a $ 37.8 billion plan, in which he asked lawmakers about $ 1 billion in additional spending for the fiscal year ending June 30.
The governor also called for a major overhaul of the state’s personal income tax to ensure increased funding for public education. Initially, he wanted to reduce the tax rate on low incomes and shift a heavier burden to the highest incomes in order to raise about $ 4 billion more each year.
Republicans have dismissed Wolf’s plan as too bloated and excessive, and have negotiated a compromise plan with Democrats in recent weeks.
The governor, however, continued to push for a massive new state commitment of $ 1.3 billion per year for public schools, in addition to the $ 6.8 billion already spent, to help correct the problems. long-term disparities in the way the state distributes aid to poorer districts.
The final budget plan, by contrast, increases funding for basic education by $ 300 million. Of this, $ 200 million will be sent through the Equitable Funding Formula – which determines a district’s share of state dollars based on factors such as enrollment, students learning English, or in poverty and median household income – while an additional $ 100 million will be shared by the 100 poorest neighborhoods in the state.
Districts that will benefit from the “Level Up” supplement include the Pottstown School District in Montgomery County, McKeesport in Allegheny County, and the towns of Lancaster, Reading and York in central Pennsylvania.
Wolf and the Democrats had called for sending all of the state’s basic education funding, not just new money, through the formula to bridging the gap between rich and poor school districts.
“I am delighted that the 100 most underfunded school districts in the Commonwealth will get the increased funds they need to educate their students,” Representative Maureen E. Madden (D., Monroe) told the House. . floor. “But maybe my three school districts are 101st school and 102nd school and 103rd school. What does our frugality mean for these school districts, for these taxpayers, for these landlords? “
The budget also increases funding for special education by $ 50 million and pre-kindergarten programs by $ 30 million, while earmarking $ 40 million to expand a tax credit program that sends out donations every year. hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to private and parish schools.
While lamenting the lack of federal relief spending, House and Senate Democrats have touted a new $ 30 million investment in block grants for community violence prevention.
“We know that no matter where you live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, especially over the past 12 months, gun violence has increased dramatically,” Minority Leader Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia), citing the 264 homicides in his own city. this year. “As a legislative body, we are interrupting this cycle. “
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