With a $45 billion budget finally implemented, Pennsylvania schools, businesses and real estate projects are the big winners. Each is expected to receive significantly more funding in the new fiscal year.
State lawmakers unveiled a plan last week to spend an additional $1.2 billion over last year. Nearly $43 billion of the overall budget will come from state taxes, up from $39 billion last year. The remaining $2 billion will come from a pot of leftover US bailout money and provide a one-time boost to nearly two dozen efforts.
A large bipartisan group of lawmakers backed the plan — and had some very good things to say about it as votes were cast.
“This is a significant budget and a step in the right direction for Pennsylvania,” said Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland).
“[This budget] made very significant progress in some areas that clearly needed attention,” added Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes (D-Montgomery).
“This is the most comprehensive package I’ve seen in a long time,” House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) said ahead of this House’s vote.
“This is a tremendous bipartisan effort,” said Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), House Minority Leader. “We are talking about a historic investment in the education of our children.”
Lawmakers have talked about a great game like this in the past. Last year, many increased base funding by about $300 million for school districts because that was far more than districts had gotten in previous years.
But Dave Broderic of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which tracks state spending on behalf of educators, said policymakers have backed their rhetoric this year.
Broderic said the 500 districts will receive a share of $750 million in new funding, plus hundreds of millions more for special education programs, student transportation costs and even mental health programs.
Here’s how much your school district will receive.
“This is truly a historic investment and we look forward to school districts putting these resources to good use,” Broderic said.
Broderic added that he hopes districts will use some of their new money to pay teachers more, which he says will help address the teacher shortage in Pennsylvania. Educators in some districts earn less than $40,000 a year, according to data collected by the PSEA.
State funding has also not kept pace with the growth in school district spending over the past decade. A report from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials shows the gap between big expenses like pensions and state support for those costs has widened to about $3.7 billion since the 2010 school year. -2011.
“We’ve had two historic increases in a row, so I think we’ll look at what school districts do with that money once they get it,” Broderic said.
The public higher education system is in the same boat in terms of funding. The group of 14 public universities secured a $75 million increase and a one-time increase of $125 million from the federal pandemic relief kitty.
System Chancellor Daniel Greenstein already has plans for the influx.
“We will be able to increase the level of student financial aid,” Greenstein said. “We currently give 100 million a year…we could probably increase that amount by 30%. So it’s quite exciting.
Greenstein admits it’s easy to lose sight of where the extra money ends up, so top brass like him will be in close contact with every university this year.
“We distribute the money to universities according to a formula, based primarily on enrollment,” he said. “But then we say, here are our goals: we’ll look to improve retention and graduation rates through these investments…we’ll look at affordability measures.
Increased investment in education was also welcomed by others. Bob Durkin of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce said that should help Pennsylvania’s economy down the road.
“The idea of investing in these students at an early age, whether it’s early childhood education or secondary education, is going to better prepare these people for career paths for jobs that are available now and the jobs that are emerging,” Durkin said.
Durkin added that another aspect of this year’s budget could encourage more companies that provide those jobs to stay in Pennsylvania or move their operations here. Over the next decade, the state will reduce the income tax that most businesses pay from nearly 10% to 5%.
The change to the corporate net income tax applauded Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Matt Smith. He explained that it has been difficult to convince employers to move to Pennsylvania instead of neighboring states, which have all had lower rates.
Pennsylvania has a lot of positives…but we’ve never been able to make those arguments because of that high corporate net income tax rate flashing red,” Smith said.