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Wolf asks GOP-led legislature to spend Pa.’s federal aid dollars as he pitches $1.8B boost for education

Gov. Tom Wolf
Tyger Williams
Philadelphia Inquirer
Gov. Tom Wolf

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HARRISBURG — In his eighth and final budget address, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf returned to the themes that have marked his two terms in office, advocating for a nearly $2 billion boost for public schools and higher education, a hike in the minimum wage, and new investments in infrastructure and public health.

In a speech Tuesday laced with references to his administration’s legacy, the term-limited governor said that after struggling with deficits for years, Pennsylvania is is flush with extra money, the result of good budgeting practices and better than expected revenue collections.

“These are days of opportunity for our commonwealth,” Wolf said Tuesday, according to prepared remarks. “That’s because, at long last, our fiscal house is in order. … We are no longer digging out of a hole.”

Though Wolf’s nearly $44 billion financial blueprint does not include any proposed increases to Pennsylvania’s two largest money sources — the state income and state sales tax — it is almost certain to face pushback from GOP leaders.

That is because the governor’s budget plan relies on spending the billions in remaining federal aid to help Pennsylvanians recover from the financial blows delivered by the ongoing pandemic.

Legislative Republicans in recent weeks have warned that the governor’s call to spend these funds in one fell swoop will set the state off a financial cliff in the coming years, leaving the state in the precarious position of either having to turn to deep cuts in spending or painful increases in taxes.

Wolf is asking for $1.25 billion more in funding for K-12 education, as well as an additional $200 million for special education and an extra $70 million for early childhood education.

The governor is also resurrecting a previously unsuccessful push to raise the minimum salary for teachers to $45,000 a year, a policy change that has faced an uphill battle in the legislature.

And as he has every year since taking office, Wolf called on lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage, even though many Republicans have balked at the change. Pennsylvania is among a minority of states that still pay the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Under his proposal, the minimum wage would go to $12 an hour starting on July 1. After that, there would be annual increases of $0.50 until the minimum wage reaches $15 in mid-2028.

This story will be updated.

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