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Pa. House passes $34B budget with no hike to minimum wage

The entire Lehigh Valley delegation voted in favor of the $34 billion state budget, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“This legislation represents a strong, fiscally responsible budget with no new taxes, investments in our key priorities, and saving for our future,” said State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh/Berks).

The budget, which does not call for any tax increases, did not include the minimum wage hike that Gov. Tom Wolf had been championing.

The state minimum wage has been at $7.25 per hour since 2009. Wolf has sought a gradual increase to $12 an hour and then $15 dollars per hour.

The budget did dedicate more funding to public schools and career and technical education.

The spending plan includes a $432 million increase in funding for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and includes a $10 million increase in funding for career and technical education to help with workforce development by helping state residents learn new skills to acquire high-paying jobs.

While voting in favor of the budget, State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), like many Democrats, was less enthusiastic about the budget, which was guided strongly by a Republican-controlled house.

“This wasn’t a great budget, but it was a budget,” Schlossberg said. “It moved the ball forward for me on the things that were most important to me, like education.”

Rep. Gary Day (R-Lehigh/Berks) called the budget fiscally responsible and focused on taxpayers. He emphasized the plan’s call to restore state reserves.

The plan calls for stowing away more than $250 million in the state’s savings account, or Rainy Day Fund, he said.  That is the savings account used by legislators when unforeseen emergencies, such as natural disasters, occur and require state funding.

Day said the account was drained during the economic downturn, and he and his colleagues are fighting to begin recharging the account to protect against future tax increases.

“We want to put money in the state’s savings account so when there is a natural disaster or an economic downturn, the state doesn’t have to raise taxes,” Day said.

Other highlights of the budget include a $20 million increase in support for agriculture.

The bill eliminates the state’s general assistance program, which provides support for individuals who don’t qualify for federal assistance

Mackenzie said stronger tax revenue collection helped to balance the budget.

The House Appropriation Committee said that revenue collections for the month of April were more than $4.4 billion, which is $465 million more than the Department of Revenue’s official estimate. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, general fund collections totaled $29.16 billion so far this year, which it said is $828.5 million above the estimate.

The budget bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Writer Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at swescoe@bridgetowermedia.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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