Pennsylvania governor seeks billions for schools and development in budget that envisions legal weed

  • Canadian Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Josh Shapiro’s second budget proposes significant increases to education and economic development and would regulate adult use marijuana, while leaning heavily on Pennsylvania’s flush reserves to underwrite his vision.

The Democrat on Tuesday unveiled his budget for the 2024−25 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, in front of a joint session of the House and Senate in the ornate Capitol Rotunda.

Referring to his inaugural spending plan as a “down payment” on his vision for Pennsylvania, Shapiro called on lawmakers to enact his projected $48.3 billion budget to inject more cash into underfunded public schools and attract major industrial and high−tech projects to invigorate a slow−growing economy.

In particular, Shapiro said a hefty $1.1 billion increase to public education would take seriously last year’s court ruling that determined the state needed to better fund its public schools, with a significant portion of that going toward getting poorer schools up to adequacy.

“I know that’s a bold vision, and some will reflexively be opposed, saying, ‘We can’t afford that,’” Shapiro said in a copy of his prepared remarks. “But I would argue we can’t afford not to invest right now.”

The budget would use about $3 billion in reserve cash to balance, with tax collections projected to increase by $1 billion, or 2.2%. Shapiro’s spending request would increase total authorized spending by 7% through the state’s main bank account.

The proposal would hold the line on taxes on income and sales, the state’s two largest sources of income, while public schools, higher education, public transit and human services would absorb much of the increase in spending. The proposal would shrink the state’s cash reserve to $11 billion from $14 billion.

The budget does not call for a tax increase, or require one for at least five years, Shapiro said.

As a new revenue stream, Shapiro is proposing the legalization of adult use marijuana, following suit of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, like Ohio, New Jersey and New York.

Pennsylvania lags nearly every other state in funding higher education. To bolster students continuing through post−secondary, Shapiro’s budget allots an extra $200 million, or 10%, more for the state’s higher education institutions.

Beyond the continued push for a $15 minimum wage and the additional revenue stream of recreational marijuana, Shapiro is calling for legislators to fund economic development projects to attract major industrial and high tech businesses to cultivate a more dynamic workforce.

“We need to build a more competitive Pennsylvania that starts in our classrooms, runs through our union halls and our small businesses, through our farmlands and our high rises, our college campuses, and leads to a life of opportunity and a retirement with dignity,” Shapiro said in his prepared remarks.

The Associated Press

Photo: AP