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HARRISBURG, PA — Lawmakers in the state Senate and House agreed to a budget before the July 1 deadline, and most Republicans have expressed satisfaction. Sen. Lisa Baker, who voted in favor of the budget legislation, said it boosts education spending and makes a substantial investment in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The budget includes no tax increases and a plan to tax municipalities utilizing state police instead of local police departments was rejected.
“This budget is a reasonable and responsible effort at fitting some well-targeted spending increases within expected revenue,” said Baker. “The priorities for increases are places that will benefit the district: education, worker skills, farm assistance, school and community safety, and enhanced services for crime and abuse victims, and another layer of funding is provided for dealing with widespread drug and alcohol problems that continue to afflict our communities.”
The state collected $856 million more in revenue than expected for the 2018-19 fiscal year, and $300 million of that will go into the state’s Rainey Day Fund.
The plan was also lauded by Rep. Jonathan Fritz. “With our determination to cut back and manage our state’s spending, as well as a strong economy, we have seen a definite uptick in our state’s revenues,” said Fritz. “This has allowed us to pour $300 million back into our once dwindling Rainy Day Fund, further invest money in Pennsylvania’s education system and increase our pension fund contributions. All of this has been accomplished without a severance tax, bailouts or new taxes and fees.”
For Democrats in Harrisburg there was disappointment that the budget deal did not include an increase in the state’s minimum wage. Pennsylvania is one of 21 states that set their minimum wage at the lowest level allowed under federal law, $7.25 an hour.
All of the states surrounding Pennsylvania have higher minimums: West Virginia’s is $8.25; Ohio’s minimum is $8.55; New York’s minimum wage outside New York City is $11.10, and will increase to $15.00 by 2020; New Jersey’s minimum $8.85 increasing to $15.00 by 2024; Delaware’s minimum is $9.25; Maryland’s minimum is $10.10, increasing to $15.00 by 2026.
Rep. Patty Kim, who has been one of the strongest proponents of raising the minimum, has said the members of the House’s appropriations committee have argued that minimum wage jobs are not intended to support a family. Her view, however, is that state and federal services should not be necessary to support people working 40 hours a week.
Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa Jr. voted in favor of the bill despite its shortcomings. “We should have increased the minimum wage [above] the poverty-level of $7.25 per hour, done substantive work on renewable energy standards, and instituted a tax on natural gas drilling.” He said, “I’m not calling this budget mission accomplished; I’m calling it mission begun. We’ll be back in the fall to tackle these policy initiatives that we know have the support of the majority of Pennsylvanians.”