Gov. Josh Shapiro’s First Budget Sheds Light on Priorities for Pennsylvania

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s First Budget Sheds Light on Priorities for Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro presents his first budget at the state Capitol in Harrisburg on March 7, 2023. (Commonwealth Media Services)
Beth Brelje

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget address Tuesday laid out his vision of policies to prioritize in his proposed $44.4 billion budget, and he made an attempt to unify those listening.

“Let’s work together,” he urged House and Senate members who assembled to hear his plan. And, “believe in us,” Shapiro, a Democrat, asked of those who didn’t vote for him.

He offered ideas that have potential for bipartisan support such as better funded police and expanding the property tax rent rebate program for seniors and for disabled residents, increasing the maximum rebate from $650 to $1,000 a year and raising the participation income gap to $45,000.

“Let’s focus on that,” Shapiro said of his priorities at the end of his speech. “Because we all know that there are certain debates that will go nowhere with me.”

As long as he is governor, he said, Pennsylvania will not be a right-to-work state, LGBT Pennsylvanians will have the right to marry, and abortion access will remain available.

“I personally was very excited to hear the many Republican initiatives that Governor Shapiro has covered,” said Bryan Cutler, Republican House leader. “If Gov. Shapiro tried to implement many of the promises he had made during his campaign, he will find many of our members eager to work with him to lower taxes, improve our economic climate, and make the government less burdensome.”

But Shapiro intends to take money from the state’s surplus and rainy-day funds, and that has Republicans worried about over spending.

Shapiro called for a $1 billion increase in education funding. He proposed spending a half a billion dollars over the next five years on environmental repairs and upgrades to school buildings; tax breaks for new teachers; and bolstering career and technical and apprenticeship programs to “connect the dots” between students and trade unions; and providing universal free breakfast to all students.

“We need to feed our kids,” Shapiro said. “And for those who choose to pursue college, I think it’s on us to rethink our system of higher education, because right now it is not working.” He will create a time-limited working group of university presidents to develop plans for higher education that he can offer next year.

New Spending Structures

Gov. Josh Shapiro presents his first budget in the Pennsylvania House chamber in Harrisburg, Pa., on March 7, 2023. (Commonwealth Media Services)
Gov. Josh Shapiro presents his first budget in the Pennsylvania House chamber in Harrisburg, Pa., on March 7, 2023. (Commonwealth Media Services)

State police funding has long been taken from the motor license fund, which was originally meant to fund transportation infrastructure. Shapiro proposed using those funds to repair roads and bridges and start a new $100 million Public Safety and Protection (PSP) Fund dedicated to state police. The fund would provide for four additional police training classes and result in nearly 400 more state troopers.

“Policing is a noble profession and good people want to do it,” Shapiro said.

To attract more nurses, police, and teachers, Shapiro wants to offer new hires in the state a $2,500 tax incentive for three years.

In response to the budget, state Rep. Seth Grove, GOP chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he is pleased to see the end of the “defund the police” movement and more investment in career and technical education jobs, but he said he’s worried about where Shapiro is getting the money.

“I am extremely concerned we are draining our reserves and rainy day fund over the next five years. Using one-time revenues for recurring costs will only add to our structural deficit,” Grove said.

Minority Whip Tim O’Neal said the proposed budget is a year-over-year increase of 6 percent.

“That’s a gigantic spending increase on the back of Pennsylvanians,” O’Neal said. “State government should not be looking to spend more, and more, and more. Under this budget, our state’s structural deficit only gets worse. Gov. Shapiro is creating a rainy day. That means that we will need to dip into our hard-earned surplus and rainy day fund—our reserve accounts that are supposed to help keep us from raising taxes in the future. Under the spending plan announced today, the surplus would be eliminated in three years and the rainy-day fund eliminated in five.”

Business and Consumers

He promised to put sustainable state funding in the Historically Disadvantaged Business Program to “provide long overdue funding to minority-owned businesses,” Shapiro said. “They chose Pennsylvania. Now we have to help them succeed and boost the local economy.”

This plan got a lengthy applause from Democrat House members.

The Shapiro administration is looking at the cumbersome permitting process for building projects and business starts. He said he has directed all state agencies to compile a catalogue of all the licenses, certifications, and permits that they issue by May 1. Then the executive office will define a firm timeline for each application and agencies will be expected to meet those timelines. If the state fails to deliver permits on time, applicants will get their application fees back.

The spending plan calls for the elimination of the state cell phone tax, which consumers feel in their monthly bills; the lowering of the corporate income tax; and nearly doubling the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“I’m asking you, respectfully, to work with me to finally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour,” Shapiro said. “This feels like one of those fights that has gripped our politics for so long that some people entrenched on the other side don’t even know why they’re opposing Pennsylvania workers anymore. Enough is enough. Let us raise the minimum wage.”

He would spend $66.7 million on a child care program for low-income workers.

And the state is going to watch businesses more closely.

This budget provides funding to hire a new class of labor law compliance investigators, Shapiro said, “so we can make sure every employer follows the law and treats their workers with dignity and respect. I would say to those employers who choose to lobby against this funding, I’ve got a simple question for you: what are you afraid we might find when we investigate? When it comes to dignity and respect, all workers should have the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

And Shapiro aims to attract at least one regional hydrogen hub to the state.

Double SNAP Benefits

Last week, emergency benefits that padded the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), with extra benefits for recipients, decreased back to prepandemic levels. Benefits were increased when businesses were mostly closed and few people were working. SNAP recipients are still getting the benefits that they were receiving before COVID.

Shapiro wants them to have more.

“Last week, those emergency benefits ended, leaving families once again wondering where their next meal would come from,” Shapiro said. ”And let me be very, very clear about something: we didn’t create this problem. None of us did in this room.”

Shapiro proposes the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services create a new state fund for SNAP and raise the minimum monthly benefit by 50 percent.

Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]
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