HARRISBURG — The state House voted 140-62 to approve a $34 billion state budget for 2019-20, sending the measure to the Senate, which is expected to approve the plan later this week.
Gov. Tom Wolf has already signaled that he supports the measure.
Tuesday’s vote came after more than three hours of debate — with Democrats criticizing the proposal’s lack of an increase in the state minimum wage.
Should raising the minimum wage be part of the state's budget?
Wolf had called for an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour in his February budget proposal.
House Republicans, in particular, stonewalled the move to increase the minimum wage, with House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County saying the state should focus on providing training to help people helping land jobs that pay more than the minimum wage.
“Compromise is not a dirty word,” Cutler said. “This budget is a compromise.”
House Speaker Mike Turzai of Allegheny County limited Democrats’ ability to speak about the minimum wage issue on the House floor, saying the debate should focus on the spending plan.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, also of Allegheny County, said the plan should have included a minimum wage increase. Pennsylvania still uses the $7.25 minimum wage set by the federal government, while every neighboring state has moved to a higher minimum wage.
House Appropriations chairman state Rep. Stan Saylor, a Republican from York County, said the state tax revenue shows that working people are doing better because the state got more income and sales tax than projected.
“Workers are earning more,” he said.
Dermody said the budget “does move Pennsylvania forward in significant ways.”
The plan would increase basic education funding for schools by $160 million and increase funding for special education by $50 million. The plan would also allow for another $25 million in tax credits for donors who give to scholarship programs that cover tuition for private schools. Wolf vetoed a bill that would have boosted that tax credit program by $100 million.
The proposal also provides schools with another $60 million to boost security in the wake of ongoing concerns over safety in light of shooting incidents across the country.
Cutler said boosting the special education funding is important because increased costs of special education are one of the reasons school districts can seek permission to increase property taxes over normal state limits.
In addition to boosting school spending, the proposal also calls for the state to deposit at least $250 million in its Rainy Day Fund, a move that had been a priority of Wolf and legislative leaders.
Crawford County representatives Kathy Rapp, Brad Roae and Parke Wentling all voted yes.
“I voted ‘yes’ on the main budget bill because it makes good investments for many important things, but does not require a tax increase or borrowing to fund it and it even puts over $250 million in the Rainy Day Fund," said Roae, who, like Rapp and Wentling, is a Republican. "I have been fighting against the Pennsylvania State Police fee, against tax increases and against borrowing. I was fighting for a smaller spending amount but the reality is a budget ends up being a reasonable compromise when conservative legislative chambers have to negotiate with a liberal governor who wanted to spend even more.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the budget as soon as Thursday.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.