HARRISBURG — Public schools, state-run universities, and community colleges will receive millions more, but there will be no increase in the state’s longtime minimum wage, and counties will likely not receive financial help to buy new voting machines, as part of a $34 billion state budget deal announced Monday.
The agreement, which needs to be approved by both legislative chambers, contains few of Gov. Tom Wolf’s legislative priorities. Most notably, the Democratic governor failed to win support for hiking the state’s $7.25-per-hour minimum wage or legislative buy-in for an ambitious program to improve infrastructure and battle blight.
In all, the $33.9 billion spending plan that would go into effect July 1 does not rely on new or increased taxes. Instead, it was helped along by rosier-than-expected revenue collections and a consensus on both sides to avoid the protracted fighting that marked Wolf’s first few years in office.
“What we’re facing right now with our increased revenues — we don’t know if it’s an anomaly or if it’s a trend," said Rep. George Dunbar (R., Westmoreland). "We have to still be careful in our spending. And although the wish list is great and we would like to do a whole lot more, we have accomplished a great deal in this budget.”
The proposal would increase spending 3.8 percent over the budget that was approved last June. Lawmakers and Wolf also need to authorize an additional $673 million in spending that Wolf and the legislature to, among other things, cover unexpected human services costs in this year’s budget.
Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature said the compromise includes $160 million more in funding for K-12 education, an additional $50 million for special education, $25 million more for early childhood programs, and an extra $25 million for a program that provides tax credits to businesses that donate money for scholarships to private schools for needy students.
It also would provide 2 percent increases in funding for the four state-related universities — Temple, Pennsylvania State, Pittsburgh, and Lincoln; additional money for career and technical education; and a 2 percent funding bump for community colleges.
But Wolf couldn’t persuade Republicans to approve a new fee on municipalities that fully rely on the Pennsylvania State Police for police protection. He also did not get them to sign off on $15 million more for counties to buy voting machines that produce paper-verifiable records — although Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) on Monday left some room for a compromise later in the week on that measure.
And the GOP-led legislature separately is poised to succeed in killing a cash-assistance program for Pennsylvania’s poorest residents, many of them disabled. Wolf reinstated the program earlier this year, but Republicans balked at the move, with some saying they did not believe it had enough controls to ensure accountability.
The deal also does not include more than $12 million — $1 for every Pennsylvanian — that the state’s 2020 Census commission said it needs to ensure the federal government counts all of the state’s residents in next spring’s census. Population counts during each decennial census determine federal funding for hospitals, roads, and schools; the boundaries of voting districts; and the share of seats each state gets in the U.S. House.
Despite those setbacks, Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott praised the deal, saying it “would make investments in all levels of education, build on our progress to have the nation’s strongest workforce and help children and their families at early periods of development.”
Abbott said the governor will continue to fight for his legislative priorities beyond this month.
Rep. Stan Saylor (R., York), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, praised the compromise, which would reserve more than $250 million for the state’s Rainy Day Fund, its savings account.
“This product is a result of hard work,” Saylor said after the proposed deal was approved Monday by the House Appropriations Committee in a 27-9 vote.
Several Democrats decried what they called “a missed opportunity" to raise the minimum wage.
“I believe there is much good in this budget,” said Rep. Matt Bradford (D., Montgomery), the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
But the failure to reach agreement on a minimum wage bump, he said, was “a very hard pill to swallow.”
The state’s minimum wage, which matches the federal rate, has not been raised since 2007. Wolf had proposed raising it to $12 per hour starting this summer, and then increasing on a sliding scale until it reached $15 per hour in 2025. The wage would increase with the cost of living every year after that.
Once they wrap the budget expected later this week — lawmakers will leave the Capitol for summer break, all but ensuring that a minimum wage debate will not occur until they return in late September.
Corman, the Senate’s majority leader, put it this way: “I don’t want to call it dead. I mean, we’re probably not going to do it this month, but there are still a lot of discussions around it."