Goodbye and good riddance 2015… A bruising and historic budget fight ended in an unsatisfactory stalemate with the governor’s signing and blue-lining of an inadequate budget passed by the General Assembly after the House and Senate walked away from a negotiated compromise. Education funding remains far from resolved, but school districts did receive enough funding to keep the doors open in the new year. The temporary funding for schools will last until March when some school districts will again run out of money. The temporary budget does restore a portion of the human services funding that was cut under Governor Corbett. You can see comparisons between the compromise budget that the General Assembly walked away from and the budget that the members passed.
You made all the difference… The progress that was made – getting a budget with more money for education to overwhelmingly pass in the Senate, and come within a whisker of final passage in the House – would not have been possible without your help and participation in broad ad hoc budget coalition that our outreach and engagement director, Jeff Garis, so ably led. This coalition is 80 organizations strong - labor unions, environmental and education advocates and about 30 social service providers. Their staffs, members and clients wrote about 20 op-eds, 40-50 letters to the editor, mobilized hundreds of people to participate in rallies and press conferences, made thousands of phone calls and visits to legislators and sent them countless emails. We are not done yet, but last year’s extraordinary work has set the stage for all that we will do this year.
What our crystal ball shows for 2016… We still don't have a final budget. Even though there was some increase in human service funding, we still hope for a full budget that will restore $94 million in funding for human services this year. But many analysts believe that campaign politics will prevent a budget resolution any time soon.
Is it finally time for a severance tax and an increase in our paltry minimum wage?…While the gas drillers once again toasted their success at preventing the General Assembly from enacting a severance tax, Governor Wolf remained determined to try to secure it in 2016. And will Pennsylvania join the 14 counties, cities and states that passed a $15 minimum wage in 2016 that helped more than one million low-wage workers and their families. The severance tax and raising the minimum wage are at the top of the governor’s to-do list this year.
Our big plans for 2016…Start with our annual Budget Summit which will be held on March 3rd at the Harrisburg Hilton. This free event will feature an in-depth look at the Governor's 2016-17 budget proposal, including what it means for education, health and human services, and local communities. The Summit will focus on the leading issues facing the commonwealth in 2016, with workshops, lunch, and a legislative panel discussion. Reserve your place here.
And then mark your calendars for a major event – The 20th Anniversary Keystone Research Conference which will be held June 8-9 at the Crowne Plaza in Harrisburg. We’re lining up great sessions and exciting speakers. Watch your email and social media for more details.