Sen. Blake Statement on Passage of $25.789 Billion Interim State Budget and CARES Funding

SCRANTON, May 28, 2020 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding passage of a $25.789 billion interim state budget that accounts for five months of spending for most appropriations. The interim budget fully funds for 12 months all education-related line items, including higher education, at 100% of the current FY 2019-20 enacted levels.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to inflict damage in our personal lives and on our state’s economy, it was imperative that the legislature and the Governor work together for a responsible, interim solution that focuses on predictability and necessity”

“The interim 2020-21 spending plan rightly prioritizes education, workforce development and social services. This budget allocates level funding to basic education, early childhood education, special education and higher education through the next fiscal year. It is imperative that, as our schools plan for a safe return to in-person instruction in the Fall, that there is no uncertainty in their finances. This funding commitment protects our schools, our students and our taxpayers while also leaving open the possibility to increase funding when we return to finish a final ‘20-‘21 state budget later this year.”

“There are over 2 million Pennsylvanians who are now unemployed and investments in education, workforce development and job training are critically important to getting Pennsylvanians back to work safely.”

“It is estimated that the Commonwealth will fall $5 billion short of expected revenues this year. The bipartisan passage of this interim spending plan allows us to budget responsibly within our line of sight.  It also affords the General Assembly an opportunity to reassess revenue estimates later this year and to monitor the very real prospect for additional federal aid for state, county, school district and municipal budget shortfalls.”

Blake also commented on the passage of legislation that allocates approximately $2.6 billion of federal CARES Act funds that must be spent on coronavirus-related costs and expenses. To-date, Pennsylvania has received approximately $3.9 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

“Since April, we have called for the release of CARES funds to create a grant program for our small business community; to fund our nursing homes and health care facilities; and to compensate counties for their own COVID-related expenses.  The passage of Senate Bill 1108 moves out $2.6 billion in federal aid to relieve the tremendous pressure that many of our organizations, businesses and local governments have been feeling since mid-March. Important also is that the interim spending plan and the release of federal aid commits to making whole the state’s property tax relief fund which had lost nearly $300 million due to the closure of Pennsylvania’s casinos during the pandemic.”

“Finally, today’s legislation allocates $225 million for our recently announced Main Street Business Revitalization program that will provide grant funding to Pennsylvania small businesses with fewer than 25 employees. Our Main Street small businesses across the Commonwealth have struggled throughout the pandemic and this grant funding will give them an opportunity to get back on track and to heal some of the financial hardship inflicted on them during this public health crisis.”

Blake noted that the Main Street Business Revitalization program will be run through US Treasury designated Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), such as MetroAction in Lackawanna County, and it will provide grants of up to $100,000 to compensate small business owners for the adverse financial consequences of COVID-19. Each CDFI will create a single application available for eligible main street businesses and eligible historically disadvantaged businesses to apply for grants; and funds must be spent by November 30, 2020.

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Blake: Budget Prioritizes Education, Public Safety

 
HARRISBURG, February 4, 2020 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed $36.055 billion state budget:

“I appreciate the work of Governor Wolf and his administration on a budget proposal that again prioritizes education, workforce development, public safety, infrastructure and our environment while avoiding broad-based tax increases.”

“On the education front, this budget includes a $100 million increase for basic education, a $25 million increase for special education and a $25 million increase for Pre-K counts. This new funding will ensure that our students get a quality public education. Importantly, the 2020-21 budget includes a $1 billion expansion of Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds that will allow school districts to apply for assistance for the remediation of lead and asbestos. Locally, Scranton and other school districts are facing fiscal challenges in making our schools safe for children and teachers.  This state grant funding is timely and necessary to improve our schools.”

“The Governor also continues to prioritize public safety and he proposes common sense measures for responsible gun safety as well as a comprehensive plan to address natural gas pipeline safety. I am also encouraged by the increases in funding to the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for additional capacity to enforce environmental protection and to improve our state parks and state forests.”

“The Governor’s budget proposal emphasizes policies that generate positive economic activity, empower our workers and create opportunities for workforce development and training. Pennsylvania remains the only state in our region that mirrors the federal minimum wage at $7.25 – this proposal would increase our minimum wage to $12 per hour and put us on equal footing with our neighboring states. Pennsylvanians working a forty-hour work week ought not be locked in poverty. The Governor also proposes a number of business and tax fairness initiatives that I have supported since taking office – including instituting combined reporting and reducing our state’s Corporate Net Income Tax.”

“I also applaud the Governor’s plan to encourage graduates of our State System of Higher Education schools to remain in Pennsylvania by reducing the debt these graduates incur in obtaining their degrees.  Further, as a member of the board of the PA Higher Education Assistance Agency, I commend the Governor’s proposal to increase funding for PHEAA’s grant program which provides essential support to reduce the cost of higher education in this Commonwealth.”

“This budget represents a solid starting point, but there are a few key line items that I hope to see negotiated over the next five months. This budget fails to provide sufficient funding for our Regional Cancer Institutes, and it reduces funding to our academic medical centers which impacts the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM).  I will fight to bring adequate state support to these institutions until we vote on a balanced state budget in June.”

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Sen. Blake: ‘19-‘20 Budget Invests and Balances

HARRISBURG, June 27, 2019 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Senate passage of a $34 billion state budget for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year. 

“For all the positives on which we were able to reach consensus regarding education funding; agriculture; human services; child welfare; and job training, there were a number of disappointing and rather serious policy differences that will ultimately define this budget.  These include the elimination of general assistance to over 11,000 of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians; the failure to address a much-needed increase in our state’s minimum wage; and the willingness of the majority party to, once again leave on the table, revenue which could have been raised from a reasonable severance tax on the extraction of natural gas in our state.”

“I was able to vote for this budget because of the positive local impacts this spending plan will have. First and foremost, this budget reveals a continuing commitment to education at all levels as it includes a $160 million increase in basic education funding; a level-funded ready to learn grant program; a $50 million increase in special education funding; increases in early childhood education and in the pre-K counts program.  These investments in public education will bring $10.5 million in additional funding to the woefully underfunded Scranton School District.  This state budget also invests another $60 million in school safety and security and includes a 2% across the board increase for community colleges and higher education.  The budget also supports level funding to the same number of student beneficiaries through this year’s PA Higher Education Assistance Agency’s state grant program.”

“This 2019-2020 state budget also provides much-needed increases for agriculture and — through several new initiatives — focuses assistance on our struggling dairy industry.  It increases funding to our public library system and it supports significant increases in home and community-based care for our seniors as well as for county child welfare services. There are also significant increases to serve children with intellectual disabilities and their families.”   

“This budget will fund $40 million in new, local small water and sewer projects across the state; increase our investment in community and economic development by over $22 million; and invest more in adequate and affordable housing through PHFA’s Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE). Finally, this state budget continues to support the great work being done at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine and at the NE Regional Cancer Institute.”

“The performance of our state’s economy will enable all of these new investments to be achieved without a broad-based tax increase.  The budget fully funds our annual state pension obligations and over $250 million will be deposited in the state’s rainy day fund as insurance against a future recession”.

“It is not the budget the Senate Democratic minority would have devised for Pennsylvania but we achieved a responsible spending plan and we negotiated across party lines as well as with the Governor’s office to ensure the best possible, on-time, balanced, state budget outcome.”

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Blake: Budget Invests in Education, Supports Working Class

HARRISBURG, February 6, 2018 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed $32.987 billion state budget:

“I applaud Governor Wolf for his continued dedication and investment in the areas most important to the residents of Pennsylvania – education, job creation and public health. This budget proposal includes a significant $100 million increase in basic education funding as well as an increase in state support for special education and pre-K funding; strengthens our workforce development and job training initiatives; and continues to support Pennsylvania families struggling with opioid addiction.

“The Governor’s 2018-19 state budget proposal seeks a much-needed increase in our state minimum wage so we can come in line with all states surrounding us. Importantly, the proposed 2018-19 state budget avoids any broad-based tax increases on those same working families – there are no personal income tax or sales tax increases — but it does include a responsible severance tax on the Marcellus shale industry. We were finally able to pass bipartisan severance tax legislation out of the Senate last year so I remain hopeful that we can again reach a consensus that will compensate Pennsylvanians for the volume of natural gas extracted from our soil.   The industry needs to be at the table and we need to get this right this year.”

“This budget proposal also prioritizes initiatives that support workforce development and job training – issues that have been among my top priorities since taking office in 2011. The budget includes $12 million to continue our successful Manufacturing PA initiative as well as a $5 million increase for the PA First program, which focuses on job creation and workforce development. I have introduced Senate Bill 714 which would create a state-level council dedicated to career readiness that would improve transition from K-12 to postsecondary to the workforce.  These initiatives ensure that programs are aligned with the current or anticipated needs of business and industry in Pennsylvania. We need to continue close the skills gap and educate, prepare and train a 21st century workforce so Pennsylvania remains competitive and we sustain our economic vitality.”

“I also support the Governor’s continued support for persons with intellectual disabilities and their families.  His budget proposal includes a $50 million increase to support these families and the workers who serve them.”

“As a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure we enact a state budget that reflects the priorities of all Pennsylvanians by June 30.”

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Sen. Blake Releases Statement on Senate Passage of Revenue Bills

HARRISBURG, July 27, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Senate passage of a package of bills needed to balance the 2017-18 state budget.

“The Pennsylvania State Senate again demonstrated that, through bipartisan communication, negotiation and compromise, work can get done and difficult decisions can be made in Harrisburg to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.  The revenue package adopted with bipartisan support today is not a perfect fix to all of our fiscal challenges, but it begins to legislate the long-term, reliable revenue solutions to the problems created by years of budgetary gimmicks and one-time transfers.”

“We have a constitutional responsibility to balance the state budget.   We also needed to avoid a credit-rating downgrade by Wall Street rating agencies as it would of cost taxpayers millions of dollars in debt service payments.   I voted for the spending plan we sent to the Governor’s desk on June 30th.   I had a responsibility to vote on the legislation necessary to effectuate that budget and meet our constitutional obligation.   Since taking office, I have fought for a responsible severance tax to assure that all Pennsylvania residents are adequately compensated for the volume of natural gas extracted from our state.  I am very proud that we were finally able to muster sufficient bipartisan support in the Senate for a reasonable severance tax that will raise over $100 million in the current fiscal year in addition to the $200 million impact fee.”

“While we are optimistic that the Senate plan passed today is the best solution-set possible with support from the Governor, the Senate and the House Democratic caucus in Harrisburg, it is still no guarantee that the House Republican majority will step up to the plate.  We did our job in the Senate.   We were able to accomplish a lot of good things in the budget bill passed in June including an additional $150 million for Basic Education, Special Education and Pre-K; adequate funding to serve families and individuals dealing with intellectual disabilities; funding for County Human Services and probation and parole services as well as funding for our Regional Cancer Institute and Heritage Parks programs.  We were also able to secure, in addition to the base appropriation, an additional $500,000 for the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.  The House voted in an overwhelming majority to support the state’s spending bill for this year.  Now it is imperative the they follow the lead of the Senate and return to session to vote for bills to effectuate that budget, including the bill that assures the revenue necessary to fund it.”

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