State lawmakers and advocates call for ‘People’s Budget’

Grassroots effort focuses on equity, inclusion and transparency

HARRISBURG, Feb. 9 – Nearly one week after Gov. Tom Wolf announced his budget priorities, several state lawmakers and advocacy groups called for a People’s Budget process, so Pennsylvanians can voice their budget priorities. They called for a more transparent process that brings equity and inclusion front and center.

“Across the commonwealth we’re all connected by common human needs for a home, a good school for our kids, health care that won't bankrupt us, a job where we’re treated with dignity and respect,” said Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee’s Subcommittee on Progressive Policies for Working People. “We’ve been told for so long that the status quo is the best we can get, but that is not true. Our state’s budget is built using taxpayer dollars and those same working people deserve to have a voice in how their public money is spent.” 

For far too long, the state budget has been a secretive process behind closed doors, said Rep. Rick Krajewski, D-Phila. 

“Our People’s Budget process seeks to change that,” Krajewski said. “The budget affects all of us who live in the commonwealth and working people have not been given a seat at the table. It was Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm who said, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’ That is exactly what we are doing. I am excited to work together with my colleagues and with organizations, stakeholders and working families across the commonwealth to craft a People’s Budget that invests in our people, our communities and our shared future.” 

“A budget is more than line items on a spreadsheet, it reflects our values and priorities,” said Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny. “A People's Budget is one that is unapologetic about putting the needs of our communities above corporate interests, addressing systemic inequality, achieving justice, uplifting working families, and caring for the most vulnerable. As legislators we must fight for a budget that is reflective of that vision.” 

“While I am enthused to see the governor’s proposed investments in our schools, an increased minimum wage and a tax cut for working families, we must not forget that many families across our commonwealth are still facing a looming eviction crisis, on top of the global pandemic,” said Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny. “We must ensure that community health – including mental health, hunger, housing and stability – are priorities in this moral document.” 

“Cries for budget austerity have one commonality: they are voiced only against requests for funding that will shift the balance of power from the elite to the people,” Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Phila. said. “We are told we cannot have money for our schools, but we watch a river of tax cuts flow to wealthy corporations. We are told that our communities will not be funded, but our prisons will. We are told that we cannot ask for affordable housing, but developers are granted unfettered access to pockets of money we did not even know existed. The people deserve to have their tax dollars used in ways that will truly meet their needs.” 

“A state government’s budget plan is created by taxpayer-funded elected and state officials who are supposed to serve the public,” said Sen. Katie Muth, D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks. “The only way to truly serve the public is by passing and implementing a people-centered budget that will ensure economic security and sustainability for every Pennsylvanian.” 

The lawmakers agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare challenges that many Pennsylvanians faced long before the pandemic and that the next budget must chart a path to a just recovery that centers the needs of Pennsylvania’s families, people and communities. 

“It's no secret that COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the disparities working families, specifically those in Black and brown communities, have faced for far too long,” said Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila. “The People's Budget is about addressing these issues by creating a more equitable Pennsylvania and making sure the people are part of the conversation.” 

The lawmakers said their budget priorities align with “We the People - PA,” a nonpartisan, issue advocacy campaign led by grassroots advocacy organizations in support of middle- and working-class Pennsylvania families and marginalized communities. 

The campaign’s organizers said, “Governor Wolf’s budget points the state in the right direction to secure what we all need: an inclusive community and sustainable economy. We believe that taking further steps toward a budget that lifts up all Pennsylvanians — no matter what we look like or where we live, how much we have or where we work — requires that more of us be part of the budget conversation. Too often in Harrisburg, everyday people are left out of the process and left behind as a result. We are grateful to legislators who are encouraging a People’s Budget process to ensure all Pennsylvanians, not just the wealthy and connected, are represented in the legislature’s budget process. We The People - PA will be an active participant in this process.” 

The lawmakers indicated they support many things in the governor’s budget, and that the People’s Budget represents a long-term vision to create a more open process for allocating public taxpayer dollars. The People’s Budget will build on work that has been done by legislators, like Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, and Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., and advocacy groups in previous sessions. 

Learn more about the People’s Budget here