Governor Wolf proposes a $37.8 billion budget. This highlight and focus of this week in the state capitol building was the anticipated release of Governor Tom Wolf’s annual state budget proposal. The cliché of, “go big or go home” was certainly the theme of Wolf’s FY 2021-22 budget plan.

The $37.8 billion budget, an 11% increase over last year, would direct significant amounts of money to education, workforce development, and vulnerable population needs and would be supported by a substantial increase in the state’s Personal Income Tax (PIT). The current PIT rate is 3.07% and the proposal seeks to increase that to 4.49%. Much of this increase would direct additional money to Pennsylvania public schools.

Other highlights of Wolf’s proposal include:

  • A new severance tax on natural gas
  • Increase in the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour in 2021 and $15 per hour by 2027
  • Implement a “fair service fee” to all municipalities to pay for the PA State Police

The reaction to the state budget has been mixed. Democrats are praising the governor for his leadership, bold vision, and willingness to put forward a comprehensive plan to fund many of the most pressing fiscal challenges facing the Commonwealth. Many Republicans are criticizing the plan as a massive tax and spending package that will cripple businesses and families during a time when the state is still trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The General Assembly will begin 3 weeks of budget hearings to learn more about the Governor’s proposal. The state Constitution requires the passage of a balanced budget by July 1 of every year.

Boockvar out as Secretary of State. Embattled state Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar will be resigning by the end of the week. Boockvar has been under fire for her handling of counting the votes during the recent Presidential Election. But, it wasn’t the election that has created the basis for her resignation.

Boockvar was forced to step down as secretary after it was learned that the Department of State failed to publicly advertise a constitutional amendment passed by the legislature last session. — an error that will delay the approval process for an amendment designed to provide legal recourse to child sexual abuse victims. The General Assembly was preparing to pass the proposed constitutional amendment a second time (as required under the law) thereby setting it up for a statewide referendum by voters on the upcoming May Primary Election. The error now means that the amendment won’t be able to be placed on the ballot this spring. The earliest it can now go before the voters would be the spring of 2023.

Schedule ahead. Due to the snowstorm this week, the state House and Senate will be in session the remaining days of this week. They aren’t scheduled to return, however, until March because of several weeks of budget hearings that have to be conducted. We will continue to report on the activities as they develop.