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Gov. Wolf’s Final Budget Calls for Investments in Pre-K through College

by Emily Scott, Keystone State News Connection

Gov. Wolf’s Final Budget Calls for Investments in Pre-K through College

Gov. Tom Wolf shared his final budget proposal on Tuesday, with a focus on taking advantage of a $2 billion to $3 billion surplus to invest in public education, a pillar of his 2013 campaign.

In the budget address to a joint House and Senate session, Wolf spoke about progress made in his two terms as Pennsylvania governor. When he took office in 2014, the Commonwealth had a budget deficit of $2 billion to $3 billion, and the Rainy Day Fund was down to its last $231,000. As the first governor since 1987 to turn over a budget surplus to a successor, Wolf wants $1.9 billion to benefit students, from pre-K through college.

“We can afford to invest a whole lot more in the Fair Funding Formula without raising one penny in state taxes, and we can afford to do that without asking any school district, anywhere in Pennsylvania, to sacrifice one penny in state funding,” Wolf said. “Let’s not waste this opportunity.”

In Republicans’ response to the budget, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said a spending increase of $4.5 billion would “intensify personal financial pressures on all Pennsylvanians,” and that the budget “requires discipline that continues to move our Commonwealth toward a path of economic stability and success.”

Wolf proposed $70 million for high-quality pre-K programs, along with $1.4 billion for K-through-12 public education, with a focus on equitable support for underfunded schools. He also continued his long-standing appeal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25.

“Our failure to increase the minimum wage is costing us right now,” he said. “When people are able to earn a decent wage, they can contribute to the economic lives of their communities and the Commonwealth. When they work full-time but still don’t earn enough to pay for bare necessities, taxpayers end up footing the bill.”

Wolf is requesting a minimum wage of $12 an hour by July 1, with annual 50-cent increases to get to $15 in 2028. Senate President Pro Tem Jake Corman, R-Centre, said hearings will begin soon for a final budget by June that, in his words, “meets the needs of the Commonwealth.”