Budget offers opportunity


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With the new state fiscal year looming July 1, the Legislature has begun serious deliberations on the budget.

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a $34.15 billion budget in February, about $927.3 million, or 2.75% greater than the current budget, including $200 million more for basic education.

Lawmakers expect to adopt a new budget in time for the new fiscal year, partially because revenue this year is projected to exceed projections by more than $800 million.

They should not adopt a static budget this year, but actually drive progress in several ways knowing that doing so also will enhance long-term budgetary stability.

• Infrastructure: Wolf's infrastructure program would have the state borrow $4.5 billion through bonds and use a new, modest tax on gas production to pay the debt. Because Pennsylvania exports about 75 percent the gas it produces, the tax would be paid primarily by consumers in other states. Legislators should stop reflexively shielding the gas industry.

• State police funding. More than half of the state police $1.2 billion budget now comes from the state Motor License Fund, which is supposed to be used for transportation infrastructure. Lawmakers should approve Wolf's plan to reduce that problem by imposing a per-resident fee on municipal governments that do not provide for local police protection.

• Minimum wage: Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast to cling to the federal $7.25-an-hour minimum wage. Raising the wage not only would help at least 106,000 workers who are paid the minimum, but reduce social ``safety net'' costs, and directly and indirectly increase state tax revenue through greater income and sales tax collections. There likely will be some movement on that issue, but not to the $12 an hour by July 1 and gradual increase to $15 by 2025 that Wolf has sought.

• New voting machines. The administration has required all 67 counties to acquire secure voting systems in time for the 2020 elections, to comply with a federal mandate for election security. Wolf has proposed that the state government cover $75 million of the projected $125 million cost, at the rate of $15 million a year for five years. Lawmakers should go one better and cover the entire cost, over time, to preclude local governments from dragging their feet.

Some lawmakers have insisted that the surplus should go into the Rainy Day Fund to help guard against future funding shortfalls. Some of the money should go to that fund. But investing in infrastructure and ensuring higher wages also are means to improve the economy and, therefore, stabilize the state budget. Lawmakers should vote for progress.

The Citizens' Voice



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