Pennsylvania’s public schools have been chronically underfunded, especially during the previous gubernatorial administration. As a result, more than 20,000 school employees have been laid off statewide and 75 percent of local school boards have been forced to raise property taxes. This is unacceptable. That’s why I have introduced legislation to tax natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region and direct the proceeds to education. It’s estimated that this proposal could generate over $1 billion for public schools in less than five years.
I have always been a strong supporter of making sure that every person has access to low-cost, high-quality health insurance. That’s why I have been pushing to get Pennsylvania to expand Medicaid, which will provide coverage for 500,000 low-income working adults who currently lack insurance. I am extremely excited to report that our new Governor, Tom Wolf, has adopted this proposal as his own and he is moving forward with expanding coverage. My wife, Sheryl Lee Ralph and I are major supporters of HIV/AIDS testing and outreach and support National Get Tested Together Day.
No one who works full-time should be trapped in poverty. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s current minimum wage is stuck at $7.25/hour. This simply isn’t enough. Every state in the Northeast has increased the minimum wage without seeing any significant amount of job loss. Pennsylvania needs to do the same. I support immediately increasing the minimum wage to $10.10/hour, which is also supported by President Barack Obama. I also support indexing the minimum wage to inflation so that it increases along with the cost of living.
On any given night, approximately 1,500 veterans within the Commonwealth are homeless; this number is 1,500 too many. It is simply unacceptable for any veteran to be without a home after pledging to serve our country and protect our freedom. That’s why I sponsored legislation that will provide priority status for veterans in public housing. Under the new legislation, we can ensure that veterans and their families are able to swiftly meet their housing needs, and that they will not be forced to deal with the added stress of living without a home. I am grateful that my colleagues in the General Assembly passed this legislation and it was signed by the Governor.
More than $1.3 billion will be spent to improve PA roads and bridges over the next five years, including significant new funding for public transit. Repaving our roads and repairing bridges means fewer trips to the mechanic due to pot holes, faster commutes for workers, and a better quality of life for everyone. It also means that a public safety need has been addressed, as many of our bridges are structurally deficient. The new money being spent on transportation also means new jobs. It is estimated that close to 80,000 people will be put back to work in construction and other industries.