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With work continuing to end the state budget impasse, Iíd like to stress a point Iíve previously made: the unfunded pension liability is the budgetís most serious cost-driver and will put Pennsylvania in a devastating financial position if it is not addressed.
Skyrocketing pension costs are the number one reason for increases in school property taxes and cuts to school programs, and now they threaten to increase state taxes. Without reform, this system will continue to devour every new dollar we invest in our schools, further degrade the stateís bond rating, and cause even more seniors to lose their home due to unreasonable property tax hikes.
It is irresponsible to suggest increasing state spending by billions of dollars, and asking for more money from the pockets of our citizens, without taking any action to correct this problem. The Senate has passed three historic pension reform bills, beginning with the sweeping Senate Bill 1, which was vetoed by the Governor.
A report by Standard and Poorís found that public employee pension obligations are continuing to grow at a rate that canít be sustained by current revenues.
Thatís something that we absolutely have to fix in order to get our fiscal house in order and prevent credit downgrades and painful tax increases in the future. Governor Wolf had initially supported a budget discussion that included pension reform, however, he was unable to obtain a single Democrat vote for pension reform in the House of Representatives.
A recent report by the Independent Fiscal Office indicated state revenues in FY2016-17 are expected to grow modestly. However, cost drivers (e.g., pensions, Medical Assistance and debt service) continue to drive expenditure growth. The IFO report underlined that the most recent spending bill reduces short-term deficit but the long-term pattern of increasing structural imbalance remains largely unchanged. Despite a grim economic forecast, the governor continues to call for an increase in taxes totaling $4 billion and historic increases in spending.
I and my colleagues Ė along with most constituents Iíve heard from -- believe that enormous tax increases to offset more government spending will not benefit Pennsylvaniaís economy. Instead, we need responsible, controlled spending.
While there are no easy answers to this crisis, the Governorís veto undoubtedly leaves part of our work unfinished. We have been working and have voted on some tough issues, like pension reform, in order to continue to move the state forward. We believe in policy over politics. Despite all of the frustration and uncertainty this impasse created, I remain sincerely committed to doing my part to end this gridlock.
Senate Approves Bill to Reduce the Size of the State House
The Senate approved a bill on Wednesday to reduce the size of the state House of Representatives.
House Bill 153 would reduce the number of seats in the House from 203 to 151, with each district representing approximately 84,500 constituents. Currently, each representative is responsible for serving approximately 62,000 residents.
The proposed change requires an amendment to the state Constitution, which means the same bill must be debated and passed by both the House and Senate in two consecutive sessions, and subsequently approved by referendum vote of the people of Pennsylvania.
Similar legislation reducing both legislative chambers was recently approved by the Senate State Government Committee. Senate Bill 488 would reduce the Senate to 45 districts and the House of Representatives to 153 districts.
Special Committee on Senate Address Issues Recommendations
The Special Committee on Senate Address issued its recommendations Wednesday to the full Senate on whether the chamber should proceed to vote on the removal of Attorney General Kathleen Kane due to the suspension of her law license.
The Committee recommended:
The Special Committee on Senate Address was charged with determining whether Kathleen Kane can fulfill the legal duties of the office with an indefinitely suspended law license. A complete history of the Committeeís work, including all votes, reports, testimony and hearing videos can be accessed at www.senateaddress.pasen.gov
Bills Eliminating Obsolete Measures Sent to Governor
Two bills to remove outdated provisions from state law received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the Governor for his signature and enactment.
Senate Bill 494 repeals a requirement that the General Assembly be furnished with a printed copy of an annual report required under the Flood Insurance Education and Information Act of 1996. The written report is not needed since that information and other flood-related insurance data are available online at the Department of Insurance website.
House Bill 1201 repeals Act 131 of 1943, which authorized the Department of Highways or municipalities to adopt and take over public roads and highways constructed by the federal government in the exercise of war power. That law is archaic because the federal government no longer builds World War II roads.
The Senate returns to voting session on Monday, February 8. You can watch session live at PASenateGOP.com.
Twitter and Facebook: I post regular updates on legislative action, committee developments, useful state-related information, happenings in the 24th Senatorial District and more on Twitter @SenatorMensch and on my Facebook page.If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website www.senatormensch.com for more information about you
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