Governor Wolf Presents 2016-2017 Budget Proposal

by Mark Despotakis, PMEA Advancement of Music Education Council Chair

On Tuesday, Februrary 9, 2016, Governor Wolf presented his budget proposal for 2016-2017.

It’s somewhat strange to see a budget proposal put out there for a new year when the budget for the current year hasn’t been fully signed.  It’s not something we’ve seen in recent years and the Shapp administration may be the last time two budgets were in the works at the same time.

It’s important to note that Wolf’s proposed budget is incumbent on the 15-16 budget being fully funded to the “framework” agreement.  You may recall at the end of December 2015, Governor Wolf signed into law parts of a non-“framework” budget agreed to by the general assembly.  However, Wolf vetoed parts of that budget and only provided for roughly six months of funding to schools in Pennsylvania.  The budget Wolf has presented for 2016-2017 assumes the passage of the full “framework” budget.  That “framework” agreement would have put $377 million additional dollars into education.  House and Senate leaders both say the “framework” deal is dead and off the table.  Also, the idea of compromise seems more distant than ever.  Wolf’s budget address was light on details but heavy on scolding members of the general assembly.  That probably won’t go far in trying to get both sides of the aisle to come together and compromise.
In addition to that, some have speculated there will be one compromise bringing together the 15-16 and 16-17 budgets.  After hearing both sides of the aisle react to Tuesday’s budget proposal, that doesn’t seem likely.
Here’s some of the highlights of proposals in Wolf’s 16-17 budget:
■ Boosting the personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 3.4 percent; this would yield an estimated $1.36 billion for the state next fiscal year
■ Applying the sales tax to basic cable television, movie theater tickets and digital downloads and limit a vendor discount, bringing in an estimated $414 million
■ Enacting a severance tax of 6.5 percent on the extraction of natural gas, raising an estimated $217 million
■ Adding $1 per pack to the cigarette tax, generating an estimated $468 million, and taxing the wholesale price of other tobacco products, generating an estimated $136 million

The governor’s budget proposal would make big increases to education spending. Wolf proposes:
■ Adding $377 million in the current fiscal year to the main funding line for K-12 education, then adding $200 million to the basic education subsidy for the fiscal year that begins July 1 (The $200 million 16-17 basic education subsidy would be distributed based on the bi-partisan Basic Education Funding Commission formula)
■ A $60 million increase this year for early childhood education, and a $60 million increase next year
■ Adding $50 million in special education funding for next fiscal year on top of additional funding he is still seeking for the current year
■ Five percent increases in the current fiscal year and next fiscal year for community colleges, the universities of the State System of Higher Education and the state-related universities

Other major initiatives included in Tuesday’s proposal:
■ An increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.15 an hour
■The 2016-17 budget implements the recommendations of the Special Education Funding Commission by adjusting charter school reimbursements to better reflect actual costs of educating students with special needs
■The current School Performance Profile (SPP) system will be revised so that it does not too heavily rely on test scores
■The formula for funding cyber charter schools would be modified

There are many other initiatives in the budget proposal and I’ve outlined only some of them that are most relevant to music educators.
It’s also important to note that we’re in an election year where all 203 members of the House and 25 members of the Senate are up for election.  That makes a sticky situation for getting any major changes done – especially potential tax hikes.  It’s not likely we’ll see any serious action on the 16-17 budget (and possibly the remaining 15-16 budget) until after the primary election.
PMEA will continue to monitor the budget situation especially as we near PMEA’s Advocacy Day on March 30th.  We will provide more updates and ask for your assistance to get a state budget signed into law that funds education fairly which can lead to the expansion and/or restoration of student music opportunities in Pennsylvania’s schools.