View in browser
In this Edition:
Vote on Property Tax Elimination Moved to Next Week
The #1 issue voters sent me to Harrisburg to address was the elimination of property taxes, and because of that I have been a sponsor and proponent of Senate Bill 76 since coming to the Senate. This week we were expected to vote on the issue, but minor technical concerns have pushed the vote back to next week.
It is expected that the small changes being made, in order to better implement the legislation, will prevent additional roadblocks when it is time to enact the plan into law.
Hundreds of constituents and non-constituents have contacted me in support of SB 76, and I appreciate hearing from everyone. An historic vote on this issue is closer than ever, and it is thanks to more than 80 grassroots organizations that helped to develop the proposal and garner support in the legislature.
State Budget Update
As you most likely have heard in the news, there are claims that we have a “framework” of a budget agreement. The specifics continue to evolve, but one of the major talking points is an increase in the sales tax from 6% to 7.25%.
Such an increase is expected to provide $2 billion for property tax relief. While I remain a supporter of SB 76, as discussed above, I cannot support the most recent proposed sales tax increase. As I have said from the time Governor Wolf presented his original proposal for property tax relief, it does not completely eliminate property taxes and there is no guarantee the taxes won’t rise again in the future. Also, the Governor is pushing for a distribution formula that will simply redistribute wealth from wealthy school districts to poor school districts rather than a dollar-for-dollar tax shift.
Pensions: Of the expected $2 billion from an increased sales tax, $600 million would be used to provide the property tax relief currently funded by slots-generated tax revenue. The $600 million in slots revenue would then be moved into a restricted account earmarked to pay for the state’s public pension contributions and in turn, $600 million would remain in the General Fund instead of going to pensions. Did you follow that shell game?
Pension liability is one of the biggest cost drivers in state government and is the number-one cause of cutbacks and property tax increases in school districts. I believe we still need to pursue long-term reform, which means putting new state and school hires into a 401k type pension plan, as is widely used in the private sector.
Liquor Privatization: The framework earmarks $200 million from some version of liquor privatization.
Syrian Refugee Policy Calls for Leadership and a Fact-Based Conversation
In response to Governor Wolf’s announcement that the Commonwealth will continue to accept refugees from Syria, I have heard from many individuals expressing concern for the safety of Pennsylvanians. I too have concerns.
While I sympathize with those individuals fleeing Syria, in a statement I issued to the media on Tuesday I expressed that refugees should be welcomed but only when we are able to ensure individuals are not coming to our country or the Commonwealth with the intent to harm.
Considering the amount of uncertainty there is surrounding how the refugees are vetted, Governor Wolf should be concerned with protecting the residents of the Commonwealth. Just as important, the Governor needs to remain focused on the budget and other serious problems facing Pennsylvania, rather than foreign policy matters.
Coal Caucuses Hold Hearing on Sweeping New EPA Regulations
On Tuesday, I participated in a joint public hearing of the House and Senate Coal Caucuses.
We heard testimony from employers in the energy industry who are very concerned about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” and how it could negatively impact Pennsylvania’s economy.
Within the last 15 years, the EPA has introduced 19 high impact rules with costs over $90 billion dollars. By the EPA’s own modest estimate, compliance with the new regulations will cost $8.4 billion annually, making it the most costly power plant regulation to date impacting the coal industry, state economy and the cost and reliability of electricity.
As I said in the hearing, the very fate of Pennsylvania coal jobs - and the abundant, affordable energy those workers produce – is at stake. For more information and video from the hearing click here.
Voters to Decide Mandatory Retirement Age for Judges
The Senate approved legislation this week that will give Pennsylvania voters the ultimate decision on whether the mandatory retirement age of judges should be increased.
House Bill 89 increases the mandatory retirement age for judges and magisterial district judges from 70 to 75 years in the Judicial Code. This bill only becomes effective if a proposed constitutional amendment, House Bill 90, which was approved in two consecutive legislative sessions, is adopted by the voters.
Bills Approved by the Senate and Sent to the House of Representatives
Senate Bill 62 amends state law regarding probationary driver’s licenses.
Senate Bill 146 requires passengers in a vehicle to render aid to any person injured in an accident.
Senate Bill 518 gives people the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets in the same way they can make plans for their tangible property: by providing instructions in a will, trust, or power of attorney.
Senate Bill 927 requires Senate approval of Pennsylvania’s representatives on the Delaware River Bridge Commission.
House Bill 934 amends the Public Welfare Code to codify the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Program. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Bill 1045 standardizes the definition of “Veteran” by defining the term “Conditions other than Dishonorable.”
Senate Bill 1046 standardizes the process for promotion on the retired list of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
House Bill 1411 brings Pennsylvania into compliance with changes made by Congress to the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Bills Sent to Governor for Enactment
Eight bills received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the Governor for enactment into law.
Senate Bill 77 provides regulatory relief for beagle trainers.
House Bill 239 amends the County Pension Law to further provide for definitions and for supplemental benefits.
Senate Bill 609 creates the Prostate Cancer Surveillance, Education, Detection and Treatment Act.
House Bill 753 establishes the Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council within the Department of Aging.
Senate Bill 775 updates and revises the Third Class City Code.
Senate Bill 791 amends the Second Class Township Code further providing for removal of elected township officers for failure to perform duties.
Senate Bill 793 amends the Second Class Township Code to further provide for property maintenance codes, reserved powers, and the Uniform Construction Code.
Senate Bill 887 protects highway workers, first emergency responders and others from careless and reckless drivers traveling in work zones.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the following bills on Monday:
Senate Bill 691 increases a retailer’s presumptive minimum cost of administering the cigarette tax.
Senate Bill 859 consolidates the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole into a single agency called the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Senate Bill 860 amends the Crime Victims Act to make technical changes related to the consolidation of the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole into a single agency.
House Bill 683 removes federal veterans’ disability payments and state veterans’ benefits from income eligibility under the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.
House Bill 934 establishes the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) program allowing individuals on public assistance to enroll in programs that assist the recipient in securing a job with a family-sustaining wage.
The committee reported out these budget bills on Tuesday:
Senate Bill 912 Pennsylvania State University funding.
Senate Bill 913 University of Pennsylvania funding.
Senate Bill 914 Temple University funding.
Senate Bill 915 University of Pittsburgh funding.
Senate Bill 916 Lincoln University funding.
The Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday approved the following bills:
Senate Bill 891 requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to waive tolls for vehicles accompanying a fallen firefighter, ambulance service or rescue squad member, law enforcement officer or armed service member killed in the line of duty.
House Bill 813 amends the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Compact between Pennsylvania and New Jersey to provide the Governor with veto power over the Commission members; to specify the process for the delivery to and return of minutes from the Governor; and to change auditing requirements.
House Bill 1195 amends the Vehicle Code to permit motor homes and recreational trailers to be financed at lending institutions for up to 20 years.
House Bill 1201 repeals a 1943 act authorizing the commonwealth and municipalities to take over public roads and highways constructed by the federal government.
House Bill 1170 designates a portion of Blair Mill Road in Montgomery County as the PVT William H. Walls, U.S.M.C. Memorial Highway.
House Bill 1341 designates a portion of State Route 51 in the Borough of Coraopolis, Allegheny County, as the Fred A. Trello Memorial Boulevard.
The Senate returns to session on Monday. You can watch session live at my website .
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.