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Gov. Tom Wolf on his final budget, priorities and education funding

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Marc Levy
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AP

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Gov. Tom Wolf joins the Confluence after proposing his final budget as the state’s executive, and discusses his other priorities for his last 10 months in office; and we hear how long-term care facilities are making efforts to recruit and retain nursing aides.

Gov. Wolf says the state doesn’t offer an equitable education, but his budget aims to support poorer school districts 
(0:00 - 17:45)

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed his eighth and final budget of his administration, about $43.7 billion. This spending plan is about $6 billion more than his proposed budget from 2021, and the largest year-to-year increase of his administration.

“We're going to end the year with a $6 billion surplus,” says Wolf. “There's some unpaid bills, and the biggest one of them is education, and so I wanted to plug that hole this this year.”

Wolf proposed an additional $1.5 billion for K-12 public education and another $300 million for his Level Up initiative, which gives money to the state’s 100 most-underfunded school districts. This comes at a time when state lawmakers, including Wolf, are the subjects of a lawsuit filed the year he was elected.

The plaintiffs, six school districts, parents and three state organizations are claiming the state is violating the state constitution by not providing a fair and equitable education for students in poor school districts.

The lawsuit started in 2014, before Wolf was inaugurated, but when he took over as governor, he became a defendant.

“I really shouldn't be talking about the lawsuit, since I am technically a defendant, but I ran because I believe that we needed to do a better job at the state and funding education. I believed that when I ran for office, I believed that when I was inaugurated, I believe it now,” says Wolf.

Wolf says that the state’s “rainy day fund” is in a healthy position, with $2.8 billion in reserves, which is why he feels comfortable with his robust budget proposal.

The state's Independent Fiscal Office (IFO), the nonpartisan financial watchdog, warned the state could face as much as a $1.8 billion deficit by June of 2024.

“I’m not sure what figures the IFO is looking at … I mean, maybe they're saying if we increase spending the way we're increasing it this year, yeah, that might be true,” says Wolf. “But I don't think anybody's arguing we ought to do that. I'm certainly not. I'm simply saying we have the capacity this year to pay our bills, and this year we ought to do that and do this jump into where we are, where we really ought to be in terms of our investment in education.”

With ten months left in his term, Wolf says he will prioritize raising the state’s minimum wage, and pushing to strengthen the state’s K-12 and higher education.

Long-term care facilities are in need of nursing aides, and are becoming more willing to increase their compensation
(17:51 - 22:30)

The care aides who feed, bathe and dress nursing home residents have never made much money–even though it’s hard work. But COVID-19 has caused an exodus of these employees, and that’s left facilities reeling.

90.5 WESA’s Sarah Boden reports that some administrators are now finding they need to make concessions to recruit and retain workers.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Boen Wang is a writer, audio producer, and MFA candidate in creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His written work appeared in The Sunday Long Read, The Fourth River, Inheritance, and elsewhere; his audio work won the “Best New Artist” award at the 2020 Third Coast International Audio Festival, was selected as one of The Bello Collective’s “100 Outstanding Podcasts of 2020,” and was shortlisted for the 2021 HearSay Audio Festival Prize. Visit his website at boen.cool.
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