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Workforce development news from Pennsylvania and across the U.S.

Minimum Wage, Possible Economic Downturn Loom Over State Budget

From / Associated Press

Every year after Pennsylvania’s governor makes his budget pitch to the House and Senate, lawmakers hold weeks of budget hearings with state departments and agencies to get a sense of the way money is being spent, and what should change.

They kicked off this week with the Independent Fiscal Office, which is tasked with issuing reports on state finances.

Over the two hours IFO officers sat before the House Appropriations Committee Monday, one subject kept coming up: the minimum wage.

Governor Tom Wolf wants to raise the wage from $7.25 an hour to $12, and then gradually up to $15.  

Fellow Democrats, like House Appropriations Minority Chair Matt Bradford, largely agree.

He called the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum “simply unacceptable,” and a “poverty wage” that is “not commensurate with the dignity that work should come with.”

The majority chair thought the opposite.

“Minimum wage jobs are jobs that you’re only supposed to stay in temporarily, and move on,” Republican Stan Saylor said.

He added, “Minimum wage is not a real job to sustain a family…it is not a place we expect American citizens or Pennsylvania citizens to be sitting at for the rest of their life. And if you are, you’re not being aggressive enough at getting the job training dollars we have out there and moving forward.”

The IFO has estimated that a gradual increase to a $12-an-hour minimum wage would eventually do away with about 30,000 jobs statewide. Director Matthew Knittel said that number would likely be higher if the wage was raised all at once, as Wolf wants […]

STEM, computer science enhancement in Pa. schools gets nearly $10M in grants


Continuing the rollout of his groundbreaking PAsmart initiative, Gov. Tom Wolf announced $9.6 million in PAsmart advancing grants to enhance science and technology education in schools statewide. Combined with PAsmart targeted grants announced last month, the Wolf administration has awarded nearly $20 million this year to bolster STEM and computer science (CS) in schools, according to a news release sent out Monday.

“Workers in all types of jobs increasingly need to use computers and technology,” Wolf said. “In order to meet that demand, I launched PAsmart last year to expand science and technology education.

“These grants will help our schools and communities to expand STEM and computer science education. That will strengthen our workforce, so businesses can grow, and workers have good jobs that can support a family.”

Over the next decade, seven in 10 new jobs in Pennsylvania will require workers to use computers and new technologies.

Projects funded by the PAsmart advancing grants include CS/STEM camps and after-school programs; support for diversity and inclusion on esports teams in high-need areas; STEM programming for pre K-2 students and classrooms; and a mobile fabrication lab where students gain hands-on experience in coding and robotics.

Other projects will develop CS/STEM internships, teacher training programs to increase the number of instructors in CS/STEM, and a Pathways to College program for high school students in the state’s rural northern tier region, the release said.

Wolf previously announced a $442,000 grant to the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation to expand its computer science/STEM lending libraries in western Pennsylvania,

“Over […]

PA minimum wage hike proposal loudly challenged during first day of budget hearings


Hearings on Gov. Tom Wolf’s $34.1 billion budget plan kicked off Monday with a volley of Republican attacks on the prospect of raising the minimum wage, signaling a tough road ahead for a new proposal the Democrat is backing.

The first House Appropriations Committee budget hearing featured members of the Republican majority repeatedly criticizing the broader impact of a minimum wage increase, including whether it would choke off the supply of entry-level jobs, squeeze small businesses or drive up inflation.

Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, questioned whether higher minimum wage earners would still earn too little to live without public benefits, but then find themselves no longer eligible for the help.

The first testifier, Matthew Knittel, director of the Legislature’s Independent Fiscal Office, said his agency is working on an analysis of the latest minimum wage proposal that Wolf supports.

Since 2009, Pennsylvania has remained at the $7.25 federal minimum wage level, one of 21 states to do so, and the Republican-controlled Legislature has batted away Wolf’s proposals to raise it since he took office in 2015.

The latest Wolf-backed proposal would take Pennsylvania’s hourly minimum to $12 this year, putting Pennsylvania in line with the highest state minimum wages. Annual 50-cent increases would bring it to $15 an hour in 2025, lifting Pennsylvania into a group of 17 other states that have scheduled annual adjustments written into law.

Lawmakers reach deal on budget to avoid another government shutdown


Congressional negotiators reached agreement to prevent a government shutdown and finance construction of new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, overcoming a late-stage hang-up over immigration enforcement issues that had threatened to scuttle the talks.

Republicans were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown. They tentatively agreed Monday night to far less money for President Donald Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

The agreement means 55 miles of new fencing — constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall — but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

“With the government being shut down, the specter of another shutdown this close, what brought us back together I thought tonight was we didn’t want that to happen” again, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Details won’t be officially released until Tuesday, but the pact came in time to alleviate any threat of a second partial government shutdown this weekend. Aides revealed the details under condition of anonymity because the agreement is tentative.

Pa. lawmakers react to Trump’s State of the Union address


Pennsylvania’s senators and members of the House delegation offered their reactions to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Following are excerpts from statements issued by the lawmakers.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey

“The President should have pledged tonight ‘no more shutdowns’ and committed to taking additional steps to help the 820,000 federal employees recover from the adverse impact of his government shutdown. He also missed an opportunity to speak to America’s middle class families who are struggling to make ends meet. He could have committed to a substantial tax cut for those families. He could have talked to working parents about a comprehensive agenda for their children – investing in education, safeguarding their healthcare, rebuilding their schools and protecting them from violence.”

A Scranton Democrat, Casey is Pennsylvania’s senior senator and just began his third term.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey

“President Trump also made a reasonable case for enhancing security at our southern border. The obvious, necessary solution to our budget impasse is a compromise that improves border security – including physical barriers where requested by Customs and Border Protection – and delivers on some Democrat priorities, too. I hope Speaker Pelosi will come to the table and finally negotiate in good faith.

“On trade, I continue to believe that the administration is taking us down the wrong path. Tariffs on products imported into the United States are taxes, paid by American consumers, that harm American families and workers.”

A Lehigh County Republican, Toomey is in the midst of his […]

Republican reactions to Wolf’s budget proposal run the gamut


Republican lawmakers’ reactions on Tuesday to Gov. Tom Wolf’s $34.1 billion 2019-20 budget proposal varied from cautious optimism to accusations of fiscal recklessness.

“I thought the governor’s budget address had a positive message and I thought his emphasis on workforce development was significant and a goal that we all have in common,” said State Rep. Lori Mizgorski, R-Allegheny. “I do have concerns with some of his proposals, but I am eager and optimistic to work with my colleagues to build a consensus on a balanced budget.”

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, a nearly 6 percent increase.

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Centre/Clinton, did not believe that was the way to go.

“Rather than offering solutions that lead to the draining of Harrisburg’s swamp or making Pennsylvania great again, today America’s most liberal governor unfortunately focused on continuing his irresponsible spending and fiscally reckless borrowing against future generations,” Borowicz said.

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 […]

Gov. Wolf’s 2019-20 budget plan: Winners and losers


Gov. Tom Wolf introduced his 2019-20 state budget in a joint address before the General Assembly today.

Here are the winners and losers in the $34 billion plan. Follow the links for more details in specific areas, such as schools, business and state police.

Schools: Public schools see a big boost in aid under Wolf’s budget. There’s also a healthy increase for special education programs.

Colleges: The State System of Higher Education sees a slight uptick, but funding is flat for Penn State and the other “state-related” universities. On the upside, Wolf calls for more money for a grant program to help families pay for college.

State police: The governor wants to boost funding for state troopers. But Wolf is calling for a fee on towns that rely on state police.

Taxes: There’s no increase in the state’s sales tax or income tax in the governor’s plan.

Health care: Many health-related programs would get a slight boost in state aid. The plan offers more for long-term living services, programs to serve those with disabilities and efforts to aid those struggling with substance abuse.

Business: Companies are likely to cheer initiatives to bolster the state’s workforce and help workers prepare for jobs. But business leaders have already come out against Wolf’s plan to raise the minimum wage.

Environment: Programs designed to protect the environment will be asked to rely on money that may not materialize.

State workforce: There are no layoffs of any state workers in the […]

Governor Wolf announces plans to “Restore PA”


The governor stopped by the Luzerne County Emergency Management building to meet with local officials. The I-Team’s Andy Mehalshick was there..

Surrounded by state, county and local leaders at the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency, Governor Tom Wolf called for action on a severance tax he says is long overdue.

  “If you did it that would generate about $300 million dollars a year. If you monetize it.  That means bond it. You can turn that into $4.5 billion dollars.”

The money wouldn’t come directly from taxpayers – rather those in the coal, oil and natural gas industries. It’s money Wolf says can be used to reduce the threat of flooding.  Something the folks in this room know all too well. Many of their communities have been devastated by flooding time and time again.

  “‘Restore Pennsylvania’ would provide funding for flood prevention and not just going out to say you’ve been devastated by this, you have problems, but how do we mitigate this? How do we prevent this flooding from happening?” The Governor Asked.

 The plan would also create a financial trust fund for those hurt by flooding, but don’t qualify for federal disaster assistance. But the Governor knows convincing state lawmakers to approve the tax. Will be a hurdle he has not been able to jump. In each of the last two years, the Republican-controlled legislatures have rejected the idea of a severance tax, saying it will hurt natural resource development in the commonwealth.

West Pittston has been hard hit in recent years by flooding. It’s Mayor Tom Blaskiewicz says something […]

Wolf seeks $4.5B capital program paid by Marcellus Shale tax


Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will ask Pennsylvania lawmakers to approve a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production to finance a multibillion-dollar capital plan for a wide range of projects, from controlling floodwaters to fighting blight.

Wolf, a Democrat, is kicking off his second term by floating a Marcellus Shale tax for a fifth straight year.

This time, he is packaging it with a proposal to use the money to pay down at least $4.5 billion in bonds for projects that might entice lawmakers in the nation’s No. 2 natural-gas producing state.

The projects would span rural areas and downtowns, and tie together a range of perceived needs, such as economic development and environmental improvements.

In a news conference in his Capitol offices, Wolf said he envisioned awarding the money over four years — although spending it might take longer — and paying it down over 20 years, or less. The administration had no immediate estimates of how much, with interest, the borrowing might cost.

Approval will be up to the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has thus far rejected Wolf’s overtures for a natural gas tax.

Wolf’s severance tax proposal is based on volume, and floats with the price of natural gas. It would take effect next year, and apply to wells that are covered by the impact fee.\

Read more.

Gov. Wolf again pitches plan for taxing Marcellus gas drillers


Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced plans to once again seek a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, promising to use the money for disaster recovery, infrastructure and the expansion of broadband internet, among other projects.

The Democratic governor plans to approach state lawmakers with a proposal to borrow $4.5 billion over four years by selling bonds. The money would be paid back over 20 years using revenue from a severance tax, which would vary depending on the price of gas and the amount of it extracted.

“It is far past time that Pennsylvanians stop allowing our commonwealth to be the only state losing out on the opportunity to reinvest in our communities,” Mr. Wolf said. “And as long as that is allowed to continue, my vision of a restored Pennsylvania that is ready to compete in the 21st century economy will never become reality.”

The proposal drew a swift backlash from key Republican legislative leaders, who have successfully blocked past efforts to impose a severance tax. Hours after the governor unveiled his plan, GOP leaders who control the calendar in the House issued a statement saying it was riddled with bad economic ideas.

“While improving Pennsylvania’s aging infrastructure is a shared goal, it cannot come at the expense of the Commonwealth’s economy and taxpayers,” the Republican leaders wrote.

“Unfortunately, the governor has not included the General Assembly in the development of this proposal. If he had, he would know that there are not enough votes to enact a new energy tax, borrow billions of dollars and spend […]

PA Workforce Development Association