Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro introduced his first budget plan to the state’s legislature Tuesday, promoting a spending plan he called conservative, that would save taxpayers money.
The $44 billion 2023-2024 budget would increase spending by about 4 percent.
But he focused first on a big reduction.
He started by proposing the elimination of the state’s cell phone tax.
“In today’s world, practically everyone has a cell phone – and being connected to the rest of the world is critical to economic stability, safety, family and success,” Shapiro said. “By eliminating the cell phone tax, we will save Pennsylvanians $124 million every year.”
He called for an expansion of the Property Tax Rent Rebate Program for seniors and those with disabilities.
He noted that the rebate program has not been updated in 17 years.
“I want to raise the maximum rebate for seniors from 650 dollars to 1,000 dollars. And I want to increase the income cap for renters and homeowners to 45,000 dollars a year,” he said.
Under his plan, nearly 175,000 more people would quality for the rebate.
He also addressed the needs of business, calling on the legislature to speed up the reduction of the state’s Net Income Tax.
“The budget also makes a significant down payment on innovation and economic development. Like a 50-percent increase in the Manufacturing Innovation Program, which connects our universities 19 with our businesses to find new solutions and spur innovation,” he said.
Shapiro pointed to Allentown, which he described as a city with a thriving Hispanic population, and said the budget would address funding to support women- and minority-owned businesses.
“For the first time ever, the commonwealth is going to put sustainable state funding into what’s known as the Historically Disadvantaged Business Program. We’ll provide long-overdue funding for women and minority-owned businesses across this commonwealth, to support their growth and open new doors of opportunity,” he said.
Nothing that agriculture brings in $132 billion a year in revenue in Pennsylvania, he said the budget addresses farmers that have been dealing with an avian flu outbreak, which has contributed to skyrocketing poultry prices.
“Under the leadership of Acting Secretary Redding, the Department of Agriculture is working to improve biosecurity efforts on our farms and make farmers who lose birds whole. Pennsylvania is the only state with a fund of $25 million to help fill the gap in covering losses from this terrible disease – and I want to put another $25 million into that fund this year,” he said.
The budget also calls for a new Organic Center of Excellence to help the state’s 52,000 farms stay on top of the latest farming techniques.
Shapiro also said the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage needs to be increased to $15 per hour.
“It’s lower than that of 30 other states – including every single one of our neighbors,” he said, noting that the minimum wage hasn’t been increased in 14 years.
He also vowed to continue to make improvements to the unemployment compensation system, which has been riddled with problems and delays.
He said that a year ago, workers’ compensation had a backlog that was over 100,000. It’s currently down to 33,000, a number he said he’d still like to see improved.
Childcare was another area he said needed a boost.
He said the state economy loses nearly $3.5 billion a year because of a lack of childcare options.
Pennsylvania has nearly 4,000 unfilled child care jobs and 38,300 children on waitlists.
To address the issue the budget calls for a $66.7 million investment in Child Care Works to give more parents access to stable child care for their kids.
Addressing education, he proposed nearly $1 billion in new money for public schools, including a free school breakfast program and pledged a half a billion dollars over the next five years for environmental repairs and upgrades in schools.
The budget will need to be approved by the state house and senate and would go into effect July 1.