Pennsylvania budget passes with more money for schools, retirement homes

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The Republican-led Pennsylvania legislature on Friday night passed the state budget with more money for schools and nursing homes and no tax increase.

While the majority party has called the spending plan a “historic investment”, some Democrats are calling it a “missed opportunity.”

Pennsylvania House passed Budget 140-61, and the Senate passed it 43-7. The budget bill is now heading to Governor Tom Wolf, who has said he will sign it next week.

Republicans say more than $ 13 billion in funding goes from Kindergarten to Grade 12 as the biggest education investment in Pennsylvania history.

Democrats say it’s not enough when some students in poor neighborhoods will still have to go to schools full of asbestos where it’s not safe to drink water.

“While some might call this historic funding… our students needed transformational funding,” said House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania lawmakers on Friday night passed a state budget that includes more money for education and nursing homes, but saves most of the federal stimulus money from the US bailout.

The $ 40 billion spending plan was negotiated by key House and Senate leaders and Wolf’s office. Both parties got a little of what they wanted, but not all they wanted, as spending rose about 8% from last year’s budget.

For example, Wolf wanted over $ 1 billion added to education funding, and that resulted in an increase of $ 416 million.

The funding increase is targeted to “the most underfunded districts that disproportionately serve students of color, students in poverty, students with disabilities and English learners,” Wolf said.

The governor showed his support for the budget late Friday night, pointing out that Pennsylvania provides nearly $ 2 billion more a year for education than when he took office.

“Our economy has weathered the pandemic and is now moving forward. We are a Commonwealth on the return,” Wolf said in a statement. “This budget will help our state move forward and rebuild a strong and fair economy that works for Pennsylvanians.”

Pennsylvania’s budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 reflects the continuing needs after the coronavirus crisis and includes the following:

  • $ 13.5 billion for kindergarten to grade 12 education
  • $ 450 million for rent assistance
  • $ 350 million for mortgage assistance
  • $ 282 million for nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  • $ 279 million for roads and bridges
  • $ 36 million to help pay water bills
  • $ 30 million for violence prevention
  • $ 3 million for food banks and soup kitchens

“We got more money for schools, seniors, violence prevention and roads and bridges, but it’s not enough,” said Democratic House leader Joanna McClinton.

The biggest criticism of McClinton and other Democrats is that Republicans are saving over $ 7 billion on a $ 10 billion surplus. More than $ 7 billion of that surplus comes from the federal revival of President Joe Biden’s US bailout, which was designed to help people recover from the pandemic.

“Where’s the help?” She said on the floor of the house. “We haven’t done enough … I thought the people of this place wanted to lower property taxes. I thought the people of this place wanted to help small businesses.”

Harris criticized lawmakers for not using the surplus to fairly fund schools or help Pennsylvanians who continue to suffer from the pandemic.

“It’s not our money,” he said. “We should give the money back to the Pennsylvanians in the form of property tax relief. We should give the money back to the Pennsylvanians in the best schools.”

“The next time a property tax bill comes to your house and you have a hard time affording it, remember some people here said we’ve done enough and can hide our surplus,” Harris said.

Previous coverage:Pennsylvania lawmakers, Wolf near budget deadline: 5 things to watch

Stimulus:Pennsylvania received $ 7 billion in federal stimulus money. How will state lawmakers, Wolf, spend it?

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Center, said the budget would invest nearly $ 3 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund “so we don’t get caught off guard.”

He said the way state lawmakers manage taxpayer money is how many Pennsylvanians manage their household budgets – saving for the unexpected.

Lawmakers fear that they will return to a deficit in fiscal year 2023-24.

“By learning from the past and wisely managing a large influx of one-time federal money into Pennsylvania to meet current and future needs, we can be sure that no matter what happens, we won’t have to go back to taxpayers for more.” of their hard-earned money, ”Benninghoff said.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said Pennsylvanians can take pride “in knowing that their hard-earned dollars are bringing the state out of a pandemic and into a brighter future.”

When Senate Democrats debated the bill, they said the money should not go to the Rainy Day Fund because people are still suffering from the pandemic.

“It’s raining now,” said. Senator Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia. “Many of us in this room are ready to stand up on behalf of the Pennsylvanians left behind by this budget.”

He and Senator Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, criticized Republican lawmakers for not including the risk premium for the “frontline heroes” who have worked throughout the pandemic.

“These federal dollars could have been allocated …” she said. “One more day to live in Pennsylvania’s economic anxiety.”

Senator Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, said he recalled when state lawmakers spent the federal stimulus money from the recession in 2010 and then suffered a huge deficit the following year .

“We lost a governor because of it,” he said.

Wolf successfully campaigned for governor in 2014, accusing former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, of cutting $ 1 billion from Pennsylvania’s education budget. The Democrat was able to do it because Corbett failed to renew an investment in schools made possible by federal aid during the recession.

Lawmakers don’t want to find themselves in a position where they make large one-time investments that they cannot support or are forced to raise taxes to support those investments, he said.

“We can’t afford to start over,” Scavello said. “This is a time when we have to live within our means.”

Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said the fight was not over with the end of the session.

There is progress, but “no touchdown,” he said.

The state must act immediately to finish the job and help the suffering Pennsylvanians, Hughes said.

“We cannot wait a whole year,” he said. “We have a lot to do when we get back in September.

Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

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