Pennsylvania state budget is a win for the people of our area

I voted for the state’s $34 billion-dollar budget because, even though it is not perfect, it avoids raising taxes or fees and increases basic education funding to $160 million for school districts in Lackawanna County and across Pennsylvania.

In fact, I believe this year’s fiscal plan makes several sensible investments in our future. For instance, we boosted special education funding by $50 million, and there is a $25 million increase for early childhood education. In addition, we added $10 million for our career and technical education programs.

Another important part of the budget funds programs that benefit people with intellectual disabilities, and it continues to support programs for our senior citizens.

All these investments provide significant support for our region and still allow an additional $300 million to be put in the state’s Rainy-Day Fund.

Another aspect of the budget that is pertinent to the greater Lackawanna area includes support for programs to help the farming industry stay competitive. Farmers will get a needed boost for business development, disaster response and best-management practices. Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed a $23 million farm law that invests in future generation and will improve childhood nutrition.

The plan includes the following:

  • Agriculture business development and succession planning – which provides $2 million to help farmers create a business plan to meet their needs and a realty transfer tax exemption for any transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer.
  • Creating more processing capabilities to accommodate a growing animal agriculture sector through the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, Center for Animal Agriculture Excellence, and incentivizing access to meat processing inspections.
  • Removing regulatory burdens and strengthening the state’s business climate.
  • Strengthening Pennsylvania’s agriculture work force to ensure the next generation is prepared to lead by establishing the Agriculture and Rural Youth Organization Grant Program and the Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program.
  • Protecting agriculture infrastructure with the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account.
  • Increasing market opportunities and making Pennsylvania the nation’s leading organic state with the PA Preferred Organic Initiative, PA Preferred Program, state-level Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and urban agriculture initiative.

The agenda I have mentioned includes strategic investments that are important to the people of Lackawanna County. The budget plan isn’t perfect, but it is a solid compromise with elements from both sides of the political aisle that provides financial stability.

One aspect of the budget that fell short is the need to increase the minimum wage. People who work hard deserve a living wage. Many people in Pennsylvania work full time 40 hour-a-week job and still can’t make ends meet and live below the poverty line. We need to do better and increase the minimum wage in the upcoming legislative session this fall.

In conclusion, it is a shame that the state eliminated an emergency assistance program that provided a temporary $200 a month for residents with disabilities, veterans, victims of domestic violence, and citizens struggling with opioid addiction so they could afford basic needs such as toothpaste and bus fare.

I will continue to fight for services that help all the people of Pennsylvania succeed and thrive, not just a select few.