In This Update:
Governor’s Proposed Budget is Disappointing
I am very disappointed with components of the governor’s proposed 2020-2021 spending plan, which was unveiled before a joint session of the General Assembly on Feb. 4. There were multiple new taxes and fees throughout the $36.1 billion budget. Overall, the proposal features a four-percent spending hike, there are multiple cuts to agriculture, the popular school safety program has been reduced and there is a decrease to Lyme disease initiatives.
It is also alarming that the governor wants to hire more staff at the Department of Environmental Protection. Bringing additional staff aboard DEP will not resolve any of the issues that municipalities and constituents are facing regarding the rain tax and MS4. I am requesting accountability and consistency, not additional staff.
Property Tax Elimination
I recently participated in a rally at the Capitol in support of property tax elimination. It is time for action, and not more rhetoric. I fully support efforts to eliminate this tax. That’s why I am a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 76, which would eliminate the school property tax and fund education via other measures.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers recently proposed five property tax reform options, ranging from rebates to full elimination. Senate President Pro Tempore recently announced that he would like to see a vote on property tax reform in 2020. It is my hope that property tax elimination receives prompt attention.
EARLIER PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY: Pennsylvanians could play a more prominent role in future Presidential primary elections under a bill that was recently approved by the Senate. Senate Bill 779 would move up the date of the primary in Presidential election years from the fourth Tuesday in April to the third Tuesday in March. This would allow voters in Pennsylvania to cast their ballots the same day as other influential states, including Arizona, Florida and Illinois. A large state like Pennsylvania should play a meaningful role in this process. The bill would not take effect until the 2024 election, and election dates would not change in non-Presidential years. Senate Bill 779 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
VETERANS COURTS: Legislation I sponsored to would promote Veterans Courts in Pennsylvania received a unanimous vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee. With Veterans Courts, veterans come before judges on a regular basis, receive mentorship from fellow veterans, are supervised by specialized probation officers, and receive treatment and support from the Veterans Administration to address underlying problems often caused by post-traumatic stress injuries. These courts have seen great success with extremely low recidivism rates here in Pennsylvania and across the nation. However, more than 60 percent of the state’s counties do not have a Veterans Court. Senate Bill 976 would formally place Veterans Courts into state statute, encourage counties that do not have a Veterans Court to collaborate with other counties that do, and allow counties that have a Problem Solving Court to adjudicate veterans through a “Veterans Track.”
HELPING FIRE & EMS COMPANIES: Firefighters and emergency responders are a lifeline in our communities. The Senate recently passed legislation I sponsored, Senate Bill 910, to re-authorize the state’s popular Fire & EMS Grant Program until 2024. Reauthorizing this program is a way for the General Assembly to demonstrate that we recognize that the vehicles, equipment and training required to do this work properly is very expensive. Many of these fire companies are volunteer, and simply cannot bear the burden without this support. Without any action by the legislature, the program would expire this June. The legislation is now under consideration by the House.
BOROUGH ELECTRIC SYSTEMS: A bill I am sponsoring that would clarify a tax exemption concerning Borough Electric Systems received unanimous support from the Senate Local Government Committee. Senate Bill 958 states that the sale of electricity from a power company to a borough electric system is not subject to the gross receipts tax. Historically, the tax has not been applied to this sale but the Department of Revenue recently interpreted the law differently. There are 35 borough electric systems statewide, including two in the 33rd Senate District: the Borough of Chambersburg and Mont Alto.
RED TAPE REDUCTION: As the chair of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, regulatory reform and red tape reduction are priorities moving forward, because we need to reaffirm that Pennsylvania is open for business. The committee recently held a hearing on those topics at Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe in Chambersburg. Speakers included regional businesses and economic development specialists. Most of us want to live our lives and run our businesses with as little government interference as possible, yet it seems like the Harrisburg bureaucracy has lost its way and forgotten who it works for – it works for us, the taxpayers.
Other Activity of Note
TRANSPORTATION AND CLIMATE INITIATIVE
While the vision of multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative has merit, raising the state’s gas tax by 17 cents – which is part of this plan – is an absurd solution. As a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, I participated in a hearing on January 29 where more details were shared about this proposal. I am not supporting any hike of the state’s gas tax.
REMEMBERING OPERATIONS DESERT STORM/DESERT SHIELD
February marks the 29th anniversary of the conclusion of Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. A resolution that I sponsored, SR291, which recognizes Pennsylvania’s contribution toward this conflict received unanimous support from the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee on February 5. Later that day, the resolution received unanimous support from the Senate. WATCH
ANNUAL LINCOLN DAY SPEECH
It was an honor to continue a long-standing Senate tradition on February 5 when I gave the annual “Lincoln Day” speech. The remarks coincided with the 211th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth – February 12, 1809 – as well as the Presidents Day observance. WATCH
WWII VETERANS WELCOMED TO SENATE
I had the distinct privilege of introducing a pair of World War II veterans to the Senate floor on February 3. Samuel Worley is from Chambersburg and Glenn Lytle is from Shippensburg. WATCH
I was delighted to meet Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Brian Sims and Acting Deputy Superintendent Kristina Heister.
It was a distinct privilege celebrating WWII U.S. Army Veteran Technical Sgt. Gaetano “Tom” Rossi’s 100th birthday in late-January when he visited Harrisburg. Sgt. Rossi was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal two years ago for his service in the Office of Strategic Services, which is now known as the CIA and Special Forces. The American patriot is a resident of Bucks County and was a guest of Sen. Steve Santarsiero.
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