Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) and Republican legislators reported earlier this week that they had reached an agreement on important parts of the state’s budget. GOP leaders in the Senate and the House explained that the $30.26 billion plan would hopefully increase education funding, create a sales tax addition that may provide property tax relief, and change the public pension and State Store (state liquor stores) systems.
Chris Palmer and Angela Couloumbis report for The Philadelphia Inquirer that both sides say there are details to address and there still seem to be controversy about the range of the agreement. Lawmakers say that controversial topics that have not been discussed for years also had to be tackled.
None of those involved would explain how or when they were able to reach the breakthrough, at what time the proposal would be ready to be considered by lawmakers, or when money would be available to schools, offices, and agencies that have been without state aid for months. Some believed that the agreement might come by Thanksgiving.
The governor’s camp claimed a victory in the substantial increase in state funding to schools for this school year, writes Charles Thompson of The Patriot-News. The governor’s Press Secretary Jeff Sheridan pointed to the two-year commitment to raise significant pre-school and requisite education line items by $750 million through the current year and next.
Senate Republican members clarified that so far they had agreed to $400 million in spending growth for this budget year, and discussions about pre-school funding were not yet finalized.
There will be a $350 million raise in the state’s basic education grant, which is the primary source of state aid for K-12 classroom instruction. Wolf was expecting $400 million in new funding.
The new numbers would increase this line item from $5.53 billion in 2014 to $5.88 billion, which would represent one out of every five dollars spent from Pennsylvania’s $30 billion general fund.
The budget will carry a $50 million increase in state funding for special education services, making the total funding for this item almost $1.1 billion. Wolf’s initial hope was for an additional $100 million.
Before Wolf’s office announced the funding agreement, the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank, warned that there was possibly a $600 million increase in sales tax in the budget plan, according to WPMT-TV’s Katie Kyros.
“This backdoor, broad-based tax increase proposal isn’t the kind of compromise Pennsylvania families are looking for,” Matthew Broulliette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, says in a statement. “When revenue-generating alternatives like liquor privatization, pension reform, and corporate welfare cuts are still on the table, ideas that include hundreds of millions in new taxes should be out of the question.”
But nonprofits were delighted that the budget could soon pass.
“I’m really happy to hear it, because education should be our number one priority, particularly early childhood education,” says Bob Woods, executive director of the United Way of York County.
The final agreement will depend on a plan for the state’s system of alcohol sales, which Republicans would like to see disbanded. It will also require finishing a proposal for changes to the pension systems for public school and state workers, writes The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Karen Langley.
Also, a decision still needs to be made concerning how to distribute property tax monies among school districts and how to regulate increases in property taxes locally.