Benham applauds Shapiro’s 2024-25 budget proposal

HARRISBURG, Feb. 6 – Following Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget address, state Rep. Jessica Benham issued the following statement:

“Today, the governor gave his budget address in front of a joint session of the PA House and Senate. The governor’s proposal maintains a balanced budget and does not raise taxes – and if every initiative is funded, Pennsylvania would still have an $11 billion surplus by the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s all about better jobs, better schools, and building a better future – that’s why I support increases in education funding, including for free breakfast and lunch, school repairs, school safety, mental health, and supports for our teachers, as emphasized by Shapiro. We have an obligation to provide an equitably funded, excellent public education for K-12 students here in Pennsylvania, and the governor’s proposed historic increase of $1.1 billion would be a step in the right direction.

“The governor has also highlighted a historic increase in special education funding, as well as the need for cyber charter funding reform, both priorities that I support. Like the governor, I believe we need to support and celebrate all the possible career paths for young people, treating all of those choices and careers with respect, leaving behind the elitist attitude that college is the best or only option.

“Critical investments in workforce programs, apprenticeships, and our career and tech institutions are paramount, and I’m grateful for the governor’s attention to these issues. The governor noted in his address that we need to do more to support students going to college. My bill to create a tuition waiver program for kids being raised by non-parent family members passed the House unanimously and deserves a vote in the Senate. 

“Governor Shapiro and the Department of Community and Economic Development have created Pennsylvania’s first comprehensive economic development strategy in nearly two decades. This means much-needed investments in our main streets and in attracting competitive business interests to our region. This proposed budget would make investments that we need to support smart business growth, connect workers to the careers they want, and create a better tomorrow.

“The governor’s proposals here are a good start, but I’ll continue to focus on cutting costs and increasing support for working class people. I’m going to keep working to find ways we can do even more for our friends and neighbors.

“I also appreciated the governor’s mentions of the connection between clean energy development and good jobs, as well as his plan for significant investments in our main streets and local businesses. The governor also highlighted the need for investments in our roads and other infrastructure, including public transit. These issues are critically important to me and our community. 

“The PA House passed a bill last year to raise our minimum wage ultimately to $15 an hour. Today, the governor again highlighted the need to raise the wage to be more competitive for workers to choose to come to and stay in PA. The Senate should vote on the bill. 

“The governor also again emphasized that we should legalize recreational cannabis, regulating and taxing the industry responsibly, allowing for investment in historically disadvantaged communities, and expunging records for nonviolent possession. 

“I agree with the governor: We need to continue to cut costs for Pennsylvanians through initiatives like the recent expansions to child and dependent care tax credits and the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program for seniors and Pennsylvanians living with disabilities. 

“We need to fund more housing construction. And we need to invest more money in the Whole Home Repairs program, so that people can afford to stay in their homes and so that housing stock remains stable moving into the future. 

“And while the governor did not mention this, we also need to address the impact of negligent property owners on blight in our communities. Our municipalities need tools to hold these owners -- often out of state LLCs -- accountable. My bill to allow municipalities to require the reporting of the beneficial owner of these LLCs to the municipality would be a critical accountability tool.

“I’m grateful to the governor for noting the importance of Pharmacy Benefit Manager reform in his budget address. My bipartisan bill with state Representative Valerie Gaydos would help address this critical issue, keeping costs low for consumers and supporting small, local pharmacies. 

“Support for individuals with disabilities ought to be prioritized, so I’m grateful for the governor’s proposed significant increases in funding for home and community-based services, which will allow for expanding the wages of direct support professionals, a key aspect of addressing workforce shortages that limit available care. But we need more than that - my bill to create a Department of Disability Rights, Employment, Accessibility, and Mobility, or DREAM, would centralize disability services in one department, increasing efficiency and decreasing red tape.  

“And the governor’s proposed investments in SNAP, child care, early intervention, public defenders, and gun violence prevention are critically needed. He also highlighted the need for the Senate to vote on the Fairness Act, a bill already passed by the PA House to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. 

“Investments in public safety continue to be a top priority, and I appreciate the governor’s focus on violence prevention programs as well as investments in our local fire and EMS companies. My legislation to support municipalities with public safety related expenses in nightlife areas passed the House last year, and I hope to see it get a vote in the Senate this year. 

“Two other public safety related bills that I’m working on this year include one to define 911 dispatchers as first responders and one to create a Purple Alert System - similar to the Amber Alert system but for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities. 

“I’m looking forward to digging more into the details of the governor’s proposed budget, but I like most of what I have heard so far!”