Wolf unveils first budget, wants to raise spending
In an effort to increase education spending and fund additional state programs, Governor Tom Wolf proposed additional revenue during his first budget address on Tuesday. Wolf believes that increasing income tax from 3.07 to 3.7 percent will generate $2.4 billion in revenue. In turn, the new income will replace the archaic property tax that funds public schools, which Wolf promised to eliminate during the gubernatorial campaign. He also suggests raising sales tax from 6 to 6.6 percent, adding a $1 tax increase per pack of cigarettes, creating a 5 percent natural gas extraction tax and increasing a tax on bank shares. Moreover, Wolf plans to modernize the state’s wine and liquor stores and issue bonds in order to lessen the state’s pension liability.
In addition to increased education spending, Wolf intends use the new revenue to increase funding for programs in the Departments of Human Services and Corrections. He also plans to spend revenue on economic development for business loans and alternative energy sources to diversify Pennsylvania’s energy portfolio. Ultimately—under Wolf’s proposed budget—spending would increase by 3 percent to $33.7 billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
House approves charter school reform bill
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a charter school reform bill (118-78) that updates the Charter School Law enacted in 1997. The primary purpose of House Bill 530 is to restructure the formula that determines funding for charter schools and improve charter school transparency. Specifically, the bill would require charter school students to take standardized tests and teachers to undergo evaluations. Additionally, local school districts would save money by deducting food service costs paid to charter schools and all payments to cyber charter schools for the next two years. The bill would increase the number of years that a school is chartered from 3 to 5 and establish a commission to provide recommendations for new methods of funding charter schools. A similar bill passed the House last session, but died in the Senate. Governor Wolf has stated that he is in favor of charter school reform, but not House Bill 530 in its current form.