Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest spending plan, as any initial budget always does, has a little bit of everything. There are things to easily support, some we may support once we learn more, some with which we flat out disagree.
The 2020-21 budget calls for $36 billion in spending, up from $34 billion a year ago. It calls for college scholarships for 25,000 students if they attend one of the State System of Higher Education universities. It calls for an increase in the minimum wage. It calls for all-day kindergarten and establishes uniform tuition at the state’s approved charter and cyber schools.
Among the highlights:
n Kudos on pushing all-day kindergarten. The state must continue to find ways to pump funds into early childhood education. Pushing schools that don’t provide all-day kindergarten — every Valley school district already has full-time kindergarten but more than 10 percent of state schools don’t — is a step in the right direction. Pennsylvania cannot put enough money into early childhood education. The funds put into this agenda item always offer payback in the long run.
n Wolf once again offered up an extraction tax on natural gas drilling. It’s been a non-starter in Harrisburg — and will likely continue to be so — but it feels like Pennsylvania is missing a chance. While Pennsylvania has an impact fee, it is the largest state in the nation without a severance tax, a missed opportunity considering only Texas has more natural gas.
n The governor continues to wisely push for a way to fund the state police. Some view the per capita tax as taxes stacked on top of another. Until the state finds a way to appropriately fund the state police, money will continue to be pulled from other pots — including the gas tax used to fund infrastructure improvements — to fund state police.
n Steering $200 million in tax revenue from slot machines to fund scholarships for students at the State System of Higher Education seems like a good idea. We are curious about the selection process, which must be as transparent at every step of the way. We share Sen. Wayne Langerholc’s concern regarding out-of-state students possibly being eligble.
n The governor’s request to jump to $12 minimum wage on July 1 is too much too soon. Certainly, Pennsylvania is overdue for a minimum wage increase. But an immediate nearly $5 jump — from $7.25 to $12 — is steep. The state should follow what others have done and take gradual steps to get to $12 and even more in the future.
As always, there are budget items to like and to dislike in Gov. Wolf’s spending plan. The General Assembly has hearings scheduled for the next two months to map out their budget plans before the two sides marry them together ahead of the June 30 deadline.
The state has four and a half months to get this done. Clearly, some budget lines should move quickly. Others deserve scrutiny. The clock is now ticking.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board, Harvey Edwards and Joanne Troutmant. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.