East Falls Local Article: Mi$$ed Opportunities

Voting on the state budget is the most important responsibility of elected officials serving in the PA House and Senate. The budget appropriates our state tax dollars to ensure public health and safety, and for the provision of basic education for our youngest citizens. The budget also should safeguard our environment and ensure that our older citizens who are vulnerable receive support and services as needed.

The ‘budget’ is made up of a series of bills and I am highlighting some of these budget bills in this article. Knowledge is power, and I have an unwavering commitment to empower the constituents of the 194th.

A budget proposal is made by the Governor in early February and the House and Senate hold separate hearings on that proposal in February and March. A balanced budget is required to be passed by June 30th of each year.

Pennsylvania ended the 2020-21 fiscal year with $40.4 billion in General Fund collections; $3.4 billion or 9.3% above estimates.

The General Appropriations bill, SB 255, makes appropriations for the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and totaled $39.77 billion. The bill passed the House 140 to 61. I was a no vote on this bill. My no vote was largely symbolic because I know that the legislature could and should have done more to allocate funds toward economic recovery. Allocating funds to fixing our public schools and expanding access to childcare are two examples of mi$$ed opportunities.

The Fiscal Code, HB 1348, implements the General Appropriations bill and directs additional appropriations.

The bill passed the House 168 to 33, and I was an affirmative vote. Highlights of this bill include an additional $86.67 million to the Philadelphia School District for learning loss, summer enrichment and after school programs.

The bill also included $282 million in COVID Relief funding for long-term living programs such as skilled nursing, personal care and assisted living facilities.

Another compelling reason to support this bill was the $728.86 million for childcare stabilization. 

The state Department of Human Services will provide grants to qualified childcare providers for their operating costs.

Included is a new program, Level Up, that provides supplemental funding to 100 school districts that have the lowest spending per student. Philadelphia will receive $39.49 million of these funds.

The Public School Code bill, SB 381, passed the House 154 to 47. I was a no vote on this bill because this bill increased, yet again, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) by an additional $40 million. The EITC program allows businesses and individuals to direct their state owed tax dollars to private and religious schools. The total for EITC credits is now a staggering $225 million per year.

Only $899 million, or 13.7%, of the $6.56 billion basic education funding total is being distributed through the basic education fair funding formula. If a higher percentage of the basic education appropriation were to be allocated through that formula the underfunded school districts would receive additional, much needed funding. 

The Tax Code bill, HB 952, passed the House 170 to 31.  My negative vote was prompted by the fact that the bill contains language providing for a sales tax exemption of computer data center equipment. The continued escalation of tax credits and tax exemptions does not, in my opinion, help to move our Commonwealth forward economically. There are well over $600 million of these tax credits/exemptions every year. My concerns are backed by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. According to the Mercatus Center, “State and local policymakers use targeted economic development subsidies to attract new businesses to their jurisdictions or to encourage already-established companies to expand or maintain their current operations. Unfortunately for policymakers and taxpayers, these subsidies are more likely to undermine economic development than to enhance it.” 

As of this writing, mid-July 2021, there is approximately $2.69 billion American Rescue Plan funds not yet appropriated. When the legislature returns to Harrisburg in September, I will continue to advocate for our small businesses who need financial help to recover, particularly those affiliated with the hospitality industry. We also need to ensure a higher minimum wage for all workers. Even though many organizations have been increasing their minimum hourly rates to attract workers, it is inherent upon the legislature to ensure a sustainable minimum wage is in place. 

My 108th town hall, held on July 20th covered the recently enacted state budget in greater detail.  The video of that town hall can be viewed on my website at RepDeLissio.com under the News tab.

As always, I look forward to hearing your views and thoughts, I can be reached at 215-482-8726 or at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net.