UNITED STATES NEWS

Pennsylvania governor to deliver budget while seeking money for higher education and public transit

Feb 4, 2024, 10:28 PM

Workers on scaffolding set up in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives fix damage from a water le...

Workers on scaffolding set up in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives fix damage from a water leak on the ceiling, Feb. 2, 2024, in Harrisburg, Pa. Normally, the House chamber would host Gov. Josh Shapiro's budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on Tuesday, but instead Shapiro will deliver his address in the Capitol Rotunda.(AP Photo/Marc Levy)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Marc Levy)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Josh Shapiro is set to deliver a second budget proposal to Pennsylvania lawmakers on Tuesday with a firmer grasp on how he wants to pursue several top priorities, his state in a relatively strong fiscal position and lessons learned from last year’s ugly budget fight.

Most details of the Democratic governor’s budget plan for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which starts July 1, remain under wraps. But Shapiro has made it clear he will seek more money for higher education and public transit agencies and possibly underfunded public schools.

He also wants to spend more money to attract major companies and seems ready to revisit the controversial item that helped sow a protracted budget fight last year: creating a new private school voucher program.

Shapiro’s first budget proposal disappointed many allies who felt it wasn’t bold enough. This year, he’s returning with bigger proposals based on recommendations from his task forces or appointees.

Shapiro faces a number of cost pressures, too, from health care for the poor to county-run mental health services.

One other difference this year is that Shapiro is expected to deliver his budget address to a joint session of the House and Senate in the Capitol Rotunda. Governors historically deliver the speech in the House chamber, but workers have put up scaffolding there to repair damage from a water leak a year ago.

Whatever Shapiro proposes will require passage from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate. Appropriations Committee hearings start Feb. 20.

Here’s what to watch for Tuesday:

THE BUDGET BASICS

Shapiro will almost certainly propose an operating budget that spends above this year’s $45 billion approved plan.

That’s partly because an extra federal pandemic-era Medicaid subsidy, worth about $1 billion a year, is ending and Shapiro has said he wants to spend more money on several priorities.

Those include nearly $300 million more for public transit agencies, a roughly 25% increase, and a substantial, but undisclosed, increase for state-owned universities.

Shapiro also wants to spend big to attract large industrial facilities, such as a microchip factory, by getting large tracts of land permitted and prepared for construction.

“We need to invest if we want to compete nationally and internationally,” Shapiro said last month.

Also, pressure is on Shapiro to respond more fully to last year’s court decision that found Pennsylvania’s system of funding public schools violates the constitutional rights of students in poorer districts.

Last month, Shapiro’s appointees backed a non-binding recommendation to send $1.3 billion more next year to public schools, including subsidies for high-tax districts and school construction. He hasn’t said whether his budget proposal will reflect that recommendation.

THE FISCAL SITUATION

Tax collections are meeting expectations and Shapiro has a strong cash cushion, for now.

The state expects to have $13 billion in cash when the fiscal year ends June 30, thanks to federal COVID-19 aid over the past four years and inflation-juiced tax collections that filled up the state’s treasury.

Meanwhile, a credit rating upgrade in November was Pennsylvania’s first since it drew six downgrades between 2012 and 2017, including two by each of the big three rating agencies, while grappling with entrenched post-recession deficits.

Still, Pennsylvania is running deficits again, using $1 billion in surplus cash to prop up this year’s spending.

The state also is saddled with a slow-growing economy and grim demographic trends showing a shrinking working-age population and a fast-growing retirement-age population that pays less in taxes and costs more to care for.

SHAPIRO’S PRIORITIES

Shapiro has made a list of items that he considers to be unfinished business.

That includes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which Republicans have blocked in the Senate, and creating a new $100 million private school voucher program that Democrats in the House have blocked.

The voucher program is particularly radioactive for Democrats and Shapiro’s support for it sets him apart from other Democratic governors around the country.

Like 19 other states, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is at the federal minimum of $7.25.

TAXES

Shapiro has said he will propose a budget that cuts taxes, without offering further details.

Shapiro and lawmakers in December approved an increase in the monthly fee on phone bills, from $1.65 to $1.95, to raise another $60 million for county 911 emergency response services.

OTHER COST PRESSURES

School boards say they are paying too much to charter schools and Democratic lawmakers are pushing to restart a dormant program subsidizing school construction projects.

Meanwhile, providers of services for the intellectually disabled and autistic say the system is beset by underfunding and staffing shortages.

Counties say the safety-net mental health services they manage are in dire need of more money to create more beds and attract more counselors for waiting lists of people who need help.

___

Follow Marc Levy on X, formerly Twitter, at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.

United States News

Associated Press

Powerful storm in California and Nevada shuts interstate and dumps snow on mountains

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A powerful blizzard raged overnight into Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate-80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power. Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of […]

6 minutes ago

Musher Dutch Johnson, a kennel manager at The August Foundation for Alaska Racing Dogs, runs a dog ...

Associated Press

Alaska’s Iditarod dogs get neon visibility harnesses after 5 were fatally hit while training

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Iditarod, the annual sled dog race celebrating Alaska’s official state sport, is set to get underway Saturday with a new focus on safety after five dogs died and eight were injured in collisions with snowmobiles while training on shared, multi-use trails. For the first time, mushers who line up for […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference...

Associated Press

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. Now he wants Super Tuesday revenge on his foes

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. On Super Tuesday, he wants political revenge. The Republican, who just six months ago was on the brink of removal from office, is charging into Texas’ primaries on a dramatic campaign to oust dozens in his own party. They include rank-and-file legislators, state judges […]

3 hours ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024. Short...

Associated Press

Ukrainian troops are rationing ammo. But House Republicans plan to take weeks to consider aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian drones fly without ammunition. Russian artillery unleash deadly volleys from safe positions beyond the range of Kyiv’s troops. Shortages of ammo and supplies are resulting in lost ground to Moscow, U.S. congressional leaders warn, yet the Republican-controlled House has shown little hurry to resupply Ukraine with military aid. Across Washington, officials […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Registered Republican voters stand in line March 6, 2012, for the caucus event in Rathdrum, ...

Associated Press

Republicans in Idaho, Missouri and Michigan will meet to weigh in on the presidential race

More delegates are up for grabs Saturday as former President Donald Trump looks to get closer to clinching the Republican nomination and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley seeks her first win. Trump, who is especially strong in caucuses, is expected to add to his delegate lead in Republican caucuses in Idaho and Missouri, as well […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Music fans relax during a break in the entertainment at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, A...

Associated Press

Peace, music and memories: As the 1960s fade, historians scramble to capture Woodstock’s voices

BETHEL, N.Y. (AP) — Woodstock didn’t even happen in Woodstock. The fabled music festival, seen as one of the seminal cultural events of the 1960s, took place 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) away in Bethel, New York, an even smaller village than Woodstock. It’s a fitting misnomer for an event that has become as much legend […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

Pennsylvania governor to deliver budget while seeking money for higher education and public transit