By John Cole
Funding for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority represents a sizable chunk of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget for transit spending in Pennsylvania, but Philadelphia lawmakers say it’s not the only way the budget would benefit the region.
On Wednesday, several Democratic members of Philadelphia’s state House delegation held a press conference at Philadelphia City Hall detailing what they view as the highlights of Shapiro’s budget proposal.
During his budget address, Shapiro proposed a $283 million increase in transit funding statewide, with $161 million of it going to SEPTA as the agency grapples with a potential deficit.
Democratic State Rep. Morgan Cephas, chair of the Philadelphia House Delegation, said that the proposed $161 million increase in state funding to SEPTA – which would bring the state funding total to $1 billion – should be a “priority of everyone” in the state Legislature. She noted the city is slated to welcome the FIFA World Cup, the MLB All-Star Game and the America 250 Celebration in 2026.
Funding for SEPTA has been top of mind for lawmakers in Philadelphia recently. Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker and City Council Speaker Kenyatta Johnson penned a joint letter to Shapiro on Jan. 27 calling for an increase in funding.
SEPTA is projecting it will have a $240 million deficit as of July 1. Parker and Johnson, both former members of the state House, were present in Harrisburg for Shapiro’s budget address.
On Monday, Johnson called the funding announcement for public transit a “good start,” but said he was “hopeful that the governor and the Pennsylvania Legislature will contribute even more money to mass transit when the final state budget is approved.”
According to Shapiro, his proposal will result in neither service cuts nor fare hikes, as well as a cleaner and safer public transit system.
Highlighting the importance of SEPTA to the regional economy, Philadelphia lawmakers said SEPTA’s ability to operate benefits other communities across the commonwealth.
“You are investing in the people of Philadelphia, you’re investing in people of southeastern Pennsylvania, and you’re investing in all of Pennsylvania,” said state Rep. Joe Hohenstein.
Although Philadelphia Democrats have lauded Shapiro’s call for an increase in SEPTA funding, Republican leaders in the state Senate have not expressed the same support.
State Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman said increased investment in public transit “requires a closer examination” and that it is “long past time electric vehicles begin to pay their fair share for transportation infrastructure and services before asking taxpayers for more.”
Lawmakers also highlighted their support for Shapiro’s call to raise the state’s minimum wage.
“When it comes to our workforce in Pennsylvania, it is far past time for this body to raise the minimum wage,” Cephas said.
Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has not been raised in 15 years, remaining at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Last year, the state House passed a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026, but the bill did not pass the state Senate.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta credited Shapiro for his investments in multiple areas, but emphasized the proposed investments in violence prevention.
Kenyatta applauded the governor’s proposal to spend $100 million on gun violence prevention and the creation of a statewide office of gun violence prevention. Kenyatta challenged Republicans in the state Legislature, saying it is time to pass various gun safety laws, including closing loopholes for ghost guns and passing a red flag law.
Kenyatta also expressed his support for Shapiro’s call to legalize adult use of cannabis.
The budget proposal also calls for the expungement of records for people with convictions for non-violent marijuana possession.
State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler called Shapiro’s education budget a “truly bold proposal.” It includes more than $1 billion in new funding for K-12 public schools and another $1.5 billion over the next five years for repairs to schools.
During his budget address on Tuesday, Shapiro mentioned Fiedler’s personal story about her children’s public school closing due to asbestos.
“Standing here with my colleagues, I know that I am not alone in saying we are committed to addressing the asbestos and structural problems in our school,” Fiedler said.
John Cole is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.