Governor Wolf’s Budget Proposal
Governor Tom Wolf began his administration with the fact that the irresponsible policies of the past four years have left our state in a $2 billion-plus budget hole. Last week, the governor presented his budget proposal which is an ambitious plan – a step in the right direction by reinstating funding in some much needed areas. I commend the governor on his proposal and his commitment to cutting property taxes, restoring funding to our schools and colleges, and strengthening the jobs outlook and business growth while restoring social safety net programs. With that being said, I feel that his proposal starts the conversation on what will need to take place to create a balanced and sustainable spending plan. Now the work begins to thoroughly review all aspects of the proposal to see what is attainable and exactly how to achieve those goals.
Here are some of the positive highlights of Governor Wolf’s $29.88 billion spending plan:
Education – Under the previous administration, more than 23,000 educators lost their jobs, 75 percent of school districts were forced to cut academic programs, 70 percent of school districts’ class sizes increased while test scores decreased.
Overall, the budget proposal will increase funding for education by an additional $1 billion including for the following allocations:
- $400 million earmarked for basic education
- $100 million increase for special education
- $200 million for career and technical education grants
- $100 million dedicated to the Pre-K Counts program
- $20 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance program
Higher Education – In exchange for higher education increases, Governor Wolf has asked colleges and universities to implement a tuition freeze.
- $15.1 million for community colleges
- $45.3 million for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
- $80.9 million for state-related universities, including Penn State University, Temple University, University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University
The proposed budget plan will also provide a historic $3.8 billion elimination of school property taxes. This will reduce the average homeowner’s property taxes by 50 percent, putting more than $1,000 each year in their pockets and ease the burden on low income and middle-class homeowners. The plan will also bring some much-needed relief to older residents living on fixed incomes by eliminating property taxes for more than 270,000 senior citizens. In conjunction with the additional education funding, the proposed budget increases the state’s share of funding for public education to 50 percent for the first time in 40 years!
Jobs, Training and Economic Development – This budget plan offers initiatives that will stimulate the state’s economy by improving Pennsylvania’s business climate to attract employers and focus on job training programs.
- $675 million to invest in various economic development initiatives like “Business in Our Sites,” energy portfolio programs that advance solar and other alternative energy sources, and for new technology that encourages conservation and clean technology
- Pennsylvania First, a grant, loan and loan guarantee program that requires private matching dollars, would see a $25 million increase
- Keystone Communities, a community-focused, public-private partnership program will see a $15 million increase - Main Street, Elm Street and Core Communities Development Projects are funded under Keystone Communities
- $9.8 million will go towards Industry Partnerships, which is a program aimed at getting companies in the same industry to identify common skills needs and develop training programs to meet those needs
- An additional $5 million for vocational rehabilitation training programs
- $8 million for the Workforce and Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania for additional worker training
The proposed budget plan will also increase the minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.
Health and Human Services – The spending plan would expand the home-and-community-based care option for an additional 5,500 elderly individuals to the current 45,000 seniors already being served.
- $21 million to expand home-and-community-based services
- An additional $49.5 million to continue to reduce the waiting lists for individuals with disabilities
- $1.5 million has been added for domestic violence services
- Another $876,000 for rape crisis services
- $20 million more to serve an additional 5,400 individuals through the Department of Aging’s Option program
- $27 million for PENNCARE
Governor Wolf will continue to undo Healthy PA in favor of an expansion of the state’s traditional Medicaid program, which he estimates will save the commonwealth about $500 million.
- $9 million to allow for the training of four State Police cadet classes which would raise the trooper complement to its highest level in history
- $25 million will be dedicated to Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project for Veterans’ housing.
For more details about what is in Governor Wolf’s budget proposal, please click here.
I want to remind everyone that in recent weeks, I have expanded my locations by adding mobile offices in the Strip District and on Pittsburgh’s Northside. Below is an updated listing of my office locations and hours:
932 Brookline Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone – 412-344-2551
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Beechview (satellite office)
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone – 412-343-2080
Kenmawr Plaza, 500 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp., PA 15136
Phone – 412-331-1208
Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Strip District (mobile office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
|Northside (mobile office)
Carnegie Library – Allegheny branch
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Special Enrollment Period for CHIP Buy-in Families
Governor Wolf recently announced that families enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) Buy-in Plan will be able to enroll in new plans during an extended enrollment period. The administration also announced that affected families will not face a tax penalty for 2014 or through the extended enrollment period in 2015. The federal government previously determined that the CHIP Buy-in Plan did not qualify for recognition as minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act because it does not meet certain requirements. The Buy-in Plan is available to middle class families with incomes above 300 percent ($72,750 for a family of four) of the federal poverty level. Approximately 2,700 families across Pennsylvania have kids enrolled in this program.
Any family affected that needs to find new health plans for their children, please visit www.chipcoverspakids.com or click here to view a listing of CHIP providers in Allegheny County.
FAFSA Reminder – Completion Sessions
I again want to remind all high school seniors interested in a post-secondary education, and their families, to complete the FAFSA (Free Applications for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible. The FAFSA is the federal form that all students must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance including the Pennsylvania State Grant, Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs, PA Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), various scholarships, some school-based aid, and federal student loans. The FAFSA is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
It is better to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible as schools’ financial aid deadlines vary. PHEAA is once again hosting FAFSA Completion Sessions across the commonwealth this year, in partnership with PASFAA (Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators). The Completion Sessions provide free assistance to families needing help with completing the FAFSA. You can click here to view a listing of scheduled FAFSA Completion Sessions. PHEAA will continue to update this list as more sessions are scheduled.
Slot Machine Revenue Rises
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board recently announced that gross revenue from slot machines at the 12 casinos in Pennsylvania increased during the month of February compared with February 2014 ($183,203,043 in 2015 compared to $181,178,730 in 2014). Tax revenue generated this February from slot machines was nearly $98 million.
Tax revenue from slot machines is directed as follows: 34 percent for property tax reduction; 12 percent supporting the horse racing industry; five percent is placed in a state economic development fund; and two percent goes to local governments that host casinos. The state’s casino industry employs over 17,700 people and generates an average of $3.7 million per day in tax revenue from both slot machines and table games. To view the February report and other information from the Gaming Control Board, please visit them online at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
National Nutrition Month
March is National Nutrition Month and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging is taking the opportunity to encourage older adults to connect to a meal and “bite into a healthy lifestyle.” The Department of Aging and the 52 Area Agencies on Aging work together to ensure that all meals served to seniors meet the highest standards of nutrition and meet nutritional requirements necessary to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. In addition to providing meals, the Department of Aging is committed to providing nutrition education. To learn more about nutrition and for some simple tips to help older adults get the nutrients they need without extra calories, please visit www.EatRight.org.
Did You Know…
Did you know that thanks in part to the support of the Pennsylvania Lottery, nearly one million meals a month are provided by the 52 Area Agencies on Aging and the 550 Senior Community Centers throughout Pennsylvania?
Adult Trout Stocking Schedules
The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) has announced that 2015 adult trout stocking schedules are now available online. Anglers can easily search the trout stocking schedules for locations and dates of interest by visiting the PFBC’s website, www.fishandboat.com, and clicking on the link for 2015 Trout Stocking Schedules. On the site, simply enter start and end dates from the calendars at the top of the page to generate a schedule. The search results will provide each body of water within a county that is scheduled for stocking, the section of water, date, species of trout, meeting place and time, hatchery stocking the section, regulations that apply, and the latitude and longitude numbers.
The 2015 trout season opens statewide on April 18th, with a Mentored Youth Fishing Day scheduled for April 11th. The Mentored Youth Fishing Day provides adults with a special day to fish with children, ages 16 and under, in advance of opening day. For more information about the Mentored Youth Fishing Day please click here.
Last week, Livability.com announced to the world what we in Pittsburgh already know – that Pittsburgh has the best downtown in the country. The marketing company ranked Pittsburgh as the best downtown among small- and mid-sized cities, finishing ahead of Indianapolis and Minneapolis. Population of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods has increased more than 10 percent since 2010.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
524 Pine Hollow Rd
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216