STATEMENT: On Governor Wolf’s Proposed 2020-21 Budget

Following Governor Wolf’s budget address, Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, released the following response. A more detailed analysis of Governor Wolf’s proposal is below.

“There are two contexts in which we can and should analyze Governor Wolf’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-21. The first begins from the perspective of the current year’s budget. From that point of view, the budget is excellent. It proposes new spending in high-priority areas—especially in critical human services, education at all levels, infrastructure, and the environment—while also calling for spending and tax reforms that will make government more effective, efficient, and fair. The budget contains five major initiatives. Two of them, the governor’s call for raising the minimum wage—which would be a major step forward for Pennsylvania workers and for our economy as a whole—and his Restore PA proposal for infrastructure investment, were made in previous years, but are no less necessary for that. The governor also proposes a much-needed reform in how we fund charter schools, which provides most of the new funding for K-12 education, a major new initiative for funding the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and a significant new investment in addressing lead and asbestos in our school. Beyond those proposals, we are again impressed, as we were the last three years, by Governor Wolf’s fine-grained proposals for small improvements in how the government operates and targeted increases in many programs that will help Pennsylvanians. The attention to detail shows how serious the governor and his administration are about making state government work as well as possible.

“The second perspective on the budget begins from the need for major new public investments in the state to ensure that everyone can share in a thriving economy. From that point of view, the budget falls short. We cannot ensure that every child has a chance to make the best use of his or her talents—and that the rest of us can benefit from them—when state support for K-12 and higher education, even with the governor’s new proposals, remains far lower than it should be and is unfairly distributed. We cannot ensure that our economy will thrive at our current inadequate level of spending on roads, bridges, and transit. We cannot ensure the safety of our air, water, and the avoidance of climate disaster at current levels of spending on environmental protection. And we cannot fund all those initiatives fairly when our tax system puts too much burden on working people while letting the richest Pennsylvanians and multi-state and multinational corporations pay far less than their fair share.

“We have held Pennsylvanian budgets up to this higher standard for almost 10 years and found them wanting. And this year, as in the last five years, we again offer the same explanation for the failure to meet it. We have a governor who truly understands the needs of the state but faces an impassable barrier to enacting a budget that meets those needs: a General Assembly that takes its cues from the corporate elite and thus will not fix our upside-down tax system in order to raise the revenues we need to meet our growing public investment deficit.

“Governor Wolf deserves enormous credit for the strides he has made in making government more effective and more focused on the most critical needs of the state while working within the constraints of a General Assembly that has very different priorities. It’s ultimately up to the citizens of Pennsylvania to remove that barrier to progress.”