HARRISBURG, Pa. — Farmers would get more help fighting pests and developing their businesses under Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget.
“We’re encouraged that the proposal adds more money to certain aspects of ag, certainly the spotted lanternfly and the workforce development stuff,” said Matt Parido, executive director for Sen. Elder Vogel, the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
Parido and other legislative aides gave a first look at the budget on Tuesday during a meeting at the Capitol with the Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations.
The budget adds $5 million for agricultural disaster response, which will be used to fight the spotted lanternfly and prepare against an avian influenza outbreak, said Bill Evans, executive director for Sen. Judith Schwank, the top Democrat on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
Ag excellence funding, such as for the Center for Dairy Excellence, would more than double, to $2.8 million, Evans said.
The plan is to create a new center for excellence that serves the other types of animal agriculture, said Kerry Golden, executive director for Rep. Martin Causer, the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
The PA Preferred program would receive $2.6 million for outreach to farmers about transitioning to organic production.
The $5 million dairy investment program created last year is back with the same amount of funding. There’s also money to help farmers with the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
Penn State’s ag programs and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school are both slated for level funding, though deans from both schools said they are seeking increases.
Rick Roush, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said he’d like a $3 million increase, in part to help the university increase its capacity to address invasive species.
As is customary in state budget proposals, the governor zeroed out some line items, such as the Ag Department’s research funding, with the expectation that the Legislature will reinstate them.
“Ag always feels likes we’re always in this process of filling gaps when we go through the budget process,” Parido said.
All told, Republicans will look to restore $3.9 million in agriculture cuts, he said.
Tuesday’s budget address was the first of Wolf’s second term.
His first term was marked by long, drawn-out budget fights with Republican lawmakers.
The new proposal is modest in comparison to his earliest plans, which carried multibillion-dollar tax increases, and seems to reflect Wolf’s shift in strategy in the past couple years to the realities of negotiating with big Republican majorities.
In his budget address Tuesday, Wolf highlighted a number of education initiatives in the $34.1 billion plan.
They include about $13 million to finance a boost in the state’s decades-old minimum wage for teachers from $18,500 to $45,000. Officials said that provision would mostly benefit rural school districts.
Schools would get another $50 million for special education and $45 million for safety measures.
To help fund it all, Wolf’s administration is counting on tax collections to rise by a solid 3 percent, plus hundreds of millions of dollars from money already appropriated, higher assessments on Medicaid providers and a fee on municipalities that rely only on state troopers to provide police coverage.
Pennsylvania’s tax collections are perhaps in their best shape since the recession a decade ago. But the state is facing challenges, including rising borrowing costs, a ballooning retirement-age population and a static working-age population.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.