Wolf hoping for on-time budget, more money for workforce initiatives
While he doesn't believe he will get a long-desired severance tax on natural-gas drilling in the next state budget, Gov. Tom Wolf said he is hoping for more funding to help companies find skilled workers.
In a speech Monday before the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp., the governor said he is optimistic that lawmakers will pass a 2018-2019 budget by the June 30 deadline.
Education, health care and pensions take up a big part of the governor's $33 billion budget proposal. But it also includes $50 million to be invested in a new workforce development initiative the administration calls PAsmart.
PAsmart calls for spending $40 million on programs related to science, technology, engineering and math fields, also known as STEM, and expand computer science programs.
"I'm still hoping to get that in the final budget," Wolf told reporters after his speech.
In addition, the budget proposal would add $10 million to help grow career and technical education programs through the Department of Labor and Industry, most notably through expanded apprenticeship programs and industry partnerships.
The administration’s goal is to double the number of registered apprentices in Pennsylvania by 2025, up from the current figure of 15,000, according to the state’s Apprenticeship and Training Office.
Wolf said Pennsylvania needs to do a better job of helping students get the relevant education they need early on to pursue careers that interest them.
"We need to make sure they know their options early on," the governor said.
One of his long-term education goals is to increase the share of Pennsylvania residents who have some form of post-secondary education and training. The goal is 60 percent of the population by 2025, Wolf said.
"If we get that, we're helping you," he told the business crowd. "If we improve the business climate, we improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians."
As he mounts a reelection bid against fellow York County resident Scott Wagner, a Republican, Wolf spoke about the importance of working across party lines to get things done. While he admits to playing a role in the partisan divide that has long existed in Harrisburg, the governor said he is working harder to find common ground with the leaders of the Republican-led General Assembly.
He cited state pension reform last year as a major bipartisan accomplishment. Wolf said he will continue to reach across the aisle to address the growing opioid crisis in Pennsylvania.
He also credited the previous Republican administration under Gov. Tom Corbett for increasing transportation funding in 2013 and getting a commitment from oil giant Shell to develop an ethane cracker plant in western Pennsylvania.
Wolf said he believes other agreements can be reached. Of course, it's easier to find compromise in a steadily rising economy.
Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in April, down from 4.8 percent. Meanwhile, the total number of nonfarm jobs in Pennsylvania rose to a record-high of more than 6 million, the 13th straight month of job growth.