In an 84-minute address, Gov. Josh Shapiro outlined his budget priorities for the 2024-25 fiscal year before state representatives in the Capitol Rotunda.
The $48.3 billion spending package does not call for an increase in taxes and calls for the allocation of portions of the Commonwealth’s $14 billion rainy day fund.
“This year, we have a real chance to build safer communities, become more competitive economically, and invest in our students and their success – and this budget lays out a comprehensive and aggressive focus on doing just that without raising taxes and maintaining a surplus of $11 billion at the end of June 2025,” said Shapiro.
“Since my first day in office, I’ve been focused on getting stuff done – and this budget will continue to create opportunity for every Pennsylvanian with historic investments in economic development, education, healthier and safer communities, and much more. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to continue to get stuff done for the good people of Pennsylvania, solve the most pressing problems we face, and meet this moment responsibly and with bipartisan compromise.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) was not impressed.
“Gov. Shapiro’s multibillion-dollar budget proposal reflects an undisciplined strategy that lacks accountability,” said Ward. “Shapiro boldly confesses his spend plan is ambitious and uncompromising as it can only be implemented ‘as is.’ Shapiro’s spend plan is reckless in a ‘unicorns and rainbows’ way and would lead to significant tax increases for Pennsylvanians at a time of historic inflation and uncertainty for our nation’s economy.
“Shapiro desperately wants Pennsylvanians to feel like they are on the right track but is instead granting government greater control over our lives and businesses. The truth is, such a plan would only bring more financial hardship for taxpayers and business owners across Pennsylvania and would put our commonwealth in the same category as other high-tax, bankrupt, blue states like California, New York and Massachusetts, not flourishing red states like Ohio and Florida.”
House Democrats praised the governor’s address.
“Governor Shapiro laid out a comprehensive proposal that builds on last year’s historic investments in education while recognizing the important work of the Basic Education Funding Commission,” they said in a statement. “House Democrats remain committed to fulfilling our constitutional and moral obligation to fund our public schools to ensure that every child, regardless of their ZIP code, has access to a quality public education. We look forward to working with the governor and our colleagues to deliver on that obligation.
“As our economy continues to strengthen, this is a critical moment in time to invest in our workforce and economy. Governor Shapiro’s proposal prioritizes investments that will attract and retain businesses while growing our workforce.
“We’re very encouraged that this plan makes key investments without raising taxes or diminishing our healthy surpluses.”
House Republicans took a different tack.
“After listening intently and with an open mind to what Gov. Shapiro has been talking about over the last several weeks, what he presented to lawmakers last night, and what he delivered in front of Pennsylvanians today, I cannot help but think this year’s budget proposal is much like a phishing scam. It looks good, it draws you in, and it makes you believe it is something it is not,” said House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster).
“If Pennsylvanians want to buy into this budget proposal, they will be buying into higher taxes, stagnant ideas, and good intentions balanced with irresponsible decisions. Contrary to what you may be led to believe, thanks to years of fiscally responsible leadership by Republicans, we remain on sound financial footing. Our problems can be managed by new thinking. They do not need to be managed by the new and future tax increases and the fiscal irresponsibility that will result from this budget proposal.”
What he did not address was school vouchers – an issue that has caused division among the governor, Senate Democrats and House Republicans.
He did propose establishing a uniform rate that reflects that actual cost to send a student to a cyber charter school, however, suggesting $8,000 per kid.
“If we do that, we will level the playing field, and as a result, we’ll be able to return 262 million dollars back to our public schools. If you combine those savings with the new money I’m proposing for our 500 school districts, that would mean nearly two billion dollars more for our public schools next year.”
Here are some highlights from the governor’s budget address.
The proposal calls for nearly $1.1 billion in basic education funding – the largest increase in Pennsylvania history. Nearly $900 million of that is proposed as a first-year adequacy investment as recommended by the Basic Education Funding Commission. The remaining $200 million will be distributed through the Basic Education Funding Formula.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do right by our kids, said Shapiro. “Let’s seize this moment.”
Safe and healthy schools
Shapiro wants to allocate $50 million annually for school safety and security improvements and an additional $300 million in sustainable funding for environmental repair projects in school buildings.
The governor placed $8.7 million in the proposal to create opportunities for Pennsylvanians. Included in that figure is $2.2 million for a “Career Connect” program that is designed to connect talented workers with employers, create internships, and keep young people in the state.
“Let’s remember: there are many paths to success after high school,” said the governor. “We need to respect all paths to opportunity equally, and we need to invest in them.”
Shapiro’s blueprint for higher education in the Commonwealth begins with the creation of a new system that unites the PASSHE universities and fifteen community colleges under a new governance system that increases access and transparency, makes higher education more affordable, and invests in outcomes that benefit the state.
Nearly $1 billion ($975M) is earmarked for the governance system which is fifteen percent more than spending on all higher ed in Pennsylvania in 2023-24. The proposal gives a five percent bump in institutional support for Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln, while also recommending an increase in financial aid for students so that residents making up to the median income will pay no more than $1,000 in tuition and fess per semester beginning in 2025-26.
The governor also called for an investment of $279 million annually in 2025-26 so Pennsylvania students can attend in-state schools and begin careers in the Commonwealth with a limited debt load.
“We need to play a game of addition, not subtraction, and focus on building a world-class system of higher education,” said Shapiro. “One that keeps our young people in the Commonwealth, helps our students gain the skills they need, and provides businesses with the workforce they require to grow and be successful.”
The ten-year strategy that Shapiro unveiled prior to the address invests $600 million to implement the plan for economic development and better serve Pennsylvania’s business community.
The budget proposals calls for $500 million in funding to bring more commercial and industrial sites online and ensure companies have options for attractive business environments in Pennsylvania. It also allocates $25 million for a Main Street Matters program, designed to support small businesses and commercial corridor, and $20 million to support large-scale innovation.
“Consider this – over the last five years, our neighbors Ohio, New York, and New Jersey all committed more resources to economic development than Pennsylvania,” said the governor. “Ohio has one-and-a-half million fewer people than Pennsylvania, yet they’ve invested over seven times more in economic development than we have. And you know what, their investment is paying off. And I’m sick and tired of losing to friggin’ Ohio!
“We need to catch up.”
The governor called for the General Assembly to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour. “Raising the minimum wage is going to make us more competitive, and it’s going to create economic opportunity,” he said. “Because we’re falling behind. It’s anticompetitive and it’s hurting our workers.”
Shapiro previously announced a $1.5 billion investment over the next five years in public transit.
The main beneficiary of the funding would be the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), as the Philadelphia region gears up for such major events as America’s 250th birthday, the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2026 MLB All-Star game.
Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PIT) will receive nearly $40 million in additional funding under the proposal, while Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA) would pick up an additional $6 million.
Shapiro received applause from supporters when he called for Pennsylvania to legalize adult use cannabis. Noting that the Commonwealth was losing revenue to neighboring states, he proposed the legalization of adult-use cannabis effective this July 1, 2024, with sales within Pennsylvania beginning January 1.
“We’re losing out on an industry that, once fully implemented, would bring in more than 250 million dollars in annual revenue,” said the state’s former Attorney General. “And our failure to legalize and regulate this only fuels the black market and drains much needed resources for law enforcement. It’s time to catch up.
“I ask you to come together and send to my desk a bill that legalizes marijuana. Let’s stop hamstringing ourselves and start competing.”
The budget calls for the creation of an Office of Gun Violence with a $37.5 million investment in a Gun Violence Investigation and Prosecution program through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to make grants to support district attorneys’ offices and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes related to gun violence.
The governor also called for a $37.5 million increase for the successful Violence Intervention and Prevention program that supports models focused on reducing community violence.
“This year, we have an opportunity to pass the first significant gun reform legislation in 20 years,” said Shapiro. “Why the hell are we okay with loopholes on background checks that allow criminals to get their hands on guns? Just close the loopholes.
“You all like to talk a big game about law and order. So let’s strengthen our laws and bring about more order. The community is crying out for us to act – law enforcement is on their side – and you should be too.”
Women’s health and contraception
Shapiro emphatically stated that his budget “increases support for health care providers that provide high-quality family planning tools and reproductive health care services … Because women and girls deserve to make their own choices about their own bodies.” He also proposed $3 million to provide menstrual hygiene products at no cost to students in schools.
“This is something we don’t often talk about, but girls deserve to have peace of mind so they can focus on learning,” claimed Shapiro.
The 2024-25 budget goes one step farther than the $100 million proposed a year ago for student mental health services and $20 million for county mental health support by allocating $100 million in mental health funding for K-12 schools.
“Our students are calling out for help and support – and we need to be there for them,” said Shapiro.
Last May, Shapiro signed an Executive Order directing the Pennsylvania Department of Aging to develop a ten-year Master Plan for Older Adults to meet the needs of Pennsylvania’s senior population. The 2024-25 budget invests $11.7 million for initiatives that can enhance accessibility, empower caregivers, and build a community for everyone, all of which may result in lowering the reliance on government-funded healthcare and long-term services and supports.
Steve Ulrich is the managing editor of PoliticsPA.