Shapiro signs into law bipartisan budget, ending long impasse

Citing a “commonsense budget,” Gov. Josh Shapiro signed into law Thursday afternoon a bipartisan budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year. 

Agreement on the $45.5 billion appropriations bill (HB 611) ended an impasse dating to the original June 30 deadline. 

The Shapiro Administration said that the budget delivered on the governor’s priorities of creating a stronger economy, safer and healthier communities, and better schools. The 2023-24 budget invests in children’s education, supports businesses in part by accelerating permitting, helps other adults remain in their homes, strengthens and protects communities, and seeks to make certain law enforcement and first responders have needed resources. 

Shapiro also plans to sign into law on Friday an expansion of the Property Tax/Rent Rebate, aimed at easing the burden of rising costs on Pennsylvania seniors. 

“The people of Pennsylvania have entrusted me with the responsibility to bring people together in a divided legislature and to get things done for them – and with this commonsense budget, that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Throughout my campaign and in my first budget address, I laid out a vision for how the commonwealth could create real opportunity and advance real freedom for all Pennsylvanians. 

“With this budget and the expansion of the Property Tax/Rent Rebate, we’re making good on that promise by delivering the largest targeted tax cut for our seniors in nearly two decades, creating real opportunity for our workers by expanding vo-tech and apprenticeship programs, supporting our state troopers and local first responders, and making historic investments in our kids and their schools. This is what it looks like when government works together to make Pennsylvanians’ lives better.” 

Lieutenant Gov. Austin Davis said the bipartisan budget addresses Pennsylvanian’s desires for state legislators to “take off the red and blue jerseys” and put on a Pennsylvania jersey. 

“This budget addresses the most pressing issues facing our communities and delivers real results for the people of Pennsylvania,” said Davis. “It’s a direct investment in making our economy stronger, our communities safer, our schools better and our families healthier.” 

Shapiro line-item vetoed the full $100 million appropriation for the PASS scholarship program.

Highlights of the budget include:

  • Largest increase in basic education funding and historic investment in Pennsylvania schools. 
  • Investments in community and economic development. 
  • Investments in Pennsylvania agriculture. 
  • Increasing access to apprenticeships and vocational and technical education. 
  • Improving Pennsylvania’s permitting and licensing processes. 
  • First-time funding for indigent defense. 
  • Repairing infrastructure and supporting law enforcement. 
  • Investments in mental health, addressing maternal mortality, and supporting EMS and health care providers.

The latter has been criticized by the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA), which issued a press release Thursday morning stating that the budget’s focus is education funding, leaving seniors and adults with disabilities and those requiring specialized nursing care to be overlooked. Health providers across Pennsylvania have warned legislators that a lack of funding could lead to a collapse of the state’s long-term care system.

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) on Wednesday night called the Senate back to session at 1 p.m. Thursday to “negotiate in good faith” and finalize the bill.

Signing HB 611 will provide the necessary funding to schools, counties, and organizations completing 75% of the budget,” Ward stated. “The remaining 25% of the budget requires legislation to authorize expenditures. Gov. Shapiro has provided us the necessary assurances to guarantee the monies for those programs will remain untouched until the legislature has finalized the language.”

New state program will fund home repairs

The 2022-2023 state budget just signed by Gov. Tom Wolf includes $125 million to fund a new program to pay for home repairs and other improvements for those with limited incomes.

Pennsylvania legislators and housing advocates praised the Whole-Home Repairs Program – believed to be the first of its kind in the country – as a step toward addressing the commonwealth’s housing affordability crisis.

The legislation to establish the initiative was proposed by Democratic Sen. Nikil Saval from Philadelphia but earned bipartisan support.

Saval, the Democratic chair of the Senate’s Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, introduced the legislation in the Senate with the full Democratic Caucus and five Republican senators as co-sponsors.

Homeowners with household incomes not exceeding 80% of area median income are eligible for grants up to $50,000 in the program. Forgivable loans for landlords who meet certain requirements are available as well.

The money can be used for habitability concerns, energy or water efficiency improvements, or accessibility for people with disabilities.

In addition, the $125 million covers staff to assist people in cutting through red tape, and pays for training to expand the skilled local workforce needed to make the improvements, through pre-apprenticeship and other programs.

The commonwealth has some of the oldest housing stock in the country.

“One out of every four Pennsylvania voters lives in a home that needs a critical repair, while one out of every three describes their utility bills as ‘unaffordable,’ ” a release from Saval’s office noted. “And if confronted with the need to make a critical repair to their home, nearly half of Pennsylvanians say they would struggle to afford it.”

With the Whole-Home Repairs Program the first of its kind in the nation, Saval hopes it becomes a model for other states in how to preserve aging housing stock while adding jobs.

“Every person has a right to a home that is safe – a home that is healthy,” he said in the release. “But right now, across our commonwealth, hundreds of thousands of households are denied this right simply because they don’t have access to the resources they need to repair their homes.”

Saval said the program starts to reverse the disinvestment urban, suburban and rural communities have experienced for decades at the hands of government.

“At this time of protracted hardship … we have a program to preserve housing across the commonwealth, to stabilize our communities, to prevent blight and abandonment and displacement, to build a skilled workforce to keep our state at the forefront of the industries of the future, and to protect the place that is most dear to all of us: home.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Pennsylvania’s 2022-2023 budget praised by business community

Business leaders and stakeholders around the state are offering mostly praise for the $45.2 billion 2022-2023 Pennsylvania General Appropriations Budget, which was passed by the state legislature and then signed by the governor on July 8. 

The budget, which includes federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, represents a 2.9% increase over the previous year’s spending, but is $500 million less than Gov. Tom Wolf’s original budget. 

The feature of the budget that has garnered the most praise from business leaders is the fact that it cuts the Corporate Net Income (CNI) tax rate from 9.99% to 8.99% and creates a phased reduction to 4.99%. 

“This tax change will greatly benefit our small business and agribusiness communities, helping them leverage additional funds to invest in expansion, improvements, and technology upgrades, said Jim Gerlach, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, adding that it “will send a clear signal that Pa. is truly ‘Open for Business.’” 

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the change, saying that the state’s business community has long advocated for a reduction to improve the state’s overall competitiveness and economic climate. 

For decades, Pennsylvania’s CNIT rate, which at 9.99 percent was the highest flat rate in the country, served as a barrier to growth, said PA Chamber President and CEO Luke Bernstein. 

“This monumental tax reform package is a giant step towards making Pennsylvania more competitive,” he said 

Gerlach also applauded the use of the ARPA funds. 

“We are very pleased to see $42 million of American Rescue Plan funds go to paying down outstanding debt in the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund which will ensure the Unemployment Compensation Tax levied on businesses will not be increased due to COVID related job loss,” he said. 

The budget also provides increases in the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) on top of an $850 million increase for K-12 school districts with $225 million earmarked for the 100 neediest school districts. 

The leadership of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education said the budget would have a positive impact on higher education, as well. 

“We are incredibly appreciative of the governor and General Assembly for this historic investment in the 90,000 students that our PASSHE universities serve,” said Cynthia Shapira, chair of the PASSHE board of governors. “This unprecedented additional funding recognizes that state system universities have kept their promises to the state with a redesign that is delivering positive results for our commonwealth and more opportunities for our students.   

The 2022-23 state budget invests $552.5 million in PASSHE, a $75 million increase from $477.5 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Shapira said this is the largest single-year increase PASSHE has received from the state and will benefit students by allowing the state system to hold tuition flat for the fourth consecutive year, despite inflation. 

Additionally, the budget provides $125 million in one-time ARPA funding to support system redesign. In total, the budget invests $677.5 million in the state-owned university system and its students. 

Those in senior care also praised the budget. 

LeadingAge PA, an association representing more than 360 senior services providers, said they will benefit from funding provided by the 2022-23 budget. 

The budget provides a 17.5% rate increase in direct aid to nursing homes, which it said is the first across-the-board Medicaid funding increase in nearly a decade. This Medicaid funding increase is effective Jan. 1, 2023, with over $131 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding also included to help bridge the gap. 

“These historic steps come at a time when long-term care providers continue to battle unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic,” said LeadingAge PA President and CEO Garry Pezzano.   

“Pennsylvania’s long-term care providers have struggled for too long with dwindling resources that threaten to severely limit the aging population’s access to care,” Pezzano said. “Pennsylvanians deserve the best long-term care system in America. Today, we took an important step toward achieving that goal.” 

Not all organizations were happy with the budget, however, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) expressed disappointment that it did not get the funding it was promised. 

The Governor’s initial budget proposal to fully fund the DRBC with more than $893,000, however, legislative negotiations cut funding to $217,000, the same level that Pennsylvania has been funding the commission at since 2014. 

“Full share funding to the Delaware River Basin Commission from each of the basin states is a major priority of the Coalition because the Commission is a key player in the proper management of the Watershed” said Kelly Knutson, director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “With full support of all the basin states, the DRBC would have the staffing and programming support necessary to effectively monitor water quality and make informed decisions on river flow management.” 

Wolf Administration approves Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative 

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program rewarding power companies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions, has been finalized by the Wolf Administration. 

The initiative, commonly known as RGGI, has been a focus of Gov. Tom Wolf’s since 2019 when he directed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop rulemaking that established a carbon dioxide budget consistent with other RGGI participating states. 

RGGI is a partnership between 11 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. States participating in the program set a regional cap on CO2 emissions from electric power plants. 

Each state has its CO2 allowance budget, which plants must purchase from in an equal amount to the CO2 they emit. 

By joining RGGI, Pennsylvania will reduce up to 225 million tons of carbon pollution from its plants by 2030, prevent up to 30,000 hospital visits for respiratory illnesses like asthma and increase its Gross State Product by nearly $2 billion and 30,000 jobs by 2030, according to the Wolf Administration. 

“Today we are already experiencing the effects of climate change and those impacts are only going to get worse. Our children and their children are going to look back at our decisions and by participating in RGGI, we have begun to set Pennsylvania on the path forward to addressing this threat,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Climate change caused by pollution remains the most critical environmental threat confronting us and we are already paying the price.” 

RGGI was approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission of Pennsylvania last September and was then sent to the General Assembly for debate. 

Opponents have pointed out that the initiative would harm Pennsylvania businesses and could send the state’s power plants to other states. 

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Senate failed to block the program, falling just under the two-thirds margin needed to override an earlier veto Wolf made of a resolution passed by the Senate last year meant to void RGGI. 

The Senate is also expected to soon vote on House Bill 637, after its passage in the House in March. House Bill 637 would force the program to need legislative approval before a carbon tax on employers could be imposed on the state. 

DEP’s CO2 Budget Trading Program regulation, which will enter Pennsylvania into RGGI, will be published in the April 23, 2022 issue of the Pennsylvania Bulletin.  

The program is on track to participate in RGGI’s next quarterly auction, which sets the price for the purchases of allowances. Revenue from the auctions is returned to the states for reinvestment in efficiency and other Greenhouse Gas reduction programs. 

“Pennsylvania’s program is projected to cut up to 227 million tons of carbon pollution by 2030, deliver billions of dollars in public health benefits, and provide hundreds of millions of dollars annually for reinvestment in Pennsylvania’s families and communities,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of the Harrisburg-based Clean Air Council. “These investments can help improve housing quality, increase energy efficiency, and lower electricity bills, as well as further eliminate air pollution.” 


Gov. Wolf’s 2022-23 budget proposes $4.5 billion spending increase 

In his final budget speech before the General Assembly on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf looked back at how the state has recovered from the budget deficit it was in during his first budget address in 2015 and highlighted plans for a $43.7 billion budget that he says can leverage the state’s current surplus. 

Wolf’s budget looks to invest in job training and employee retention with a series of provisions including increasing the minimum wage, reducing the corporate net income tax, funding childcare options for state employees and more. 

It also includes a significant emphasis on pre-k through college education with $1.9 billion in allocated funds. 

“Over the past seven years, we’ve turned a $2-3 billion structural budget deficit into a $2-3 billion budget surplus. We’ve built our Rainy Day Fund to more than $2.8 billion—more than 12,000 times what it was when I took office,” Wolf said in his address on Tuesday. “We are no longer digging out of a hole. We’re ready to build. And this year’s budget does exactly that, by making new investments that will build a brighter future for Pennsylvania families.” 

The budget would increase spending by $4.5 billion and would come at the expense of Pennsylvania’s long-term financial security, according to a statement released by Senate Republican Leaders, who said the budget was less about Pennsylvania and more about Wolf’s legacy. 

“While this year’s revenues continue to outpace estimates, the long-term financial picture for the Commonwealth remains uncertain. The Governor’s revenue and spending projections over the next several years are unrealistic, do not align with traditional rates of growth and will make worse our existing structural imbalance,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne, R-Lehigh. 

The budget continues an effort by the Wolf Administration to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which would increase to $12 per hour on July 1, 2022, with annual increases of $0.50 until reaching $15 in 2028. 

Wolf’s annual push for increases to the minimum wage has been met with scrutiny by business associations that say that a minimum wage would harm small businesses in rural regions and that the majority of Pennsylvania businesses have moved away from the state minimum of $7.25 an hour. 

“Governor Wolf again called for increasing the minimum wage to an eventual $15/hour. The median wage in Pennsylvania increased from $16.50 in 2020 to $17.00 in 2021. The market continues to move wages far beyond $7.25/hour, demonstrating little need for new government wage mandates,” the National Federation of Independent Businesses wrote in a statement on Tuesday. 

The budget also seeks to decrease the state’s corporate net income tax rate from 9.99% to 4.99% “as quickly as possible.” Pennsylvania’s historically high corporate net income tax has been pointed to as a harm to Pennsylvania’s competitiveness in the business sector and could drive additional business into the region if it were to fall. 

Funding for Pennsylvania’s businesses and workforce through the budget would also include $1.5 million for Industrial Resource Centers and $8 million for job training through the Workforce and Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania. 

The $1.9 billion in educational funding pledged through the budget would be parsed across pre-k and through colleges with $70 million going to early education, $1.75 billion for general investments in K-12 schools and over $475 million for higher education. 

Regarding health care and long-term care funding, the budget sets aside $91.25 million to increase Medical Assistance rates for skilled nursing facility providers and $14 million for state veteran’s homes. 

Further investments include $50 million to increase the supplementary payment rates for personal care homes, a $36.6 million increase in county mental health base funds and a $14.3 million increase to the SNAP benefit for low-income older adults. 

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a statewide advocacy organization for long term care providers, said that the budget was “not enough.” 

“The Governor’s proposed Medicaid funding increase would be a critical step toward sustainability for long-term care – but it’s simply not enough,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the association. “At a time when nursing home providers are questioning their operational viability due to inflation and continued COVID-19 expenses, a workforce shortage has become a full-blown crisis, which has created bottlenecks in hospitals and access to care issues in long-term care facilities.” 

Wolf signs 2021-2022 state budget that ‘invests in Pennsylvanians’

Pennsylvania’s $40.8 billion general fund budget was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday following approval by the House and Senate last Friday.

The budget includes the largest education funding increase in state history and allocates millions of dollars from Pennsylvania’s share of the American Rescue Plan.

“This is a budget that invests in Pennsylvanians,” said Gov. Wolf. “It is a budget that will help those hit hardest by the pandemic get the support they need, while at the same time making crucial investments in our future by supporting the students and workers who will drive our economy forward in the years to come.”

The plan has been criticized for not committing enough funds to bolster post-pandemic health care throughout Pennsylvania and failing to address the Commonwealth’s corporate net income tax rate– the second highest in the nation.

The budget does not include any of the tax increases proposed by Wolf in his February proposed budget.

Wolf expected to sign ‘fiscally responsible’ budget that disappoints business groups

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign a $40.8 billion general fund budget that includes the largest education funding increase in state history and allocates millions of dollars from Pennsylvania’s share of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for rental assistance, child care, nursing home and long-term care recovery and more, before its Wednesday deadline.

But the budget, praised for its bipartisanship, disappointed business groups who thought it should do more to help employers harmed by the pandemic.

The bipartisan consensus reached to bring together a timely budget was good to see, but the spending plan does not do enough to tackle hurdles for Pennsylvania businesses, such as improving the state’s corporate net income tax rate, said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

“While we are pleased with the bipartisan consensus reached in this budget, we believe much more work needs to be done to boost the Commonwealth’s competitiveness,” said Barr. “We encourage the legislature to embrace our Rise to the Challenge initiative to help the private sector chart a new course to a thriving economy that will lead to more jobs and opportunities for all Pennsylvanians.”

The budget does not include any of the tax increases proposed by Wolf in his February proposed budget.

Following its approval last week, Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin/Perry, called the budget fiscally responsible for not including the proposed taxes, which included a 46% Personal Income Tax hike and the imposition of an energy tax.

“This budget makes record investments in our schools, provides for essential government services and forgoes the Governor’s proposed tax hikes on hardworking Pennsylvanians as our economy recovers from the pandemic,” DiSanto said. “Rather than spend all this year’s surplus and federal stimulus funds as the Democrats have been advocating, this budget prudently anticipates tomorrow’s challenges and assures the Commonwealth is in a solid financial position to address next year’s projected budget deficit.”

The budget details how the state will use funds given to it through the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes $728.9 million to help stabilize the child care industry.

“This investment will allow parents to return to work with the comfort of knowing their young children are in safe and nurturing child care. This crucial support will help families and employers,” Wolf said.

The budget allots $450 million in ARP funding for rental assistance, $350 million for homeowner mortgage assistance, $36 million to help pay water bills and $30 million in new state dollars for violence intervention.

Another $282 million in ARP funding is set aside to help nursing homes and long-term care facilities recover from the pandemic, something that nursing home workers rallied for on the steps of the state Capitol earlier this month.

“After an unprecedented 18 months of a pandemic which took the lives of over 27,000 Pennsylvanians and devastated our healthcare workforce, PA legislators have reached a budget agreement that listens to caregivers and begins to address the long work ahead to rebuild and reform our healthcare system,” said Matthew Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest union of nurses and healthcare workers.

The budget does not include the PA Heroes Act, which would have set aside $650 million in ARP funds to support grants for community programs to bolster post-pandemic health care.

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), an ardent advocate for the act and a statewide organization made up of 240 state health care providers, called the exclusion a “failure to address newly emerging challenges.”

“We offered a carefully crafted plan to support healthcare workers, to rebuild the infrastructure we need for the next pandemic, and to address the behavioral health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Andy Carter, president and CEO of HAP. “The plan is also specifically designed to target resources where they are needed and includes strict accountability for implementing real improvements to care. Yet, lawmakers are leaving town with those plans sitting on the drawing board, ignored.”

The budget allocates $416 million to public education funding with $200 million going to increase the state’s Fair Funding Formula for school districts, and $100 million for Level Up, a new initiative providing funding for Pennsylvania’s 100 most underfunded districts.

It also provides a $50 million increase in funding for special education, a $30 million increase for early education and $20 million for Ready to Learn, $11 million for preschool Early Intervention and $5 million for community colleges.

$400 million in ARP funds will be invested to address learning loss, provide summer enrichment and after school programs for Pennsylvania school districts and make college education more affordable and accessible for students entering the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Pennsylvania facing up to $4 billion shortfall as coronavirus shutdown upends state budget

HARRISBURG — The coronavirus outbreak could cost Pennsylvania $2.7 billion in lost tax revenue over the next 15 months, blowing a serious hole in the state budget, according to a report released Wednesday by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office.

And that’s the best case scenario, assuming that businesses can reopen by April 27. If the statewide shutdown has to remain in place for another six weeks, the office estimates, the state would be facing a financial hit of $3.7 billion in lost revenues.

Even that grim number is “cautiously optimistic,” said Matthew Knittel, the director of the fiscal office.

“Taxpayers should be prepared for a significant reduction in state resources,” Knittel said. “What we’re seeing, there’s just no precedent for it.”

Those numbers don’t take into account the effects of the recent $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package, which will bring roughly $50 billion to Pennsylvania through a variety of programs. The federal funding will help soften the blow, but won’t be enough to offset the revenue losses altogether, Knittel said.

Roughly 20% of all of the state’s workers have been temporarily laid off, he said. The resulting deluge of unemployment claims could cost the state between $4.5 billion and $6 billion by the end of the next fiscal year, the report found.

As long as Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown order remains in place in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the tax revenues Pennsylvania counts on to balance the budget and pay for essential services will fall far short of estimates.

“This is a 10 to 12% drop in revenue capacity, and accommodating this within our recurring spending commitments is an enormous challenge,” said Sen. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“This gives us at least a snapshot of something to look at, but we’ll need to see more in terms of actual results before we can make decisions on recurring budget obligations.”

Rep. Matthew Bradford (D., Montgomery), minority chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said this year’s budget “will now be much more challenging.”

“The numbers are obviously not great, but it gives us something to start looking at,” he said.

The fiscal office’s report represents the first attempt to put a number to the financial toll the outbreak will take on the state’s finances. But, with so much uncertainty, the fiscal office acknowledges that its forecasts come with caveats and will likely need to be revised later in the year.

“It’s hard, when you look back, to model that appropriately,” Knittel said. “There’s no other examples of this.”

Adding to the uncertainty, he said, is that it’s not clear how quickly businesses could return to normal even once the shutdown order is lifted. People may hesitate to congregate in shops and restaurants again, and they might cut back on spending amid a national economic downturn.

The delay of the state deadline for filing personal income taxes, which was moved from April 15 to July 15, further complicates the picture, pushing billions of dollars in revenue into the next fiscal year and prolonging the uncertainty around how steep the shortfall will be.

Business closures and layoffs, which have led Pennsylvanians to file for unemployment in record numbers, mean less money coming in from sales and personal income tax, the state’s two largest sources of tax revenue.

The state Department of Revenue, which produces the official revenue estimates on which the budget is based, has not yet released any numbers on the fiscal impact of the coronavirus outbreak. A spokesperson said the department is “closely monitoring the impact of the pandemic.”

State tax revenues for March, which don’t fully reflect the economic impact of the virus, came in six percent short of official estimates, with Revenue Secretary C. Daniel Hassell predicting the April numbers would be even worse.

Gov. Tom Wolf has already started cutting costs, implementing a hiring freeze, laying off around 2,500 seasonal and temporary workers and last week stopping paychecks to more than 9,000 state employees who cannot telework.

Pennsylvania is heading into the economic downturn with scant reserves, even after large deposits into the rainy day fund last year. The state has enough saved to cover just three and a half days of operating expenses, the treasurer’s office estimated at the time.

Pa. House passes $34B budget with no hike to minimum wage

The entire Lehigh Valley delegation voted in favor of the $34 billion state budget, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“This legislation represents a strong, fiscally responsible budget with no new taxes, investments in our key priorities, and saving for our future,” said State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh/Berks).

The budget, which does not call for any tax increases, did not include the minimum wage hike that Gov. Tom Wolf had been championing.

The state minimum wage has been at $7.25 per hour since 2009. Wolf has sought a gradual increase to $12 an hour and then $15 dollars per hour.

The budget did dedicate more funding to public schools and career and technical education.

The spending plan includes a $432 million increase in funding for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and includes a $10 million increase in funding for career and technical education to help with workforce development by helping state residents learn new skills to acquire high-paying jobs.

While voting in favor of the budget, State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), like many Democrats, was less enthusiastic about the budget, which was guided strongly by a Republican-controlled house.

“This wasn’t a great budget, but it was a budget,” Schlossberg said. “It moved the ball forward for me on the things that were most important to me, like education.”

Rep. Gary Day (R-Lehigh/Berks) called the budget fiscally responsible and focused on taxpayers. He emphasized the plan’s call to restore state reserves.

The plan calls for stowing away more than $250 million in the state’s savings account, or Rainy Day Fund, he said.  That is the savings account used by legislators when unforeseen emergencies, such as natural disasters, occur and require state funding.

Day said the account was drained during the economic downturn, and he and his colleagues are fighting to begin recharging the account to protect against future tax increases.

“We want to put money in the state’s savings account so when there is a natural disaster or an economic downturn, the state doesn’t have to raise taxes,” Day said.

Other highlights of the budget include a $20 million increase in support for agriculture.

The bill eliminates the state’s general assistance program, which provides support for individuals who don’t qualify for federal assistance

Mackenzie said stronger tax revenue collection helped to balance the budget.

The House Appropriation Committee said that revenue collections for the month of April were more than $4.4 billion, which is $465 million more than the Department of Revenue’s official estimate. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, general fund collections totaled $29.16 billion so far this year, which it said is $828.5 million above the estimate.

The budget bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.