Wolf: Budget offers new way forward for Pennsylvania

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By Tom Wolf

Harrisburg has been broken for years, failing to focus on what matters most to Pennsylvania families. For far too long, Harrisburg politicians have done the bidding of special interests, lobbyists, and their well-connected campaign contributors.

In the past - for almost a generation - Harrisburg tried to cut its way out of structural deficits and used phony budgeting gimmicks to make it look like the commonwealth's checkbook was balanced when it really wasn't. And yet every year Harrisburg politicians kicked the can down the road, making our problems worse, refusing to make the tough decisions to cut bureaucracy, all while forcing seniors and school children to pay for their mistakes.

When I ran for governor, I pledged to give Pennsylvania a fresh start and I've charted a new way forward by prioritizing important responsibilities like protecting our seniors, making sure children receive the education we need them to have, working with law enforcement and treatment centers to battle the opioid and heroin epidemic, and rebuilding the middle class by putting more people to work.

My budget is a blueprint for continuing to move Pennsylvania forward and making sure that Harrisburg moves away from the failed policies of the past by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy; shrinking the size of our government; getting rid of waste, while ensuring we are protecting seniors and education; fighting the opioid and heroin crisis; and putting more people to work.

It's a new way and a better way. It doesn't raise taxes on people. It protects the services that mean most to Pennsylvanians - education, programs for seniors, and treatment for addiction to opioids and heroin. Yet it balances a budget facing a $3 billion deficit without using smoke and mirrors.

It does this by cutting waste and inefficiencies by more than $2 billion without affecting the services people rely on. We accomplish this by consolidating agencies and services. For example, we're creating the Department of Health and Human Services, which merges four agencies, and are creating a single point of contact in the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) so small businesses can get off the ground faster. We've also closed unneeded facilities like prisons and state hospitals and reduced the number of Wall Street fund managers.

My budget also makes sure oil and gas companies pay their fair share, closes corporate loopholes that let big businesses avoid paying taxes, and increases the minimum wage.

Most importantly, my budget protects the programs Pennsylvanians rely on. This year, I'm proposing an additional $209 million for public schools, which includes a $27 million increase to the Philadelphia School District. If passed by the legislature, this would bring the increased education funding total to nearly $124 million more for Philadelphia's students.

We're building on our efforts to strengthen the middle-class by leveraging $30 million in matching funds from universities, companies, and industrial resource centers to create or retain manufacturing jobs. This effort would create an apprenticeship grant program that is funded by $2 million clawed back by DCED from companies that have failed to live up to their commitments to create jobs in Pennsylvania. It invests $5 million for companies to partner with community colleges and local schools to build manufacturing training programs tied to their needs.

To strengthen programs for seniors, this budget implements Community Health Choices, a program that will improve services for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians by allowing people to stay in their homes as they age. It also builds on our push to serve more than 65,000 seniors and people with disabilities in their homes and communities instead of in nursing facilities.

We must also continue our fight against the opioid and heroin epidemic. My budget retains our expansion of treatment by funding 45 treatments centers, which serve more than 11,000 individuals, and adds $10 million to equip first responders with Naloxone.

This budget provides the people of Pennsylvania with the goods and services they want, without asking them to pay more, and it fixes our deficit.

This budget is a new way forward. It asks government to work smarter, to work better, and to live within its means.

Tom Wolf is governor of Pennsylvania.@GovernorTomWolf