HARRISBURG, PA — As the General Assembly convened for a new legislative session, Governor Tom Wolf yesterday outlined his agenda, in which he continues to prioritize ensuring that Pennsylvania businesses and workers have a path toward recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, building on bipartisan progress by removing barriers to help everyday Pennsylvanians succeed, and demanding accountability through government reform.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed Pennsylvania and exacerbated existing barriers for too many Pennsylvanians. It continues to have negative consequences for businesses, workers, and families throughout the commonwealth,” Gov. Wolf said. “To get Pennsylvania back on track from the disruptions the pandemic is causing, we need to make major, targeted investments to strengthen our economy, support workers and small business owners, rebuild our infrastructure, and help all Pennsylvanians build a path to financial security.”
As the governor prepares to make his annual Budget Address on February 2, he is calling for action on the following issues, which will retool the government’s approach to break down these new obstacles and move Pennsylvania forward.
Get Pennsylvania Back on Track After the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed Pennsylvania and exacerbated existing barriers for too many.
The pandemic has uniquely interrupted the everyday lives of workers and small business owners throughout the commonwealth. Governor Wolf understands that businesses and workers need each other to thrive, and both are key to economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, so he has remained steadfast and is doubling down on his commitment to make Pennsylvania the best place to live, work, and do business.
Pennsylvania’s economic vitality is dependent on swift and targeted action to get Pennsylvanians back to work quickly in well-paying jobs in sectors that will lead Pennsylvania’s economy back to prosperity.
Immediately Allocate $145 Million to Pennsylvania Businesses
Governor Wolf is once again calling on the General Assembly to appropriate $145 million in reserves from the Workers Compensation Security Fund to immediately allocate to businesses harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inject Billions into a Reformed Workforce Development System
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions and layoffs to Pennsylvania’s workforce, disproportionately impacting low-wage workers, people of color, people with disabilities, and certain industries. Administration officials state that our economic recovery requires a strategic investment in workforce development that addresses these inequities, supports workers most significantly impacted by the pandemic, and focuses on high-quality, well-paying jobs and careers. Building on the bipartisan Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, the governor is proposing a multi-billion-dollar injection into the workforce development system to provide rapid re-employment assistance to workers impacted by the pandemic and address barriers to employment.
Invest in Public Infrastructure, Including School Buildings
Last year, the governor proposed a plan to remediate lead, asbestos and other hazardous materials from schools using the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). The pandemic has shown that the digital divide in Pennsylvania schools is also a significant concern. The governor is proposing using the RACP program to fund not just hazard remediation to keep students safe when they return to school but also efforts to close the digital divide among students by broadening the RACP eligibility criteria to include broadband providers and schools.
Urge the Federal Government to Take Action
With a new administration, the governor is asking the federal government to increase funding for broadband expansion, flood mitigation, contaminant remediation, blight, green infrastructure, and transportation projects that will help address local road and bridge upgrades and support new capital transit projects.
Increase the Minimum Wage to $12/hour, with a path to $15/hour
As of 2021, 29 states and the District of Columbia have increased their minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25 ($15,080 per year), has not increased in more than 10 years and is keeping Pennsylvania families living in poverty. While the cost of living for Pennsylvanians is increasing, the minimum wage has remained stagnant, limiting the purchasing power of low-wage workers trying to afford necessities.
The governor is proposing to increase the state minimum wage to $12 per hour effective July 1, 2021, with annual increases of $0.50 until the minimum wage reaches $15 per hour on July 1, 2027.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made raising the state’s embarrassingly low minimum wage more crucial than ever as thousands of essential workers are struggling to buy food and avoid homelessness.
A living wage lets people work their way out of poverty, improves productivity and morale for millions of workers, and reduces reliance on public benefits. Raising the wage floor also provides critical workforce needs, including early childhood educators and direct care workers caring for the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
Build on Bipartisan Progress
Over the past five years, Governor Wolf and the General Assembly have come together to take on big challenges by reforming pensions, taking nation-leading steps to reform the criminal justice system such as the passage of the nation’s first Clean Slate law, approving medical marijuana, and other major legislation that has modernized the commonwealth. Governor Wolf calls for building on this bipartisan progress by removing barriers for everyday Pennsylvanians to succeed.
Reform the Criminal Justice System
Building on efforts to reform the criminal justice system, the governor is proposing bail reform, indigent defense funding, a comprehensive expansion to the commonwealth’s Clean Slate Law, probation reform and other policies that will build on bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
Build on Bipartisan Health Reform
Building on the overwhelming bipartisan support to establish the state-based health insurance exchange in Pennsylvania, increasing access to affordable care and saving money for both the state and taxpayers, Governor Wolf offers a plan that addresses comprehensive health reforms focusing on both physical and behavioral health and promoting affordability, accessibility and value in health care. The Health Value Commission, a key component to the health reform package, would be charged with keeping all payors and providers accountable for health care cost growth, to provide for the long-term affordability and sustainability of Pennsylvania’ss health care system, and to promote whole-person care.
Make it Easier for Pennsylvanians to Enter High-Demand Professions
Since developing his 2018 recommendations, Governor Wolf has worked with the legislature to significantly improve the professional licensing process in Pennsylvania, including knocking down obstacles for military spouses and those reentering the workforce after incarceration. Building on this work, the governor and the administration will continue to examine what licensure barriers still exist, particularly for veterans and new Pennsylvanians, and pursue additional reforms, so that they can better support workers and strengthen the state’ss economy.
Reduce the Corporate Net Income Tax and Close the Delaware Loophole
Governor Wolf is once again proposing to reduce the Corporate Net Income Tax from 9.99 to 9.49 percent on January 1, 2022, then continue to reduce the tax incrementally to 6.49 percent by 2026. The governor is also proposing to close the Delaware Loophole and shift to combined reporting to tax corporations as a single entity.
Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis
In 2017, Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana through bipartisan legislation. Now as neighboring states move toward legalizing recreational marijuana, Pennsylvania cannot afford to be left behind. Legalizing adult-use cannabis has strong bipartisan support among Pennsylvanians. The revenue generated from legalization will be used to support historically disadvantaged small businesses through grant funding and provide them the assistance they need to build back from the economic crisis and strengthen the commonwealth’s economy. Additionally, a portion of the revenue will support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana.
Change Harrisburg by Demanding Accountability
Governor Wolf has proposed comprehensive government reform each year of his administration. He has implemented a gift ban and demanded transparency and accountability in his administration. The governor is again introducing a comprehensive plan to reform Harrisburg and meet the challenges before us.
Reintroduce the Governor’s Government Reform Plan
On his first day in office, the governor banned members of his administration from accepting gifts. All public officials should be held to the same standard. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states with no specific law limiting gifts to public officials. Outside the executive branch, politicians in Harrisburg can take unlimited gifts from special interests. Legislative action is needed to make the gift ban expanded and permanent, so all state elected officials are accountable to it.
The governor is calling for enacting new campaign finance laws that would place limits on contributions to candidates seeking elected office, implement aggregate limits for races, place sensible restrictions on Political Action Committees (PACs), and strengthen reporting and disclosure requirements across the board to restore confidence in government, and curtail the role of campaign spending in the commonwealth’s political process.
Curb Special Interest Influence
The governor is calling for implementing broader “pay-to-play” provisions requiring the disclosure of campaign contributions made by parties seeking state contracts.
The governor is calling for requiring public officials to submit receipts for taxpayer-funded expenses. In Governor Wolf’s administration and most of the private sector, employees pay for expenses, provide receipts and then are reimbursed. Currently, receipts are not required for all officials to be reimbursed with taxpayer dollars. The system should be reformed to cover all those serving in government, only allowing them to be reimbursed for the reasonable cost of travel, lodging, or food with an itemized receipt.
The governor’s plan would ban lobbyists from campaign work. In Pennsylvania, lobbying firms are allowed to operate campaign arms that work to elect or reelect legislators and once in office, those same firms then lobby legislators directly on behalf of their clients, creating a culture of undue access for big firms with deep pockets. This practice undermines public confidence and promotes a culture of political access that can only be bought with money, putting special interests ahead of the voters of Pennsylvania. The legislature should also more clearly define the relationships between legislators, lobbyists and political consultants.
Build on Election Reform
Governor Wolf is calling on the legislature to allow pre-canvassing of ballots before Election Day to increase the speed and efficiency of counting ballots and reduce the window for misinformation that is inherent when ballot counting cannot begin until Election Day and there is a high demand for swift and accurate results. Following a successful election in 2020 where more Pennsylvanians voted by mail than ever before, allowing for pre-canvassing of ballots would further efforts to increase transparency and confidence in the election process.
The governor’s plan calls for same day voter registration. Currently, eligible voters have until 15 days prior to an election to register to vote, regardless of whether they register online, through the mail, or in person. With new opportunities to vote with no-excuse mail ballots, and early voting at county election offices, same-day registration would allow new voters to go to their precinct, register, and vote all in one visit. To verify their identification, eligible voters would need to provide a proof of residency and a form of identification. Funding would be allocated to assist counties in purchasing electronic poll books (EPBs), and to allow the commonwealth to build a closed network.
The governor is calling for strengthening voter intimidation restrictions. Voter intimidation can take many forms. For all voters to feel safe from intimidation when casting their ballot, legislation should be passed to prohibit firearms from being allowed in all polling locations.
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