HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN) – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf outlined his goals for 2021 during a press conference Thursday.
Among them is prioritizing a path toward recovering after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” 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:
Get Pennsylvania back on track after the pandemic
Wolf said he’s making an effort to get Pennsylvanians back to work quickly in well-paying jobs to improve the economy.
Immediately allocate $145 million to Pennsylvania businesses
Wolf is 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
Wolf would like a strategic investment in workforce development that addresses inequities. He said the pandemic has disproportionately impacted low-wage workers, people of color, people with disabilities and certain industries.
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 schools is also a significant concern.
The governor is proposing using the RACP 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, according to Wolf.
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.
Build on bipartisan progress
Over the past five years, 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. Wolf calls for building on this bipartisan progress by removing barriers for 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 Clean Slate Law, probation reform and other policies.
Build on bipartisan health reform
Wolf said he wants to build on 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 by offering 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.
Make it easier for Pennsylvanians to enter high-demand professions
Since developing his 2018 recommendations, Wolf has worked with the legislature to 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.
Reduce the corporate net income tax and close the Delaware Loophole
Wolf is once again proposing to reduce the Corporate Net Income Tax from 9.99% to 9.49% on January 1, 2022, then continue to reduce the tax incrementally to 6.49% 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. But as more states move toward recreational use, Wolf said he doesn’t want the state to be left behind. He would like the state to take advantage of revenue generated from the legalization of recreational marijuana, saying a portion of the revenue would support restorative justice programs.
Change Harrisburg by demanding accountability
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.”
Reintroduce the governor’s government reform plan
On his first day in office, the governor banned members of his administration from accepting gifts. He would like all public officials to be held to the same standard.
Pennsylvania is one of 10 states with no specific law limiting gifts to public officials, according to Wolf. 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 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 Wolf’s administration and most of the private sector, employees pay for expenses, provide receipts, then are reimbursed. Currently, receipts are not required for all officials to be reimbursed with taxpayer dollars, he said.
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, he said.
Build on election reform
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.
The governor’s plan calls for same-day voter registration. Currently, eligible voters have until 15 days before 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 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 also calling for strengthening voter intimidation restrictions.