Pa. Gov. Wolf delivers 2019 budget address

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a campaign rally for Pennsylvania candidates in Philadelphia, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a campaign rally for Pennsylvania candidates in Philadelphia, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Updated: 12:15 p.m. EST

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars more for schools in his budget proposal released Tuesday, as well as a sprinkling of money for new voting machines and programs to improve worker training and the agricultural sector.

The Democrat is also seeking new college benefits for members of the National Guard who re-enlist and tuition aid for community college students who remain in Pennsylvania.

In his budget address to a joint session of the Republican-controlled Legislature, Wolf said the most significant element of the $34.1 billion budget plan, his first since winning a second term, is its efforts to help Pennsylvanians compete in a changing economy by bolstering skills and education.

Including nearly $500 million in supplemental cash for the current fiscal year, Wolf is seeking authorization for another $1.9 billion in new spending, or nearly 6 percent more.

The proposal would not increase the state’s taxes on income and sales. But Wolf last week laid out a parallel plan to impose a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production to finance borrowing for an ambitious capital plan that would fund a wide range of projects.

Wolf’s first term was marked by long, drawn-out budget fights with Republican lawmakers. The new proposal is modest in comparison to his earliest plans, which carried multibillion-dollar tax increases, and seems to reflect Wolf’s shift in strategy in the past couple years to the realities of negotiating with big Republican majorities.

The extra spending would largely go toward public schools, prisons, pension obligations, health care for the poor, mental health services and social services for children, the elderly and disabled. The administration said the plan carries a half-billion dollars in new initiatives.

To help fund it, Wolf’s administration is counting on tax collections to rise by a solid 3 percent, plus hundreds of millions of dollars from money already appropriated, higher assessments on Medicaid providers and a fee on municipalities that rely only on state troopers to provide police coverage.

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