A report on legislative actions from the Session Week of May 6, 2019
In this Update:
Happy Mother’s Day
CLARIFICATION: The Truth Behind the Gas Tax & PA State Police
The state Auditor General recently released a report in which he identified roughly $4 billion of the state gas tax that has been used to fund the Pennsylvania State Police over the past several years. Many constituents have reached out to me asking for clarification or context for the report.
While we can certainly discuss the merits and methods of the various ways the State Police are funded, this report is 1) misleading in the way it presents the historical context and 2) is politically motivated to drive more state tax dollars to rescue the PA Turnpike and mass transit in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
While PA residents have been led to believe the Auditor General’s report is part of a “do-good effort” to rescue our roads and bridges, that is not the case.
History of State Police Funding
On November 6, 1945, Pennsylvania voters approved an amendment to the PA Constitution (part of Article VIII) which established the Motor License Fund (“gas tax”) as a source of funding for the PSP due to their role in providing for safety on public highways. The constitutional protection of the Motor License Fund and the agencies it funds has existed for 74 years.
Responding to the increased reliance on annual gas tax funds going to the State Police, the Legislature passed Act 85 of 2016 to create a schedule for the purpose of restricting PSP’s gas tax appropriation, reducing this amount 4% annually through FY 2026-27. It also establishes a cap on total funds they will receive from the Motor License Fund. As a result, funding for the PSP will further shift to specific line items within the state budget.
The Auditor General’s report did not provide context for State Police funding, nor did it explain to our citizens the true intention of this report. In his budget proposal for this year, Governor Tom Wolf has again proposed a fee structure that would establish a per-capita tax on citizens who live in municipalities that rely solely on the State Police. Many of our municipalities view this as an unfunded mandate, as it would require some townships in the 40th Senate District to raise their taxes by as much as $3 million.
Where are We Today?
While the Governor’s Administration has used the State Police issue to rile up anti-gas tax sentiment in the Commonwealth, the real intention is not to free up gas tax revenue to direct to local roads and bridges, rather, it’s a veiled attempt to drive more tax dollars to the PA Turnpike and to support mass transit in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Under Governor Ed Rendell’s Administration, he struck a deal where the Turnpike was forced to pay $450 million annually to support mass transit in the cities (wonder why tolls have risen so precipitously?). This began the Turnpike’s ongoing budget woes.
Furthermore, almost 15 years ago I fought to prevent Governor Rendell’s efforts to toll Interstate 80. What was discovered at the time was that the I-80 toll revenue was going to be diverted to rescue the Turnpike, which in turn would ensure the Turnpike monies continued to flow to the city areas.
Now, Governor Wolf’s proposal to tax municipalities who rely on state police coverage is “Round 2” of the I-80 tolling debacle. The revenue he is proposing through the municipal tax is not to shift more gas tax dollars currently funding the State Police to repair our roads and bridges – it is to send more of your tax dollars to the Turnpike and, in turn, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Don’t Be Fooled
It was low-hanging fruit for the Auditor General to criticize the gas tax and pontificate on how it could be used, but he provided no suggestions for the harder question: what other taxes would he suggest increasing to offset the hundreds of millions needed to fund the State Police?
Further, his report “findings” are based on the premise that the State Police should not receive gas tax dollars at all, when the gas tax has comprised the majority of their budget for decades. In fact, while a State Representative, the now-Auditor General voted consistently for budgets that funded the State Police through the gas tax and he voted to toll I-80.
I supported the legislative cost controls that have already been put in place to reduce the PSP reliance on the gas tax (which the Auditor General ignored) and I oppose further unfair efforts to take dollars out of the 40th District to subsidize areas that already receive the lion’s share of state funding in all categories.
If anyone within the current Administration wants to talk true fairness, I welcome the opportunity to discuss equitable school funding and actual school property tax reform – a topic on which they have remained silent.
School Property Tax Elimination Update
In my previous e-newsletter, I provided a thorough update on the number one issue in our region: school property tax elimination. In case you missed it, you can find the entire update here.
Scavello Supports Passage of “Farming First” Bills to Grow PA Agriculture
This week, I supported passage of a package of bills that would help Pennsylvania agricultural operations remain competitive and profitable for current and future generations of farmers.
Bills in the “Farming First” package that were passed by the Senate this week include:
All of the bills in the “Farming First” package were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
I worked in super market for many years and I always saw local produce, grown here in Pennsylvania or somewhere else in America. Now, I go into the supermarket and see fruits and vegetables from other countries. Farming is our number-one in Pennsylvania, and we need to strengthen it for today’s farmers and future generations.
Senate Votes to Give Firefighters Online Training Options
The Senate approved a bill on Monday that would help Pennsylvania’s volunteer fire companies recruit and retain members. Senate Bill 146, which makes online training more available to current and prospective first responders, now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
In the 1970’s, Pennsylvania had more than 300,000 volunteer firefighters; today we have fewer than 40,000. Firefighters – especially younger, tech-savvy firefighters-in-training – have requested that some courses be offered online, so that they can learn vital skills from the convenience of their own homes and on their own schedules. The option is also available to career firefighters.
Senate Sends Child Safety Bill to Governor
The Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would provide civil immunity for people who rescue children from locked vehicles during a crisis, such as when summer heat imperils their safety. The Senate passed similar legislation earlier this year.
House Bill 279, which provides for civil immunity when there is damage to a motor vehicle when forceful entry is necessary to rescue an individual, now goes to the Governor for enactment into law.
Under the measure, immunity would be granted based on several criteria, including a belief that the individual is in imminent danger of suffering harm and is unable to exit the vehicle without assistance. A reasonable attempt to locate the driver and contact law enforcement or an emergency responder must also be made prior to entry.
Others Bills Approved by the Senate and Sent to the House
Senate Bill 89 updates the Public School Code to replace “vocational-technical schools” with “career and technical schools,” in order to encourage greater enrollment.
Senate Bill 613 amends the Administrative Code to repeal provisions related to employees with access to federal tax information and providing for criminal history background checks of employees and contractors with access to federal tax information.
Around the 40th District
Last weekend we recognized two new Eagle Scouts in our area – Jake Oravec of Troop 84 in Sciota and Frank Mille of Troop 352 in Bethlehem. For his Eagle Scout service project, Jake constructed an archery pavilion at Twin Pines Camp so camp-goers could safely practice their archery skills. Frank completed his service project at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, where he helped maintain an experiment to produce disease resistant varieties of the near-extinct, endangered American chestnut tree.
Well done to you both on your significant accomplishments and thank you for your service to our communities!
Last Saturday, Cathy from my office attended the grand opening ceremony of the Grow and Give Garden at Helen Amhurst 3rd Street Park in Stroudsburg. This garden will provide an interactive education to young people in the area of gardening and will donate fresh produce to local food pantries. A wonderful initiative!
On Wednesday, we honored 5 students from Nazareth High School for receiving honorable mentions for their entries into C-SPAN’s nationwide documentary competition called StudentCam. I was happy to be able to be a part of one of the videos and was impressed by the quality of the short films. Tremendous work!
You can see the video made by Alysse Danyi, Peter Huleatt and Seth Peterson here: https://www.viddler.com/v/e2df4def
You can view the video made by Mantek Chauhan and Logan Holt here: https://www.viddler.com/v/da5798a9
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the accomplishments of several students from my district who recently represented Nazareth High School with distinction through Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). The Nazareth chapter is the 3rd largest in the state and 73 students recently took part in the state competition in Hershey. Matt Terry, Alex Lynch and Michael Ifkovits (pictured) comprised the Sports & Entertainment Management team and qualified for the national competition in Texas this summer.
Not only do these three young men shine through FBLA, but all three are also National Honor Society members and student-athletes. Congratulations to you (and your whole chapter) on your victories so far and for making your school, advisors and families proud!
We wish you all the best in Texas!
Thursday morning I joined area officials in recognizing the grand opening of the Coordinated Health Women’s Health Center in Bethlehem (Hanover Township). This center will play a key role in providing 3D mammograms as part of the breast cancer screening process for our area residents. Thank you Coordinated Health for furthering women’s health and the overall health of our communities.
Pictured in photo: Amy Nyberg, MBA; Chand Rohtagi, MD; Rep. Marcia Hahn; Christine Biege, RN; Emil DiIorio, DO; Enid Vasquez; and Dr. Barbara Rhoden.
Currently in my Pen Argyl office we have setup an art gallery to display the pieces that we winners in the recent Totts Gap Annual Arts Fair. The student artwork is from the Bangor Area School District, Faith Christian School, Pen Argyl Area School District, and Totts Gap Arts. I am pictured above with brother and sister artists Brandon and Jolie Martinho who stopped in to show me their pieces, both of which are on display. All of the pieces are on display through the end of next week at my Pen Argyl office. I encourage you to stop by, there are some wonderful pieces on display!
The Senate returns to voting session on Monday, June 3, at 1 p.m. You can watch session live at SenatorScavello.com.
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