The General Assembly wrapped up its work for the 2019-20 Legislative Session on November 20 by approving several bills and sending them to the Governor. The two-year legislative session officially ended on November 30, as required by the state Constitution, with the 2021-22 Session set to start with a Swearing-In Day Ceremony on Tuesday, January 5.
Among the bills we approved on the last business day of session was Senate Bill 1350, a measure that finalized the state spending plan for the current fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) — a process that started with the enactment of a five-month interim budget (Act 1A – House Bill 2387) on May 29.
One of the key parts of the final budget package was the inclusion of $200 million to provide school property tax relief to replace the revenues those districts lost by the closure of Pennsylvania’s casinos during the pandemic shutdown.
The closure of gaming facilities — like Presque Isle Downs & Casino – across the state meant Pennsylvania lost about half of the revenue that normally would be available to allow local school districts to provide homestead exemption tax relief for homeowners. That could have resulted in significant tax increases for some homeowners here in Erie County.
This property tax relief money, at my request, was originally part of the interim budget passed in May, but that funding was later struck down by a court decision. We structured the funding in the final budget package in a way that addresses those concerns. I am pleased that we were able to work together to provide this funding for schools and to protect property owners.
The pandemic truly made 2020 a difficult year for budgeting as closures and mitigation efforts ravaged our state’s revenues.
The bottom line is that the final $35.5 billion budget maintains state services and programs and supports our local school districts without a tax increase or borrowing. That is a major accomplishment considering the impact that the pandemic had on our region, our state and our nation.
On the upside, financial experts are now predicting a better year for the state than what was anticipated in May. That helped to make this budget easier, but we are not out of the danger zone by any means. We must remain vigilant and prudent.
After adjusting for supplemental spending, overall state spending in the final FY 2020-21 budget — including federal stimulus funds — is down more than $760 million (2.1 percent) from the previous budget year.
Even though most state agencies and departments saw some cuts in funding, support for basic education, special education, early education and higher education is maintained in the final spending plan at the same level as Fiscal Year 2019-20.
In closing, I encourage local residents to visit my website, www.senatorlaughlin.com, and my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/senatorlaughlin/, to keep up to date with state government news and learn more about state services and agencies.
Contact: Matt Azeles email@example.com