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In this Email Update:
Senate approves fiscally responsible state budget
The governor continues to push for a $12.7 billion tax increase over the next two years, which the House Democrats and Republicans unanimously rejected earlier this month. The Senate-passed budget reflects the demands of taxpayers I represent in Berks and Schuylkill Counties who have told me time and time again that they do not want to see their taxes increased. Tuesday’s budget vote reflects the realities of a concept that you cannot spend what you do not have.
The next issue which we need to address is eliminating school property taxes once and for all. Many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree that the state needs to find a better way to fund our public schools than our current, 1834 model. I look forward to working with the governor and House and Senate Republicans and Democrats to eliminate school property taxes.
House Bill 1192 is a balanced budget that includes no new taxes or tax increases and $370 million in new money for education. It also includes fundamental changes to the state’s pension and liquor systems.
The budget I supported contains:
Pennsylvania ranked 10th overall in the country, including Washington D.C., in per pupil spending in 2013-14. This budget continues to put more money in education, without raising taxes. On average, Pennsylvania spent over $13,800 per pupil in 2013, or more than $3,000 than the national average, according to Governing.
Grassroots leaders, Senators meet in Harrisburg to discuss Senate Bill 76 – the Property Tax Independence Act
On June 25, I hosted a discussion with leaders of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, the statewide grassroots group of taxpayers committed to the elimination of school property taxes, and my colleagues in the Senate who support Senate Bill 76. The discussion was an opportunity to share ideas and discuss strategy between legislators and taxpayers to advance the Property Tax Independence Act.Senators Mike Folmer, Judy Schwank, Mario Scavello, Pat Stefano, John Eichelberger, Rich Alloway and Camera Bartolotta joined me for the discussion.
Public pension reform measure sent to the governor
A measure addressing increasing public pension costs received final legislative approval on Tuesday and was sent to the governor.
Senate Bill 1 restructures the state’s two public employee pension systems – the State Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System – in order to make them viable in the long term.
The features of Senate Bill 1 include:
All new state and public school employees will be enrolled in a mandatory, 401k-type Defined Contribution Plan similar to those used in the private sector.
Members of the General Assembly, upon election or re-election, will be enrolled in the same Defined Contribution Plan as new state and public school employees.
No changes to current retiree benefits.
Proposal to limit “spot appeals” of assessments wins Senate committee approval
Legislation that would ban a taxing district’s ability to appeal a property assessment based on the sale of the property received the unanimous support of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee last week. This legislation was introduced at the request of and written by several local property owners affected by this unfair process.
The Pennsylvania Constitution states that all taxes shall be uniform. When school districts cherry-pick property owners to raise property taxes, it creates fear in the market and discourages future home sales in that district.
Liquor privatization bill approved by the Senate
A historic plan to privatize sales of wine and liquor received final legislative approval on Tuesday and was sent to the governor.
Local people have told me repeatedly that they want more convenience and this proposal puts Pennsylvania on a similar page as 48 other states. Just as in the case of our unfair and ancient school property tax system, this has been one archaic model that needs to be reformed. This moves our state’s liquor system out of the prohibition-era model and into the 21st Century.
House Bill 466 amends the Liquor Code to divest the Commonwealth’s wholesale and retail wine and spirits system. The bill provides for the closure of State Stores, wholesale permits for importers, wine and liquor to-go sales in grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and beer distributors, as well as educational assistance for displaced employees.
Senate passes bill to allow private sector to escort super load transports
The Senate unanimously passed legislation I sponsored on Sunday that would allow qualified private companies to facilitate transportation of super-sized loads.
Under current law, any tractor-trailer transporting a load greater than 201,000 pounds, over 160 feet, and/or 16 feet wide requires a police escort. This requirement places a serious burden on the Pennsylvania State Police, often requiring officers to work overtime.
My bill, Senate Bill 748, would allow super loads to be attended by certified pilot escorts with oversight from PennDOT and the State Police.
Read more about my legislation here.
Celebrating Father’s Day in Valley View
On Sunday, June 20, I attended the 65th annual Father’s Day breakfast sponsored by the St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church Men’s Bible Study Class. Congratulations to all the organizers for a well-attended event – I thoroughly enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones.
Senate passes bills supporting emergency responders
The Senate passed two bills this past week intended to help Pennsylvania’s volunteer first responders.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 299 which gives municipalities the option to reduce or waive their local earned income tax for volunteer firefighters and volunteers at nonprofit emergency medical service agencies.
Under the legislation, municipalities would have the authority to set the amount of the tax credit and the guidelines of the program, including specifying the number of calls to which a volunteer must answer and the level of training they must have.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved legislation that would expand the timeframe restriction on state grants for local fire departments and ambulance services that merge operations.
Currently, if two or more fire and/or EMS companies merge, the newly formed entity is authorized to continue to receive an individual grant from the state Fire and EMS Grant Program for up to five years after the merger. For example, if three fire companies merge and each received $12,000 from the grant program, the new entity would be entitled to receive the total amount of $36,000 for five years. At the end of the five-year period, the newly formed fire company would only receive $12,000.
Senate Bill 370 extends the sunset provision to 10 years.
Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Remembering “Wesley’s Rule” in times of political division
June 28 marked the birthday of the famous English theologian, Evangelist and founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley. On June 30, Governor Tom Wolf became the first governor in over 40 years to veto a balanced budget.
With the disagreement of priorities for state government between the governor and legislature, I believe we need to look to the wise words of “Wesley’s Rule”:
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”