Looking ahead

How Shapiro’s budget proposal could impact Warren County

Photos courtesy of the Governor’s office Gov. Josh Shapiro presented his 2024-2025 budget to a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday. It marked the first time that the budget address has been given in the Capitol rotunda in the over 100 years of the Capitol’s history.

The 2023-2024 state budget was wrapped up last month, nearly a full six months late.

The kickoff of the 2024-2025 budget process was Tuesday when Gov. Josh Shapiro presented his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly.

“To be clear, my budget is balanced,” Shapiro said in the address. “It does not raise taxes – in fact it cuts them.

“Consider this, even if we funded every single one of the initiatives I talked about today and contained in my budget, we would still have an 11 billion dollar surplus at the end of June 2025,” he added. “While I expect you will carefully analyze my proposals and seek your own in the final budget, your analysis shouldn’t be used as an excuse for paralysis.”

That rosy picture wasn’t shared by State Sen. Scott Hutchinson.

“This was no moderate budget proposal,” he said in a statement. “It is an unsustainable spending plan that increases expenditures by using $3.2 billion of one-time money and also relies upon overly optimistic revenue projections.

“The governor’s plan would set us up for a train wreck in two short years.”

That partisan contrast isn’t a secret.

“Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with a divided legislature,” Shapiro said. “That means nothing gets done unless it has the support of both parties.

“We’ve learned how to work together to get stuff done,” he added.

Pennsylvania is a large and diverse state and the budget address — given in the rotunda of the state Capitol for the first time — was lengthy.

What were the issues that Shapiro addressed that most directly stand to impact rural counties like Warren?

Education funding

Shapiro said his budget proposal invests $1.1 billion in new funding for 2024-2025 for public schools.

“It makes sure no school gets less than what they got last year as we drive these dollars out in a more equitable manner,” he said.

Additional public education dollars would be available, he outlined, if the state sets a flat rate for cyber charter school tuition reimbursement.

“If we do that, we will level the playing field, and as a result, we’ll be able to return $262 million back to our public schools,” he said. “If you combine those savings with the new money I’m proposing for our 500 school districts, that would mean nearly $2 billion more for our public schools next year.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do right by our kids,” Shapiro said.

Minimum wage

“I want to give a hand up and create an opportunity economy that gives everyone a shot,” he said. “In order to create that kind of opportunity, Pennsylvanians need to earn a decent wage.”

He proposed an increase to $15 per hour.

“We’ve seen proof that Pennsylvania workers living in border counties would rather drive into another state for work so they can earn a higher wage than take a job at home in Pennsylvania,” he said.

“Along our Northern Tier, some workers in the hospitality sector go to work in New York and leave employers here in the Pennsylvania Wilds struggling to find help.”

Medical debt

Shapiro highlighted that nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians carry “some kind of medical debt — and this issue disproportionately impacts our rural communities.”

He said the counties with the highest share of medical debt includes Warren, along with Greene, Bradford, Franklin and McKean.

“In Warren County alone, 20 percent of residents carry medical debt that’s affecting their credit,” he said. “Combined with higher prices at the stores, this debt is an anchor holding those families and communities back.”

Rural healthcare

He cited data regarding closures of rural hospitals.

“I expect to come back to you in the next several months with a plan to address this crisis,” he said. “Because as we cut the cost of health care, we also need to make sure it’s available and accessible for everyone.

“The biggest reason why people can’t access care is because there aren’t enough caregivers. And the reason why there aren’t enough caregivers is because they aren’t getting paid enough.”

His budget proposal leverages $216 million in state dollars to draw down $266 million in federal dollars “to provide more resources than ever before for home and community-based service providers, so in turn they can pay competitive rates to attract and retain staff who provide these life-changing services.”

He also outlined the priority that is mental health funding.

“A budget is a statement of our values and as we think about our values, let’s remember what happens between your ears is just as important as what happens to the rest of your body,” he said.

At the conclusion, he spoke generally about the budget proposal.

“I know that’s a bold vision, and some will reflexively be opposed, saying ‘we can’t afford that,'” he said. “But I would argue we can’t afford not to invest right now.

“We have a $14 billion surplus. We’re facing real challenges in education and with our workforce that will hold us back in the future if we don’t take action right now.”


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