Governor Tom Wolf signed a nearly $34 billion budget bill for the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year last week.
The new budget implements a 1.8 percent increase in spending from the 2018-19 Fiscal Year. The good news is that it does not include new taxes or fees on business or individual taxpayers. In addition, it does not include an increase in the minimum wage, although the governor had proposed one in his budget address.
Through a bipartisan agreement, lawmakers worked to lower health insurance costs by creating an authority to operate the online health insurance exchange for Pennsylvania, which was created through the Affordable Care Act. The Wolf Administration says it can operate the insurance exchange for approximately $60 million less than the surcharge currently charged by the federal government. It proposes using the savings to qualify for extra federal reinsurance dollars for certain high-cost claims. The reimbursements would allow insurers to lower premiums by a projected five to 10 percent.
It does provide millions of dollars to increase funding for K-12 and higher education, plus $10 million in funding for technical and skilled trades education to help prepare students for the much needed skilled trades. A total of $71 million was earmarked for school security grants to ensure that every public school district will receive some help. In addition, Jewish and other religious K-12 schools will have an unprecedented $3.2 million available for security. Lawmakers noted that school requests for funds to address security concern far outpaced the money budgeted last year.
· Other notable budget items include $19.5 million to support agriculture; $84.8 million for the Community Waiver Program, which provides home- and community-based services for individuals with intellectual disabilities, bringing its total to $1.7 billion; $12 million more to provide a 2-percent increase, effective January 1, for homecare workers who care for seniors and individuals with physical disabilities.