Hohenstein: A budget is a moral document

In Harrisburg, our most important job is to pass a budget that makes people’s lives easier.

We must support our schools, establish a safety net for when people face hardships, create a business environment of opportunity and respect for workers’ rights, and ensure community safety. A budget is a moral document, and it should reflect the best we have to offer each other. With $5 billion in extra revenue this year and the remaining American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars, the time is now to consider a range of measures that would protect life, including investments in maternal health, repair toxic schools that sicken children across the commonwealth, help families afford quality childcare or have paid time off to care for an aging loved one, and support Pennsylvania’s seniors.

We can support our citizens at the same time we invest in our economy and infrastructure. The opportunity exists to fund both social programs and economic development at historic levels. We must have foresight to seize that opportunity. In my first three years in the legislature, I voted against the final budget each time – because each time it did not do enough for the people of the commonwealth and my neighborhoods. I hope that this year’s budget will include enough of the initiatives described below so that I can finally vote ‘yes.’

My first budget priority is our kids and our schools. I support proposals that will increase early childhood education by $70M and give state employees who are parents of young children $30M in childcare support as they do their jobs serving the commonwealth. The governor has also proposed $500M for the PA Opportunity Program to help parents receive training for better paying jobs and help with childcare and other household expenses in that transition.

With the buffer provided by the previous year’s surplus and ARPA funding for public education, we can increase the fair funding percentage to 26.5% and provide money through Level Up programs specifically targeting the most underfunded schools. We also can start to pay a fair share toward special education and increase accountability for public charter schools and the money they receive from taxpayers. The total for all this – just over $2 billion -- might seem to be a lot, but it only just begins to make up for years of neglect. Our kids in Philadelphia, especially in the 177th district, deserve the best schools and the best opportunities.

We also have a responsibility to support economic development. With rising prices and inflation (something created by corporate greed more than by simple supply and demand) affecting so many people, we need to raise the wages people receive for their hard work. Increasing the minimum wage will increase tax revenues and raise wages across the board. I support proposals to establish a $12 minimum wage, with annual increases to get to $15. The current minimum wage is $7.25 (for non-tipped workers) and has not been raised in more than 15 years. People cannot pay 2022 prices on 2006 wages.

In addition to supporting increases in wages, I also support reducing the Corporate Net Income Tax (CINT) from 9.99% to 4.99%. We can do this, providing relief for Pennsylvania companies, while closing loopholes that have let other companies effectively cheat on their social responsibility to pay taxes. Companies take advantage of government services, like bridges and roads and public safety and law enforcement. They need to pay their fair share.

Speaking of public safety, the governor has also proposed significant investments to address the needs for law enforcement that make everyone feel safer. From shifting funds away from the Motor License Fund into the General Fund, to providing grants and technical assistance to community-based gun violence prevention, to improving law enforcement’s access to technology to fight crime, there are proposals that can change the way we look at policing. We need to create better relationships between the police and the communities they are sworn to protect. Shifting the focus of enforcement funding toward those relationships will make everyone safer.

I also believe in our responsibility to serve our most vulnerable citizens, to give them the opportunity to live their best lives. This means utilizing increases in federal funding and ARPA and COVID relief to increase funding to people receiving Medical Assistance, both at home and in skilled nursing facilities. It means paying living wages to the Direct Service Professionals (DSPs) who care for the elderly and disabled. It means expanding food and property tax relief to our seniors.

We have historic surpluses and additional funds provided by the federal government. Investing those funds into our economy encourages growth. I specifically support plans that will invest $225M into small businesses and $450M into green infrastructure that will create jobs and address climate change.

I am ready to do my job to create a budget that will meet our moral obligations to my fellow citizens, encourage appropriate development, and improve our safety and security both on the block and throughout the commonwealth.