By Rep. Anita Kulik
On March 7, Gov. Josh Shapiro gave his first budget address to a joint session of the House and Senate. It was a dynamic address, full of the hope of bipartisanship. Shapiro is an astute politician and seems to understand that in order to get anything accomplished everyone must work together.
The governor’s proposal for the upcoming state budget and while these are issues that the governor wants to address, the final budget will be prepared by the House and Senate after appropriation hearings, discussions, and negotiations. The governor’s proposed budget will change with that process, although there seemed to be bipartisan approval for many of the ideas Shapiro has advanced.
He asked that the state cell phone tax be eliminated.
This would not be drastic savings for Pennsylvanians, but any help will be appreciated as we spend quite a bit on taxes and fees for our cell phones.
Other members of the House and I put forth a special effort to help our residents with their property tax and rent rebate applications. Many of those in need are left out because of income ceilings. The governor is proposing to raise the income cap to $45,000 with annual cost of living adjustments.
He is also calling for an increase in the amount of the rebate, from $650 to $1,000.
The governor wants to help homeowners by having the Whole Home Repair Program funds disbursed as soon as possible. This program is funded through the COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act and enables homeowners who don’t exceed a set income threshold to receive grants for home improvement projects.
Shapiro suggested continuing to lower corporate net income tax, a measure discussed by the legislature last year. In order to help citizens qualify for state jobs, the governor issued an Executive Order eliminating the need for a college degree for 92% of state jobs.
Too many Pennsylvanians have suffered through our broken unemployment compensation system over the last few years, which faltered during the most desperate times of the pandemic. My staff and I still spend a great deal of time addressing unemployment compensation issues. The Governor has committed to investing in the system to fix any problems and make the system more efficient.
‘Child Care Works’
Childcare is a great concern to working families. Not only can it be cost-prohibitive, but there is a significant lack of childcare workers in Pennsylvania. Too many of our children are being left behind without care because there are not enough teachers and workers.
The governor is proposing an investment of $66.7 million dollars for “Child Care Works.” I have advocated for various childcare programs, and I believe that the legislature is receptive to increasing this need.
As far as education funding, Shapiro has proposed a tax credit for anyone getting a new teaching certification. He is also looking to fund environmental repairs and upgrades to our school buildings. This goes along with increased funding for our public schools and tech schools, and also with helping students who wish to pursue higher education.
Not only do we have a shortage of teachers, but we are also seeing a shortage of nurses and police. Those receiving new licenses or certifications in these fields would also receive a tax credit under the governor’s budget plan. I also believe that we must consider the needs of our EMS/EMT personnel, and must provide credits and funding for those who are the frontline for our healthcare emergencies.
The governor also discussed increased support for our state police, infrastructure, public transportation, our park systems, and our 911 system. Under his proposed budget, there will be more support for senior citizens, those with intellectual disabilities, and those with mental health issues. Shapiro is also proposing assistance with the SNAP Program. One of his most interesting proposals is to provide free breakfast to all public school children. I know that many of the youth in our area would benefit from, and too many genuinely need, this sort of program.
We will see how much of this proposal works its way into the final budget, which is due June 30. As I mentioned, appropriations hearings are occurring at this time, as government agencies and others present their positions.