HARRISBURG – A proposed state budget is expected to be unveiled Monday, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said in Friday interviews.
Gov. Tom Wolf in February asked lawmakers to approve $34.1 billion in general fund spending. His plan didn’t call for any increase in taxes other than a proposal that would levy a per-capita fee on communities without local police to cover state police protection costs.
Lawmakers from both chambers said they have been provided little information about what the spending plan will look like. But, they all agreed that most at the Capitol expect that a budget will be completed in the coming week, ahead of the state’s June 30 deadline.
Controversies like the state police funding issue have largely been overshadowed in recent weeks by optimism fueled by news in the spring that tax revenue was outpacing projections.
Through May, the state’s general fund revenue was $813 million ahead of projection — mostly due to sales and corporate taxes. For the year, corporate taxes generated $590 million more than state officials had expected, the Revenue Department announced earlier this month. Through May, the state has received $320 million more than expected from sales tax, according to the Revenue Department.
“It sounds like it’s coming together. Everything they’re saying, makes it sound like unicorns and rainbows,” said state Rep. James Rigby, R-Cambria County. “I’m anxious to see it.”
Perhaps the most prominent controversy in recent weeks has been over whether the budget will include a plan to increase the minimum wage.
“That’s been a priority of the governor,” said state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer County.
Wolf, in his budget proposal, called for an immediate move to $12 an hour with an aim toward getting the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2025.
Last week, Senate Republican leaders said they’ve been open to discussing a change in the minimum wage. Pennsylvania still uses the minimum wage set by the federal government of $7.25, while every neighboring state has adopted a higher rate for the lowest paid workers.
House Republicans have been more resistant to the idea of increasing the minimum wage.
“Many of us are concerned that there will be job losses from even more self-serve checkout lanes and food ordering kiosks if we increase it,” said state Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County. “Places like the Meadville Area Recreation Complex, Conneaut Lake Park and many family-owned restaurants and stores are not likely to survive the move to $15 per hour.”
But Roae said the controversy over whether or how much to change the minimum wage is unlikely to cause a stalemate that will prevent lawmakers and the governor from reaching an agreement on an overall state budget.
More likely, he said, the minimum wage controversy will get punted to the fall legislative session.
That’s by no means the only controversy that remains to be ironed out.
Wolf vetoed legislation that would have doubled the number of tax credits available to donors who give money to scholarships for private school tuition. Republicans control both chambers of the General Assembly and lawmakers in both the state House and Senate said they expect that there will be a renewed push to get the private school tuition tax credit program expanded as part of the budget.
“We certainly would like to” see the Educational Improvement Tax Credit increased in the budget, said state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland County.
Wolf and other Democrats had objected to the amount of the proposed increase; House Bill 800, the legislation vetoed by Wolf, would have added $100 million in new tax credits on top of the existing $110 million already available. They also raised concerns about the fact that the legislation would have included automatic increases in the number of tax credits available in future years.
Masser said how much in tax credits are added to the program and whether there are automatic increases approved will likely need to be negotiated in the budget.
State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, agreed that Republicans would like to see the program get a boost in the budget.
“We have a lot of private and parochial schools and they were disappointed that the governor vetoed” HB 800, Yaw said.