The state Senate today approved a fiscally responsible budget for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 that holds the line on spending, increases funding for education and school safety initiatives, and includes no new taxes, according to Senator Pat Stefano who strongly supported the measure.
“After several years of embracing conservative budgeting and rejecting Governor Wolf’s spending hikes and tax increases, today we find ourselves on stronger financial footing than in any year in recent memory,” Stefano said “That turnaround is a testament to the principles that have guided us through all of the recent years’ budgets – limited spending and avoiding tax increases.”
Stefano said the final spending total of $32.7 billion is just $560 million over the current year’s spending – below the rate of inflation, and well within the limits prescribed in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It also allocates money to the state’s Rainy Day fund for the first time in more than a decade.
The budget also makes a historic investment in school safety with more than $60 million in new funding for school resource officers, security equipment and other proven methods of preventing school violence.
“While the funding is critical, we are fully aware that additional money won’t solve the problem alone – we need to look at programs and resources that school districts can use to keep our kids safe,” Stefano continued, “A number of measures have already been introduced, and our School Safety Task Force is still developing additional initiatives. We will use the summer to hold hearings, gather public feedback and work on a final product.”
A significant part of the additional spending is devoted to education. The budget increases funding for Basic Education by $100 million, Pre-K Counts and Head Start by $25 million, and Special Education by $15 million. Educational Improvement Tax Credits – which help students trapped in failing schools – will also see a $25 million increase.
Higher education is also a priority in the budget. State System of Higher Education funding will increase by 3.3 percent, and funding for state-related universities will increase by 3 percent. Community colleges will also see a 3-percent boost in funding.
Additional funding is also included for the Pennsylvania State Police to train three new cadet classes, which will result in nearly 300 additional troopers.
Other highlights include additional funding for:
- Services for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
- Home and community-based services for an additional 5,230 seniors and those with physical disabilities.
- Child care services to an additional 1,600 children.
- Home visit services for 800 families impacted by the opioid epidemic.
- Career and Technical Education to ensure Pennsylvania’s workforce keeps pace with the demands of the labor market.
The budget also recognizes the importance of three industries that have historically been among Pennsylvania’s most critical sectors of the economy: agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, restoring funding that the Governor’s original budget plan cut.
Stefano noted, “Restoring the Agricultural line items which have been a consistent target of Governor Wolf was critical for the people of my district. Agriculture is the number one industry in the 32nd District. The cuts the governor sought would have been devastating to the industry. These investments support todays farmers and helps cultivate the farmers of tomorrow we so desperately need.”
Governor Wolf called for a $2 million cut to agriculture programs in next year’s budget, but the spending deal negotiated by Senate and House leaders would increase funding to the department by more than $7 million next year over the current year’s budget.
Some of the agricultural line items restored or increased by lawmakers in the budget include:
- Agricultural Excellence — $1.33 million,
- Agricultural Research — $2.18 million,
- Agricultural Promotion, Education and Exports — $303,000
- Hardwoods Research and Promotion — $424,000,
- Livestock Show — $215,000,
- Open Dairy Show — $215,000,
- State Food Purchase — $500,000,
- Food Marketing and Research — $494,000.
“Passing a fiscally responsible budget this year is an absolute necessity in the face of the daunting challenges we will face in the years to come,” Stefano concluded.