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In this Email Update:
Two recent articles in the Reading Eagle detail some of the numerous problems and challenges presented in Governor Wolf’s tax plan. Primary among these concerns is the fact that the plan trades a temporary cut in the property tax in exchange for permanent increases in other taxes. Property owners in our area have seen property taxes skyrocket to unsustainable levels, and nothing in the Wolf tax plan prevents that from happening again.
Based on the overwhelming number of school districts that would see a net increase in taxes under Wolf’s plan, legislative support has ranged from tepid to non-existent. The plan creates far more losers than winners, particularly among school districts in our area.
As one commenter astutely pointed out, if you suffer from a terrible disease, you don’t want only half of it to be removed. You want it gone entirely so you never have to worry about it again. The property tax shares many of the characteristics of a disease, and we need to eradicate this affliction, not simply manage the symptoms. The only real property tax reform is the complete elimination of this obsolete tax.
Over the next several months, collective bargaining agreements covering more than 44,000 state employees will expire, leading to a new round of negotiations that will have a significant long-term impact on future state budgets and Pennsylvania taxpayers. I recently cosponsored a proposal that would help lawmakers prepare for these costs by requiring a non-partisan analysis of any proposed agreement.
The measure would require the non-partisan Independent Fiscal Office to assess the costs of collective bargaining agreements in terms of wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions to provide a clearer picture of how these new agreements would affect the fiscal wellbeing of our commonwealth.
While it is important to ensure public-sector employees are fairly compensated for their work, taxpayers will ultimately bear the costs of these new collective bargaining agreements. It is our obligation as stewards of the taxpayer dollar to understand the financial impact of these agreements prior to their execution.
On Wednesday, I joined Representatives Neal Goodman, Jerry Knowles and Mike Tobash to congratulate Jackie McGovern for her years of public service as Schuylkill County’s Treasurer. We presented official congratulatory citations from the Senate of Pennsylvania and the House of Representatives for Jackie’s accomplishments for the public office she has held since 1996 at an event at the Treasurer’s Office in the Schuylkill County Courthouse in Pottsville.
Read more about Jackie's service here.
Public employee pension costs are one of the biggest drivers of property tax increases. A recent report by the Commonwealth Foundation details how retirement benefits have changed for employees in the private sector vs. the public sector.
According to the report, Fortune 100 companies have largely abandoned defined benefit plans in favor of more affordable defined contribution plans that allow employees more control in managing their retirement assets and greater flexibility when changing jobs. However, public sector employees still continue to enjoy the more expensive defined benefit plans that do not offer the same level of control and portability as workers leave public-sector employment.
The result is more than $50 billion in unfunded liabilities in Pennsylvania’s public pension systems. As we continue to work toward enacting a fiscally responsible state budget, reforming the state’s pension systems remains one of the most important steps lawmakers can take to ensure an affordable and sustainable retirement system for public-sector employees.
At the beginning of every session in the Senate, a prayer is offered by a Guest Chaplain. Clergy from a variety of different faiths, denominations and locations throughout the state have served as Guest Chaplains, asking for guidance to solve the most complex problems facing Pennsylvania and encouraging lawmakers to address the issues of the day with reverence for the people we are elected to serve.
Clergy from all faiths are welcome to be considered to serve as a Guest Chaplain in the Senate. Local clergy who are interested in serving in this capacity for a day should contact my Harrisburg office at 717-787-2637.
Agriculture is not only an essential component of our state and local economy, but also a significant part of our heritage and way of life. The Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, compiles a detailed look at the number and value of farms and ranches to highlight their positive impact.
Some of the highlights include:
You can view full details of the Census of Agriculture here.
This morning, I joined the legislative delegation from Berks County to speak about the governor’s proposed budget and ongoing efforts to reform school property taxes with the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce.
I appreciated the opportunity to discuss two key issues, especially local tax reform. I’m also very grateful for the due-diligence of the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce for surveying their members for their support of local tax reform. Last session, their members overwhelmingly supported Senate Bill 76, the Property Tax Independence Act, despite statewide special interest groups opposing the bill. I’ve been encouraged by the various local groups supporting true property tax elimination and not standing for the status quo. Read their survey results here, where over 68 percent of their members came out in support of Senate Bill 76.
Fundraising is one of the biggest challenges facing many volunteer fire companies, particularly those in rural areas where resources are often stretched painfully thin due to geography and population. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is offering grants of up to $7,500 through the Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant Program to help reduce the burden placed on rural communities by brush and forest fires.
The program provides matching grants to volunteer fire companies for the purchase of wildfire suppression equipment, wildfire protective gear, mobile or portable radios, installation of dry hydrants, wildfire prevention and mitigation, or wildfire training. Due to high demand and limited funding, there is a five-year waiting period between years a fire company is eligible to receive funding through this grant program.
The application period is open now and runs until May 21, 2015. Additional information on the program is available online at the DCNR website at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
A recent analysis of state property tax burdens validated what many local homeowners already know – Pennsylvanians pay a property tax bill that ranks above the national average.
Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania homeowners face the 13th-highest property tax burden in the nation. The average property tax bill in Pennsylvania is $2,597, compared to a nationwide average of $2,089. These facts highlight the importance of making this levy a part of our past instead of allowing it to fester well into our future.
The full report is available here.
Last year, the Department of Human Services (DHS) provided emergency crisis intervention services and support for approximately 30,000 victims of sexual violence and their families. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, DHS is working to raise awareness and promote preventative education as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
Programs and services include crisis counseling, accompaniment through the medical and criminal justice systems, and a 24-hour hotline (888-772-7227), as well as a host of education and training programs. More information about resources available to victims of sexual violence is available here.