Gov. Tom Wolf wants a higher minimum wage and more money for teachers — with no new taxes

By: and - February 5, 2019 2:22 pm

The Capitol building in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo)

Gov. Tom Wolf wants to raise the minimum wage, increase the base salary for teachers, and invest heavily in workforce development — without the sales or personal income tax increases he proposed in earlier budgets.

“The proposal asks for no new taxes,” Wolf said Tuesday to a joint session of the House and Senate, which responded with a standing ovation. “Not one dollar. Not one dime. Not one penny.”

The $34.1 billion general fund budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 would boost spending by roughly $1 billion over current levels, an increase of 2.79 percent.

Flanked by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, Wolf focused his fifth budget address on ideas to get Pennsylvanians in well-paying jobs. He proposed the creation of a Statewide Workforce, Education, and Accountability Program, which would mandate agencies meet weekly to discuss workforce projects and provide $12 million in funding to private employers to close the skills gap.

These proposals would be housed under the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center with agency heads and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, as well as members of labor (the Pa. AFL-CIO) and business (the Pa. Chamber) communities, represented.

“When Amazon made its decision not to locate its second headquarters in Pennsylvania, it cited workforce concerns as a main reason,” Wolf said. “Across the commonwealth, we have workers aging out of our workforce, and too often the next generation of worker is not there or doesn’t have the skills to replace them.”

There’s a new twist in Wolf’s education proposal this year: a higher minimum salary for Pennsylvania’s teachers.

“I don’t think anyone here in Harrisburg would say that we shouldn’t value the contributions our educators have made over the last 30 years,” Wolf said, “and I don’t think anyone would disagree that they have a critical role to play in securing our prosperity over the next 30.”

Under the proposal, the state would provide roughly $13.8 million to school districts to increase the wage floor to $45,000 per year. Currently, districts must pay teachers at least $18,500.

“This is a fully funded mandate,” Wolf said. “This could be a game-changer for our schools, especially for our communities that are struggling to attract and retain the next generation of educators.”

Basic education spending would rise by $200 million under Wolf’s proposal, with an additional $50 million invested in early education.

“And we should consider going even further,” Wolf said, “with a careful study of the costs and benefits of moving to universal free full-day kindergarten for every 5-year-old in Pennsylvania.” The idea got Democrats on their feet.

Wolf is again asking the Legislature to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, an idea he did not raise in his speech. This change, his administration says, would lead to millions in healthcare savings in the first two years. The General Assembly has rejected this proposal in all of Wolf’s previous budgets.

The governor is also taking another swing at funding the Pennsylvania State Police through a fee levied on municipalities that depend solely on the force. Instead of a flat fee, Wolf’s budget proposes a sliding scale based on population size.

Pennsylvania’s total operating budget under Wolf’s proposal is $85.8 billion, including $29.6 billion in federal funds.

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.