Legalize marijuana, boost COVID-19 relief, Wolf says

Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA and Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during his press conference at PA CareerLink in York Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Wolf was highlighting the importance of job-finding resources in light of the unemployment cause by the COVID-19 outbreak in the state. Bill Kalina photo

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf wants state lawmakers to legalize recreational cannabis this fall and spend $1 billion in federal funds to expand access to child care and provide more COVID-19 relief to small businesses and others affected by the pandemic.

The governor also called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass a limit on campaign donations.

The state is facing a massive budget shortfall as a result of months of business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. Pennsylvania is expected to lose $5 billion in revenue through next June. To buy time, the General Assembly passed a stopgap budget this spring, along with a $2.6 billion package that used federal dollars to assist struggling nursing homes, people facing eviction and business owners.

Pennsylvania is still sitting on $1 billion provided through the federal CARES Act, as legislative leaders wait to see if Congress will pass another relief bill or give states more flexibility to spend the dollars on lost tax revenue. Lawmakers are expected to face bleak decisions when they return to finish the budget this fall.

At a news conference Tuesday, Wolf called for “common-sense reforms” that he said should focus on supporting families, workers and businesses.

“House and Senate Democrats have been fighting for these things for years, and certainly since the beginning of the pandemic,” Wolf said. “They’ve been stopped at every turn by the Republicans who’ve been focused on ignoring the public health crisis and actually trashing me. That has to stop. We’ve got to get back to doing things that actually matter to people.”

He called on lawmakers to use the remaining $1 billion in federal money to help businesses purchase personal protective equipment, boost pay for frontline workers, fund education options for students of all ages and provide relief to families unable to pay utility bills or rent.

Wolf said he hopes an additional $90 million could be generated by revenue from legalized recreational marijuana to further fund pandemic-related relief efforts for bars and restaurants.

These proposals were coupled with calls for long-stalled government accountability reforms such as further checks on gifts to elected officials and a limit on campaign donations.

Republicans in the state Capitol, who are expected to return to Harrisburg next week, are not on board the governor’s plan.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, called the governor’s pitch “unaffordable” and blamed the administration’s “unilateral mandates” for causing economic harm.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman called the plan a “press release” and claimed Wolf has not “held a call with legislative leaders since July.”

“Instead, he sends out a political document and takes partisan shots at elected officials,” Corman said.

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