Shusterman: Gov. Wolf's budget proposal is an investment in Pennsylvania's future

Governor Tom Wolf’s final budget proposal comes as our commonwealth continues to deal with a global pandemic that has profoundly affected us all, impacting our health, the health of our loved ones, job prospects, care and education of our children and our access to goods and services in the economy. This proposal would move Pennsylvania forward and put people and opportunities ahead of the status quo.

In the past seven years, we have made great progress in education, investing nearly $2 billion, but we cannot stand still now. We must continue to prioritize our children and fulfill our promise that a child’s zip code will not determine their success. Governor Wolf’s proposal provides an additional $1.55 billion for basic education funding. This funding will be distributed throughout the commonwealth, making sure our most underfunded districts receive necessary funds to better their schools and provide opportunities for students. It also proposes a 16% increase in special education funding, which would ensure that school districts have the resources they need to provide high-quality education services to students with disabilities and special needs. Additionally, the proposal invests $70 million in early childhood education, allowing more young children to attend early education through PreK Counts and increasing investments for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program. We have the funds to invest in our children's future and provide equity in education without raising taxes or asking school districts to bear an extra burden. All children deserve the same access to a good education, and this budget levels the playing field for public education in Pennsylvania. 

However, investing in our children starts before preschool. Parents and caregivers need access to quality, affordable child care. The average cost of child care in Pennsylvania is $11,842 per year, or $987 a month.

Governor Wolf’s budget prioritizes child care on several fronts, investing $77.8 million in federal funds to maintain base rates for Child Care Work, a subsidized childcare program to help low-income families; $44.3 million to maintain co-payment reductions for Child Care Works families; $6.1 million to maintain incentive payments for providers of childcare during nontraditional hours. Providing safe, quality and affordable childcare can lessen the load tremendously for working parents, ensuring a strong workforce and a bright future for our children. That’s why I have introduced House Bill 2053, which would create a Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit in Pennsylvania. There is a federal child and dependent tax credit, but Pennsylvania is one of 19 states that does not offer tax credits for child or dependent care. To be eligible, taxpayers must already qualify for the federal tax credit. Taxpayers with one qualifying individual would receive $350 in tax credits, while taxpayers with two or more qualifying individuals would receive $700 in tax credits.

Small businesses are the backbone of our commonwealth and investing in our business owners will continue to grow Pennsylvania’s economy and keep our communities strong. Governor Wolf’s proposal would use $225 million American Rescue Plan Act Dollars to help 11,000 small businesses through the COVID Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program. The grants will help small businesses to stabilize and reopen. 

Promoting innovation and the job growth value of bringing businesses to Pennsylvania is essential to making the commonwealth more competitive. Right now, Pennsylvania has one of the highest Corporate Net Income Tax rates in the country, which is keeping companies out of our commonwealth. This budget proposal would cut taxes on employers creating good-paying jobs in the commonwealth by reducing the Corporate Net Income Tax from 9.99 percent to 7.99 percent. I’ve introduced legislation in the state House that would incentivize emerging tech and biomedical companies to choose Pennsylvania by accelerating the Net Operating Loss Carry-Forward, allowing companies that invest in new technology to write off more of that investment on their taxes.

This budget proposal also prioritizes Pennsylvania’s vulnerable populations, including those with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism by investing $18.8 million to serve an additional 832 individuals awaiting services. Those who need assistance should not have to wait for it.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass a once-in-a-generation budget that prioritizes the needs of the people of the commonwealth, investing in our children, businesses and the most vulnerable citizens, all while not increasing taxes. This proposal is an investment in the future of Pennsylvania, and I am hopeful we can make it a reality. 

Pennsylvania Rep. Melissa Shusterman is a Democrat who represents part of Chester and Montgomery Counties. She was elected to represent the 157th Legislative District in 2018. She serves on several committees including, Children & Youth, Commerce, Judiciary, and Policy.