Planning a financial future

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, left, delivered his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Tuesday as House Speaker Mike Turzai, center, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, right, looked on.

Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced his 2019-2020 budget proposal and gave much for local representatives and senators to discuss.

State Rep. Rich Irvin found several things to be happy about in the proposal.

“I would say the best news I’ve heard, from the opening statement, was that there was going to be no new taxes,” Irvin told The Daily News. “That was a great way to start off the term for the governor.”

State Sen. Judy Ward felt the budget had good and bad elements and shared her thoughts in a press release.

“The governor’s budget address gave us a bit of a mixed bag,” she said. “There are certainly priorities we share, including workforce development and job training to make our state more attractive to job creators. I am hopeful that many of these measures will be part of the final budget plan so we can create more job opportunities to support local families. The fact that he presented a plan without a braid-based tax increase is also a step in the right direction.”

Irvin also applauded the governor’s focus on education.

“I was encouraged by his focus on career and technical education and agriculture,” Irvin said in a press release. “These are two areas House Republicans have long fought to support. Continuing to invest in our skilled labor force and supporting our state’s No. 1 industry will benefit us long down the road.”

Wolf’s proposal called for more funding for schools, especially in areas of technical training.

“This year, I’m proposing $10 million in new funding so we can fill more advanced manufacturing positions, help more nontraditional students obtain the training they need to compete in the job market, and create more jobs at better wages for more Pennsylvania workers,” Wolf said in his speech Tuesday.

Wolf’s proposal also included lowering the required age of school attendance to 6-years-old and increasing the minimum dropout age to 18, which he said would bring Pennsylvania more in line with other states.

Irvin expressed caution about making such a move.

“We would definitely want to see a hearing on it before deciding to go in that direction,” he said. “I sent my children to preschool, but I’m not sure if I’m willing to make a mandatory 6-years-old age for children to be going to school. For the most part in our area (Huntingdon County), most kids are going to school at age 6 (already). I don’t see it as a widespread problem in Huntingdon County at this point in time. I’m not saying there are not exceptions to that rule, but it is not really looking like we need to change any mandates there.”

As for changing the maximum dropout age, Irvin said, “It is very important than any child that starts school finishes it, but I’m not sure about raising the maximum age myself. I’d need more information on it.”

Irvin also commented on the governor’s proposal to raise the minimum wage.

“With only 2.3 percent of the workforce earning minimum wage, I think we need to look to attracting more high-paying jobs to the state and training our workforce for those jobs,” Irvin said in the press release. “That is a better long-term solution that won’t harm businesses that employ minimum wage workers and will set up more people for careers that truly support their families.”

Irvin stated he is not necessarily against a minimum wage increase, but how this increase is being proposed.

“My opinion has always been that it should be raised at the federal level,” he said.

Irvin also disagreed with the governor’s proposal last week to introduce a severance tax on natural gas production. Irvin explained that while the tax is not technically a part of the budget, the revenue it would introduce would help round out some of the budgetary items.

“If you somewhat read down through, you almost need to have the severance tax funding to go along with (other revenue sources),” Irvin said.

Irvin disagreed with the proposal because Pennsylvania natural gas drillers already pay a “substantial impact fee on top of the standard taxes and fees all businesses in the state pay”.

“(Gov. Wolf’s) request to tax drillers even more would be counterproductive,” Irvin said. He believes increasing taxes would drive the industry to cheaper states.

Additionally, Irvin expressed the impact fee gathers a large amount of revenue as it is.

“The revenues from the impact fee collected more this year than it has ever,” Irvin said. He added, “the severance fee is something I’ve not been in favor of only because the impact fee is already in place. It puts our gas companies at a disadvantage if you add the additional tax onto them. If we eliminate the impact fee and move toward a severance tax, that’s fine. … But the impact fee money goes back to a lot of your local municipalities and counties with wells in them.”

Both Irvin and Ward look forward to digging into the budget further.

“I look forward to digging deeper into the budget proposal… and working with my colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives to explore potential improvements that will ensure all of our tax dollars are spent wisely and responsibly,” Ward said.

“I am positively encouraged by the seeming willingness for Governor Wolf to work with the Republican majority in the general assembly,” Irvin said. “Time will tell how the plays out.”

Jesse can be reached at jrice@huntingdondailynews.com.

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