In this Update:
Governor’s Proposed State Budget has Major Flaws
I am deeply concerned with the $36.1 billion state budget announced by Governor Tom Wolf this week.
While I have worked with the Governor and his Administration on many important budget-related issues in the past, I was surprised to see the Governor deviate from priorities we have historically shared. The Governor has deviated on several budget items that affect the quality of life for residents in my district including school property tax reform, Lyme disease funding, all-day vocational and technical education funding, and school safety funding among others.
Silence on Property Taxes
I was frustrated that the Governor did not mention the problem of school property taxes at all in his address to the joint session of the General Assembly.
No matter how hard we try, property tax elimination is not going to happen without Governor Wolf taking a leadership role, or at the very least acknowledging the dire situation this tax has caused for millions of Pennsylvanians. For me to have to listen to the heartbreaking stories of constituents – including a senior who told me, ‘I’m guilty of living too long’ – and continue to not hear the Governor say one word about it, is extremely frustrating. It’s about time we take care of our seniors and his silence is deafening.
Gov. Wolf’s plan to give school districts $1 billion to clean up school buildings is misguided. I strongly support our historic levels of state education funding and I have always been a big supporter of public education, but the Governor is proposing to reward the school districts who did not clean up their schools with a billion dollars of funding. Wouldn’t that billion dollars be better used to help our seniors stay in their homes?
Ill-Advised Budget Cuts
The proposed budget also includes cuts in Lyme disease prevention ($500,000) and school security ($45 million).
And while the Governor has talked about all-day vocational and technical education funding in the past, he does not show his support in this budget by providing more dollars. As a Commonwealth, we need to support and promote our students pursuing careers in these productive and profitable jobs.
It doesn’t make sense to cut funding for Lyme disease prevention in Pennsylvania, which leads the nation in cases of tick-borne illness. We should be doing more. People are hurting out there.
Career and Technical Schools
The Governor’s plan to fund scholarships for students attending Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools ignores the role of career and technical schools.
He wants to spend $204 million for students going through the PASSHE system. Why not encourage students to first go to a community college, get your electives there, and then go to a state school? By doing that they can graduate debt free.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a three-week series of departmental budget hearings beginning on February 18. The hearings provide an opportunity for the Appropriations Committee to hear cabinet secretaries and other Administration officials detail their plans for the upcoming fiscal year. The state’s current fiscal year ends on June 30.
I hope that in the coming weeks, through budget hearing discussions and as more details are shared by the Administration, we can get closer to developing a final budget that more closely aligns with the needs of Pennsylvania citizens.
Continuing to Call for Property Tax Reform
Continuing a flurry of activity this week in pushing for action on school property taxes, I invite you to view my remarks from this week.
As you watch my remarks, please note the following:
Many have asked why gambling has not “eliminated school property taxes as was promised.” I never voted to allow gambling in PA and I never, ever said it would have any meaningful impact on school property taxes. That was a promise that was made by then-Governor Ed Rendell to try and soften the idea of legalized gambling in PA. Even if you took every dollar of gambling revenue in the state, you would not have enough to offset the $14 billion needed to fully eliminate school property taxes.
Some have claimed, “Just raise the sales tax to eliminate taxes for all!” This is a common assertion based on the idea that yes, the sales tax is a “fairer” tax – you only pay it when you make the choice to purchase a product. However, the sales tax raises much less revenue for each percent increase than the personal income tax, as a comparison. Even if you doubled the state sales tax, you would not have enough revenue to offset the $14 billion of school property taxes. Not to mention, the higher the sales tax gets, the less return the state would see as people choose to shop elsewhere, etc. In addition, Philadelphia has an 8% sales tax while Pittsburgh’s rate is 7%. Because you need broad support from around the state for any proposal to obtain the votes needed to pass a bill, legislators from these regions have historically opposed significant increases to the sales tax.
In order for any bill to pass and become law in Pennsylvania, you need 26 Senators, 102 Representatives and the Governor’s signature. I have fought for years to change this system and if I had the power to force change single-handedly, I would. No matter what arguments I make to other legislators, the citizens in those districts have the strongest voice. Unfortunately, many legislators have stated they simply do not hear from residents in their districts on this issue. That needs to change if we are going to see real change.
Bill Increasing Prescription Drug Oversight Sent to Governor
Legislation I co-sponsored to improve the oversight of prescriptions to reduce the risk of opioid abuse received final legislative approval this week and was sent to the Governor.
Under Senate Bill 432, Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) would have access to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). The PDMP was created in 2014 in an effort to provide greater monitoring over prescription drugs and potential abuse. Allowing the MCOs to query the PDMP will provide greater collaboration and data when it comes to prescription drug abuse and misuse.
The bill includes a provision that requires an MCO to notify the Attorney General and the Department of Human Services if it is believed that a controlled substance was prescribed or dispensed fraudulently.
Other Bills sent to the Governor
House Bill 330 amends the Taxpayer Relief Act making editorial changes to incorrect references.
House Bill 1578 amends Title 68 regarding the Uniform Condominium Act, the Real Estate Cooperative Act and the Uniform Planned Community Act to make technical changes and clarifications.
Senate Votes to Encourage Integration of Community Services in PA Schools
The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to establish a pilot program to integrate community-based services into Pennsylvania schools.
Senate Bill 850 would create the “Community Engaged Schools for Success” Pilot Program to encourage community partners to work with designated schools to provide student support services.
The program would connect students and their families with community-based organizations that address academic and nonacademic barriers to learning and provide support and case management services. It would include access to medical and mental health services, tutoring, food and clothing, career and higher education planning, and employment.
Eligible schools would include those with low test rankings and a high percentage of low-income students. They would be eligible for grants of up to $125,000 from the Department of Education to appoint a manager and a coordinator to implement community engagement plans.
Senate Approves Workers’ Comp Bill for First Responders
Critical members of volunteer fire companies, ambulance corps and rescue squads who are injured in the line of duty would qualify for workers’ compensation coverage under a bill approved Monday by the Senate.
Senate Bill 94 would ensure coverage for all active volunteers and integral members of a volunteer fire, ambulance or rescue company insured through the State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF). The legislation would apply to 1,550 volunteer fire companies and 92 ambulance organizations that are insured by SWIF.
The bill would only apply to active volunteers. Social members would not be included. The legislation is part of a broader focus by lawmakers on the challenges facing fire and EMS companies throughout the state. Senate Bill 94 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Bill Creating First-Time Homebuyers Savings Accounts Approved by Senate
The Senate approved legislation Wednesday creating First-Time Homebuyers Savings Accounts in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 309 would permit eligible Pennsylvanians to open special savings accounts and take state tax deductions for savings toward expenses such as a down payment and closing costs.
The bill would apply to first-time homebuyers and those who have not owned or purchased a home within the three years leading up to the purchase. Account holders would be permitted to contribute a total of $50,000 over a 10-year period. Annual contributions would be capped at $5,000 for single taxpayers and $10,000 for those filing a joint return.
The savings account program could result in an estimated annual increase of up to 4,000 home purchases in Pennsylvania. The result would be an overall positive impact on Pennsylvania’s economy, spurring additional economic activity, job creation and earnings for households.
Other Bills sent to the House of Representatives
Senate Bill 640 authorizes the Commonwealth to join the interstate Physical Therapist Compact.
House Bill 1001 establishes standards for the licensure and regulation of human milk banks. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
House Bill 1100 establishes the Energy and Fertilizer Manufacturing Tax Credit program. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Bills approved in committees, public hearings.
Agriculture & Rural Affairs
Senate Bill 915 amends the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to set clear standards for the application of fertilizer to turf and provide for labels and labeling and the disposition of funds.
Roundtable Discussion of Agricultural Mental Health Video
Communications & Technology
Public hearing on data privacy and potential updates to the Breach of Personal Information Act. Video & Written Testimony
Community, Economic & Recreational Development
Senate Bill 863 defines “recreational campgrounds” in order to provide campground owners with certain rights, similar to the rights of hotelkeepers, and help protect their businesses.
Environmental Resources & Energy
House Bill 342 authorizes the City of Philadelphia to impose a fine or penalty of no more than $500 per-tire for the improper disposal of waste tires.
Senate Bill 1030 amends the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act (Act 537).
House Bill 732 exempts volunteer first responders from the Pennsylvania realty transfer tax.
Game & Fisheries
House Bill 752 removes the current price per acre restriction on Game Fund money used for the purchase of land to be used as game lands in a Second Class County.
Health & Human Services
Senate Bill 934 requires the Department of Human Services to include the inspection of all smoke detectors in their annual inspection of child care facilities.
Labor & Industry
Senate Bill 935 bill amends the Fire and Panic Act regarding smoke detectors.
Senate Bill 207 closes a loophole in the Public Works Contractors’ Bond Law.
Senate Bill 958 states that all electric energy supplied to borough electric systems for sale within borough limits is exempt from the imposition of Pennsylvania’s Gross Receipts Tax.
House Bill 1751 provides for reimbursement of newly elected officers prior to officially taking office to attend any conference, institute, school or convention dealing with the duties and functions of their office.
Senate Bill 565 requires vehicles parking along a curbside bike lane to park parallel with their right-hand or left-hand wheels within 12 inches of the outside line of the buffer area between the bike lane and parking in the direction of traffic flow.
Senate Bill 995 increases the width of multipurpose agricultural vehicles that are allowed on public roadways.
House Bill 1907 designates a bridge over U.S. Route 11/15 in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, as the Senator Hal Mowery Memorial Bridge.
Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness
Senate Resolution 291 recognizes Pennsylvania’s contribution to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Around the 40th District
Congratulations to Deerfield Day Spa on the opening of their new Day Spa Health Retreat. The facility offers many spa services and has a beautiful gift shop. It is always wonderful to see investment in our community. Thank you and congratulations.
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