Below is a recap of this week’s legislative activity in the Senate. It covers votes by the full Senate and committee hearings, plus a look ahead.
The highlight of the week was Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address on Tuesday. An overview of the spending plan can be found below.
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In this Edition...
I and my Senate colleagues, expressed concern over the significant burdens associated with the Governor Wolf’s budget plan. Pennsylvania does not need, nor can its citizens support the enormous tax increases on Pennsylvania families and employers.
The Governor’s proposed $33.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2015-16 represents an increase of $4.7 billion (16.1 percent) increase from Fiscal Year 2014-15. The plan would raise taxes by $12 billion over the next two fiscal years – about $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Pennsylvania. Families will pay more in personal income taxes and sales and use taxes, which, under the Wolf plan, both increases and makes additional items taxable. The Governor has proposed a property tax reduction, but one with no controls or assurances that property taxes will not again increase. Rather the plan will raise income and sales taxes permanently, for a temporary reduction in property taxes.
The Governor’s proposal does not address, in fact practically ignores, the escalating costs of Pennsylvania’s public pension programs in favor of incurring $3 billion in new debt for PSERS. Instead of working to enact meaningful reform, the Governor proposes to pass additional costs on to future generations and continue ignoring the pension and property tax issue effecting every Pennsylvanian.
While Gov. Wolf has proposed borrowing over $6 billion against the state, the Senate Republican Caucus remains focused on tangible initiatives to help Pennsylvanians, such as passing pension reform and improving the state’s business environment. Borrowing $6 billion amounts to increasing our indebtedness by 33%, a very significant and troubling step.
Governor Wolf’s proposals is also likely to hinder Pennsylvania’s economic growth, and could result in the loss of thousands of jobs across the state. Current statistics from the department of Labor and Industry show Pennsylvania has a current unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, the Commonwealth’s lowest rate since March 2008. This was the fourth consecutive monthly decline in the state unemployment rate and the ninth decline in 2014. Pennsylvania’s rate is 14 percent below the U.S. rate of 5.6 percent. More on the budget plan here.
The Senate will be taking a hard look at the Governor’s proposal. The process will get underway as my colleagues and I on the Senate Appropriations Committee holds three-weeks of budget hearings beginning on March 16. The hearings provide an opportunity for the committee to hear Administration officials detail their plans for the upcoming fiscal year.
You can watch the hearings at www.pasenategop.com.
The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to establish a select committee on “Purely Public Charities.”
Under Senate Resolution 28, the bipartisan panel will conduct statewide hearings and work with non-profits, elected officials, tax experts, public safety organizations and other stakeholders to determine whether additional legislation is needed and make recommendations relating to legislation on the treatment of purely public charities in Pennsylvania.
With Act 55 of 1997, the General Assembly used its constitutional power to provide clear and uniform standards in statute to define which purely public charitable institutions may claim a tax exemption. A 2012 state Supreme Court decision struck down the provisions and reinstated standards established by the courts as the means to determine the definition of a charity. The decision has created uncertainty and the potential for increased litigation.
The Senate recently approved a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the General Assembly’s power to determine whether an institution is a purely public charity.
The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday intended to protect the integrity of the “veteran” driver’s license designation process.
Under Senate Bill 42 those who falsely claim to be a veteran on their Pennsylvania driver’s license application would be subject to a summary offense with a $300 fine and possible imprisonment of between 30 and 90 days for those who fail to pay the fine. A state law enacted in 2012 allows veterans to self-certify their status subject to verification by state military officials.
On Monday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 130, a measure banning the practice of allowing persons sentenced to community service to purchase gift cards in lieu of performing the service. Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the Senate Local Government Committee held a joint public hearing on Tuesday to discuss the benefits of the Act 13 Impact Fee on Pennsylvania communities.
The public hearing featured testimony from counties, townships, conservation districts and economic development organizations throughout the state. Act 13 of 2012 imposed an unconventional gas well fee which has provided more than $630 million to local and county governments to compensate for impacts of the industry, in addition to more than $2 billion companies have paid in state taxes.
Click here for video of the hearing and written testimony.
The Senate returns to voting session on Monday, April 13.
My colleagues and I on the Senate Appropriations Committee begin three-weeks of budget hearings on the proposed 2015-16 state budget on Monday, March 16. You can watch the hearings at www.pasenategop.com.
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