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Budget winners include taxpayers, schools, ag programs, hospitals, counties
Governor Wolf announced Wednesday his intention to allow a Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget approved by the legislature last week to become law without his signature or veto – bringing an effective end to a nine-month impasse over his insistence on massive tax and spending increases.
House Bill 1801, as approved by the Senate on March 16, is a $30.031 billion spending plan that restores much of the $6 billion in funding for essential programs and services that were line-item vetoed by the governor from the FY 2015-16 budget enacted last December. The budget includes the highest education spending in state history.
Basic Education will see $5.95 billion in funding, an increase of $200 million from Fiscal Year 2014-15 including Ready-to-Learn Block Grant money. The total also represents a $50 million increase over the funding vetoed by the governor.
Most importantly, this final budget does not increase taxes on Pennsylvanians, which has been the overwhelming concern of residents from Berks and Schuylkill Counties.
HB 1801 reverses the governor’s line-item vetoes of funding for community colleges and the State System of Higher Education, while providing full funding for Pennsylvania’s state related universities: Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln. The bill provides funds to preserve programs such as agricultural extension and research and 4-H that were defunded by the governor’s line-item vetoes.
While there are some loose ends to finalize, including the governor’s veto of reimbursement for school district construction, this is genuine bipartisan cooperation.
Meeting with supporters, opponents of Senate Bill 76
For too long, special interest groups have stood in the way of bipartisan efforts to eliminate school district property taxes as prescribed in Senate Bill 76. The legislation, which was drafted by over 80 grassroots taxpayer groups, received a tie vote in the Senate on November 23, 2015. Prior to that vote, a memo was circulated by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry on behalf of 50 various organizations ranging from religious groups, business groups, education advocates and others stating their unanimous opposition to the proposal.
In their memo, they stated, “We recognize that school property taxes are a genuine concern for many across that Commonwealth, and we will continue to offer our expertise and assistance to develop a responsible approach to address the financial concerns where it is most needed, using sustainable and proven strategies.”
You can read the entire memo sent by the diverse coalition opposed to school property tax elimination here.
On Monday, at the request of the sponsors of Senate Bill 76, including Senators Mike Folmer, Mario Scavello, Scott Wagner, Judy Schwank, John Yudichak, Andy Dinniman, Lisa Boscola and me, we took the opposition up on their offer. We invited all of the groups who signed on to the memo, as well as the groups that have been supportive of the measure, including the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs and the Pennsylvania Apartment Association.
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations also had two representatives at the table.
Unfortunately, the meeting did not result in any breakthrough or consensus on how to best address school property tax reform, but I’m not giving up. The opponents were unable to come up with an alternative plan they could agree on to fix the school property tax system. Some advocated for reforming the cost-drivers while others advocated for targeted relief and partial reductions to school property taxes.
Advocates in both the Senate and House continue to look for any and all solutions to come up with the magical formula of 26 votes in the Senate, 102 votes in the House and 1 signature of the governor.
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services focuses on long-term care
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services held its first public hearing on Monday to review the cost, effectiveness and impact on taxpayers for long-term care for senior citizens.
I asked about the future demands of long-term care for our older population. The Department of Human Services confirmed that the cost for long-term care continues to rise at a dramatic pace, which is putting a strain on taxpayers and the state budget.
The department is attempting to reduce the rapid rise in cost for nursing care through Medicaid by providing options for senior citizens. You can read more about the hearing and watch it in its entirety here.
Senate approves six bills
The Senate approved and sent to the House of Representatives six bills this week.
Senate Bill 983 allows parents and/or guardians of disabled adult children, who are in their care, to receive disability license plates.
Senate Bill 1108 defines in state statute a new subtype of federally certified motorcycle -- a three-wheeled vehicle with two forward wheels -- as an “autocycle” and creates a special designation under the existing motorcycle definition in Title 75 (Vehicles).
Senate Bill 1122 addresses membership on the board of trustees of a community college.
Senate Bill 1123 corrects a regulatory issue relating to gasoline in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 1142 amends the Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act by making changes to the makeup of the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Board.
House Bill 1638 amends state law to permit appraisers to appraise physical damage to a vehicle using personal inspection or by photographs, videos, or telephonic means. Currently, appraisers can only conduct appraisals by personal inspection. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
North Schuylkill High School band plays in Capitol
On Thursday, March 17, students from the North Schuylkill High School toured the state Capitol. During their visit, the band played in the East Wing Rotunda. Thank you for filling the hallways with great music!
Berks Realtors meet to discuss homeownership
On Tuesday, members of the Reading-Berks Association of Realtors met with me in my Harrisburg office to discuss several important issues for homeowners, including local tax reform. I appreciate the ongoing dialogue with the local realtors as to how we can best address the school property tax issue.
Homeownership has been the bedrock of the American Dream, but how can one achieve true homeownership when you are merely renting it from a school district? Eliminating the 1830s school property tax system and replacing it with a broader, fairer and more equitable system will not only remove one of the biggest hurdles to achieving the American Dream, it will finally bring Pennsylvania’s public education financing system into the 21st century.
Committee supports measure to protect privacy, safety of 911 callers
The Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would provide privacy and protect the safety of individuals who call 911 to report crimes.
House Bill 1310 bans the public release of “identifying information” from a 911 caller, which includes the caller’s name, telephone number, address and location.
The fear of reprisal should never be a factor that stops someone from reporting a crime or criminal activity. This measure ensures anonymity that will further protect and safeguard callers and victims.
The Committee also approved Senate Bill 847 adding a representative from the Korean War Veterans Association to the State Veterans Commission, a panel comprised of representatives from Pennsylvania’s major veterans associations.
Both bills now go to the full Senate for consideration. Click for audio from the meeting.
Senate “Welcomes Home Vietnam Veterans” with a resolution
he Senate adopted Senate Resolution 316, a measure proclaiming March 30, 2016, as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in Pennsylvania.
More than 304,000 American service members were wounded in Vietnam and of the 58,193 service members who lost their lives, 3,144 were from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. March 29 was the date that the last of our U.S. troops left Vietnam in 1973. The resolution marks March 30 as the date by which we commemorate their return home.
Therefore, it is appropriate that Pennsylvania and the United States of America pay tribute on that day to the unsung heroes of the Vietnam War. Let us offer a special prayer of gratitude to those men and women who served in Southeast Asia and never forget those whose dreams were left unfulfilled.
Joint Committee reviews PA’s E-Recycling Law
The Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee held a public hearing on Monday to review Act 108 of 2010, the Covered Device Recycling Act.
This law was enacted with the intent of promoting the recycling of electronic devices, such as televisions and computer components, as a way to keep many hazardous and toxic materials from ending up in landfills.
However unforeseen economic issues and the growing problem of illegal dumping have sparked an interest in the General Assembly in reviewing the current Act to determine what refinements can be made to address those matters.
The committee heard from Representative Chris Ross, the prime sponsor of Act 108. Representative Ross is planning to introduce legislation that would address shortcomings in the current law and promote electronics recycling in Pennsylvania.
Other testifiers at the hearing included: Ken Reisinger, Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation with the Department of Environmental Protection; Walter Alcorn from the Consumer Technology Association; Ned Eldridge of eLoop; Bekki Titchner, Elk County Recycling and Solid Waste Coordinator; Dave Vollero, York County Solid Waste Authority Executive Director; Shannon Reiter of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful; and Bob Bylone from the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center.
Click here for video of the complete public hearing.
I’d like to wish you a Happy and Joyous Easter holiday!
The Senate is scheduled to convene on Monday, April 4 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live and view the voting calendar on my website.
I’d also like to recognize my Executive Director of the Majority Policy Committee, Jon Hopcraft, who recently turned the big 3-0. Happy Birthday!