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Shapiro’s budget proposal stresses schools, reserves

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, speaks as House and Senate Democrats outline their support for Gov. Josh Shapiro's budget Tuesday, March 7, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. The Patriot-News via Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Gov. Josh Shapiro is proposing a hefty increase in aid to Pennsylvania's schools in his first budget delivered Tuesday, March 7, to the Legislature, but the Democrat's administration also emphasized prudence, saying a massive cash surplus will dwindle over time.

Shapiro’s budget proposal comes as Pennsylvania keeps taking in robust tax collections, leaving it with $11 billion in reserve cash, even as the administration faces demands for more money for schools, highways and social services.

Spending would rise modestly while Shapiro is proposing no increases in income or sales taxes, the state's two main sources of revenue.

All told, Shapiro’s budget plan for the 2023-24 fiscal year that starts July 1 boosts spending to $44.4 billion, an increase of almost 4%.

Butler County’s representatives in the state Legislature reacted to the speech.

“I am looking forward to working with Gov. Shapiro and his administration going into this budget season. I think there is a lot of work to be done, and we need to be very careful ... While I have concerns with this proposal, some of the principles in Gov. Shapiro’s first budget do match the ideas announced by Senate Republican leaders last week, including workforce development, infrastructure advancements, safe communities, and mental/behavioral health supports,” Sen. Elder Vogel, R-47th, said in a statement Tuesday.

Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-8th, called Shapiro’s proposal a “slap in the face to taxpayers who are already feeling the pain of skyrocketing inflation and price increases.

“Additionally, minimum wage hikes, marijuana legalization and the rest of Shapiro’s far-left wish list will only serve to further crush our small businesses and erode our communities. The state’s economy is on the fast track to billion-dollar deficits. Now is the time to practice fiscal responsibility, not take taxpayers on a reckless spending spree,” Bernstine added in his statement.

Rep. Marci Mustello, R-11th, also referred to the budget as a “wish list,” but added that it “starts the conversation or is a starting point that we hope will end in a fiscally responsible budget.

“While there are some positive items in this budget – such as no new tax increases, increased education funding and additional money to help our farmers — the governor wants to spend when families cannot afford it. Responsible budgeting is crucial to ensuring the long-term financial health of our state, and it requires a balanced spending plan with saving and investing in the future.”

Rep. Stephenie Scialabba, R-12th, also shared her thoughts on Shapiro’s proposal in a statement Tuesday, agreeing with funding for state police and first responders while disagreeing with “funding for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which harms our energy industry, including workers and producers, as well as our economy.

“I also think the proposal neglects a bigger need – shrinking our government. I’ve said time and time again that the government has too many hands and they’re too big. The proposal also allocates funds that should be returned to taxpayers or used to guard against tax hikes and the rainy days in our future. Smaller government and less spending means more money in taxpayers’ wallets, which is exactly where it belongs.”

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