House Democrats like middle-class focus in Wolf budget

HARRISBURG, Feb. 7 – Pennsylvania House Democrats praised Gov. Tom Wolf's "smart and responsible" approach to the 2017-18 state budget, introduced by the governor today during an address to a joint session of the General Assembly.


"Governor Wolf's plan represents a different approach," Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said. "It is a welcome shift from the reckless and damaging across-the-board cuts that marked Pennsylvania’s four Republican budgets from 2011 to 2014."


He said Wolf's proposed budget builds on the last two state budgets by boosting investments in education and fighting the opioid crisis while making significant inroads in eliminating Pennsylvania's ongoing fiscal deficit.


"This budget plan streamlines government and cuts costs responsibly while maintaining core services and protecting what really matters to the people of Pennsylvania,” Dermody said. "I’m especially pleased that the governor answered our call to make a wise investment in pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs.”


The governor's proposed budget makes a serious commitment to the middle class. The governor focuses on restoring previous budget cuts, but without resorting to tax increases on middle-class families. The budget does not call for an increase in the Personal Income Tax or sales taxes, but instead seeks an end to tax loopholes for giant corporations and a competitive severance tax on gas drillers to ensure everyone is paying their fair share.


"This is really a jobs-and-families budget," said Democratic Whip Mike Hanna. "The proposal aims to continue the bipartisan progress Governor Wolf and legislators made the last two budgets on increasing support for schools, and includes new investments in pre-K, Head Start and school breakfasts to serve more children. It also boosts support for basic education, special education, and the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education."


Hanna said Wolf's budget would also target funding to train workers in the technical jobs most in demand today, and create a one-stop site to help small businesses navigate state programs. The proposed budget also supports better wages and job security for Pennsylvania workers to support the economy, increase state revenues and cut the need for assistance programs, he said.


One of the centerpieces of the governor's proposed budget is its focus on making state government work better for Pennsylvanians at less cost. The budget would fully fund the coming year's pension obligations to avoid further debt, reduce waiting lists for intellectual disability services, and streamline and simplify services through health and corrections agency-related consolidation. These savings and efficiencies are targeted at saving the state as much as $2.1 billion.  


"The governor's budget proposal is an important starting point for cutting waste and inefficiencies, giving Pennsylvanians a more convenient and positive experience with state government, and addressing the state's serious fiscal challenges," said Democratic Appropriations Chairman Joe Markosek.


"The real wild card in this process isn't necessarily going to be the governor's proposal or the legislature's response to it, but uncertainty over what the federal government is going to do with programs and policies that have a tremendous impact on Pennsylvania, such as the Affordable Care Act and the environment. Right now, there is no way of knowing how changes at the federal level might impact our state budget."


Hearings of the House Appropriations Committee to review the budget plan will begin later this month.