It looks like Pennsylvania has a budget deal — and days before the deadline.
While Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-held Legislature have struggled over the last few years, a tentative 2018-19 fiscal year proposal projects tax revenue growth that allowed all parties to agree to a $32.7 billion spending plan.
There will be no tax increase or new fees.
Officials said the new budget represents a 2 percent increase over the current year’s spending plan.
The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the bill, which is expected to move to the floor for a final vote Wednesday. Senate officials also indicated they plan to support the bill and may even approve it by week’s end.
Although Wolf called for raising the minimum wage and a new severance tax on natural gas drilling (he got neither), he praised the bill for its additional education funding.
The plan includes additional money for basic and higher education and new funding for school safety, including hiring police officers or installing metal detectors — a move largely in reaction to the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) told the Inquirer the funding was “phase one” to improving safety.
“This obviously is a beginning,” Corman said. “Sixty million is not a drop in the bucket, but at the same time, it’s just a beginning.”
Money is also being set aside to continue to address the opioid epidemic.
About $74.5 million of the budget’s surplus is slated for the state’s Rainy Day fund, which officials said has not seen an extra dime since the 2006-07 fiscal year.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) told Capitolwire he was particularly pleased with the money set aside for education:
“We’re very pleased, starting with continuing to make our annual investment in education, from pre-K all the way up to higher ed – the governor had not proposed an increase for higher ed, but a number of us fought for that, we thought it was appropriate. The early learning is not a high as we would like it to be – we’d like it to be up around $40 [million] – but $25 million again this year – a consistent increase year after year – is important. And with the career and technical education, the $30 million there, this has really been an education budget, and I think that’s important.”
Officials noted the budget totals do not include several one-time funding sources and other creative accounting used to cover expenses — such as $800 million in estimated Medicaid payments — represented by other accounts.
Officials also plan to move $158 million in upcoming expenses onto the current year’s budget, making the 2018-19 spending increase appear smaller than it is.
Wolf praised the bill as being both responsible and bipartisan, the product of months of cooperation and compromise.
“This budget makes smart investments in education, safety and human services and continues the progress we’ve made to restore fiscal stability to the commonwealth’s finances,” he said.