HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Tuesday, Governor Josh Shapiro delivered his first budget address. Education, public safety, mental health and job creation are just some of the topics that received attention, and funding increases, in Shapiro’s proposed 2023-2024 fiscal budget.
Among the largest investments, is basic education funding. Shapiro proposed an increase by $567.4 million – or nearly eight percent. He also proposed a special education funding increase of $103.8 million to help school districts provide high-quality service to students with special needs.
Shapiro looks to continue universal free breakfast for Pennsylvania students by investing $38.5 million into the program. Aside from ensuring all students are fed, Shapiro wants to make sure they’re safe. He’s calling for $100 million in school safety and security grants, as well as another $100 million to reduce and remediate environmental hazards in schools.
The budget proposes an additional $60 million for higher education institutions across the commonwealth. The administration says the investment will increase postsecondary access and completion.
Eliminating barriers that are preventing Pennsylvanians from working was another key item in this morning’s address. According to the administration, the commonwealth loses $3.5 billion each year because of a lack of childcare options. The budget proposes up to $66.7 million in childcare services for low-income families and an increase of $30 million for the Pre-K Counts program.
Shapiro’s budget also invests $24.7 million for job retention and recruitment efforts to attract workers in vital industries such as nursing, law enforcement, and education. As was announced last week, Shapiro proposed a refundable tax credit of up to $2,500 a year for up to three years for newly certified teachers, police officers and nurses.
Many families have been impacted by the end of federal emergency benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Shapiro’s budget invests $16 million in SNAP to increase the minimum benefit by 52-percent.
Shapiro proposed an expansion to the Property Tax Rent Rebate Program, increasing the maximum rebate from $650 to $1,000 a year. The income cap for renters and homeowners would also increase to $45,000 a year. According to the administration, roughly 175,000 more Pennsylvanians would be eligible.
The budget calls for an additional investment of $10 million to support older adults by reducing the wait list for the Help at Home Program, and more funding for the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) network. The budget also invests roughly $1.9 million in resources for long-term care facilities.
According to the administration, Centers for Independent living (CIL) would benefit from an increased appropriation of $684,000 to recruit and hire staff at the nine CIL throughout the commonwealth. An additional $17.6 million would help home and community-based services reduce their waiting lists.
Another key component to Shapiro’s budget is public safety. Included, is funding for the 911 system. The budget proposes to extend the 911 surcharge to Jan. 2029 and change the fee from $1.65 to $2.03, while also eliminating the Gross Receipts Tax and the Sales and Use Tax imposed on wireless services. The administration says this expected increase in resources for counties will supplement a $36 million increase for EMS and fire resources. According to the Shapiro Administration, the elimination of the state cell phone tax, which is proposed in the budget, would save Pennsylvanians $124 million each year.
The budget also proposes creating the Public Safety and Protection Fund to sustainably fund the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), while reducing PSP reliability on the Motor License Fund (MLF). Shapiro’s budget proposes transferring $400 million from the Motor License Fund (MLF) into the Public Safety and Protection Fund. According to the administration, this will free up an additional $1.5 billion for road and bridge projects. The Public Safety and Protection Fund will also receive funding from revenue transferred from the liquor tax, tobacco products tax, motor vehicle sales tax and others.
The first-term Governor hopes to combat violence with $105 million for the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) Violence Intervention and Prevention Program.
Mental health investments saw a large increase in Shapiro’s proposal, especially for students – a $500 million increase over five years for mental health support in Pennsylvania schools. The budget also invests $5 million in one-time build out costs for the 988 system.
The budget invests an additional 50-percent in the commonwealth’s Manufacturing Innovation Program and includes $20 million for the creation of a new state program to invest in historically disadvantaged businesses. It also proposes a $23.8 million increase for investments in workforce training and apprenticeship programs, including partnerships between Career and Technical Education industries and trades.