Blake Addresses Education Funding, Minimum Wage At Legislative Breakfast

February 15, 2019

SCRANTON — Among a roomful of local lawmakers, officials and some students, state Sen. John Blake on Friday addressed education funding, a proposed minimum wage hike and a slate of his policy priorities.

Pinballing from issue to issue at his annual legislative breakfast, held this year at the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center, Blake, D-22, Archbald, took time to break down Gov. Tom Wolf’s $34.1 billion proposed 2019-20 budget and many of its features, including a proposed $325 million in new education investments. That figure includes $200 million in new basic education funding, $50 million in new pre-kindergarten and Head Start funding and $50 million in new special education funding — all of which Blake lauded.

The financially troubled Scranton School District will get an additional $10.5 million under the governor’s proposed spending plan. While that’s many millions more than what other local school districts would receive, Blake said all the districts he represents need financial support from the state.

“That’s why the increase in basic education funding, and special-ed and pre-k (funding) is so important,” Blake said.

And while Pennsylvania has added more than $1 billion in statewide education funding over the past four years, Blake argued it’s still not meeting its obligations to taxpayers and school districts. In terms of priorities, he believes the state should eventually fund 50 percent of the total cost of public education. The state currently bears slightly more than a third of that total cost, with local taxes, mostly property taxes, accounting for the vast majority of the rest of the funding.

Blake also addressed Wolf’s proposal to hike the state’s minimum wage from the current hourly rate of $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2025. A proponent of policy that lifts more people into the middle class, Blake said Pennsylvania is behind its neighbors with respect to the minimum wage and supports raising it, but fear’s Wolf’s $15-per-hour figure is “too aggressive.”

Democrat Alma Ruiz-Smith, a supervisor in Coolbaugh Twp., Monroe County, agreed. As a former small business owner, Ruiz-Smith said she wouldn’t have been able to pay an employee a $15 hourly minimum wage, and argued such a requirement would prevent some people from opening businesses.

“I think, as I said earlier, we have to bring more people into the middle class ... but you have to be sensitive to the economic impacts for our business community,” Blake said.

Broadly speaking, Blake also listed a host of 2019 legislative priorities, including redistricting and property tax reform. He also endorsed legislation setting minimum host agreement standards for power plants and legislation addressing nurse/patient ratios at hospitals and long-term care facilities, among other priorities.

Officials and constituents can contact the senator’s office at 570-207-2881.

Contact the writer: jhorvath@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9141; @jhorvathTT on Twitter