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Budget Impasse Update
We are now well into the second month without a state budget in place. The current impasse is all too reminiscent of the protracted disagreements that Pennsylvania endured under the Rendell Administration, but there are some key differences this time around.
More so than at any time in Pennsylvania’s history the current impasse represents a major divide in governing philosophies.
In March, Governor Wolf unveiled his budget plan which included a 16 percent increase in state spending paid for with a 21 percent personal income tax increase and a 10 percent sales tax increase. The Governor also proposed expanding Pennsylvania’s sales tax to include nursing home care, day care, college textbooks, college room and board, college fees, babysitting, legal services, accounting services, non-prescription medication and hundreds of other items that are currently tax-exempt.
The Governor also proposed a new tax on Marcellus Shale extraction, a move that would certainly result in job losses and suppress economic development in our state. Contrary to the claims of some, especially those furthest away from the well heads, the Marcellus Shale industry is already paying its “fair share.” While it is not called a “tax,” the fee currently collected from drillers under Act 13 of 2012 is equitably divided to protect the environment and to benefit the areas where drilling actually takes place.
The Governor’s proposed extraction tax would scrap that formula, cap the local share – regardless of any increase in drilling activity – and send the majority of the money to Harrisburg to decide where and how it could be used.
On June 30, after months of deliberation and debate, the General Assembly countered the Governor’s proposals by approving a state budget that would hold the line on taxes while maintaining or increasing state funding for education and many important programs and essential services that benefit all segments of Pennsylvania’s population.
The ink was barely dry on our budget bill before Governor Wolf vetoed the entire package, a drastic step that hasn’t been used by a Governor in about 40 years. He tossed the entire proposal even though more than two-thirds of the line items in the budget were at or over the amounts he originally requested.
Most notably, former Governor Rendell used the power of a line item veto as an effective tool to highlight and deny funding to areas of contention between the Administration and the Legislature. This practice provided for continued state funding of most services and programs while the two sides negotiated a final settlement.
Ironically, while Governor Wolf has repeatedly trumpeted his support for education, he vetoed a public sector pension reform bill that would have provided billions of dollars in relief to the state and local school districts. Pension costs are by far the largest cost driver for most school district budgets and the primary reason for property tax increases across the Commonwealth. In addition, the Governor vetoed a bill that would have expedited the payment of $5.3 billion in state reimbursements for 547 school construction projects across Pennsylvania.
And, those moves have put us where we are now.
So far this time around, most Pennsylvanians have not felt any impact from the budget impasse. State employees are still working and state parks remain open. But, as time passes the fallout from the lack of a state budget will continue to grow in our communities. County and local governments, as well as school districts, will not see state payments and that will directly impact their ability to do business.
In addition, the impasse will become deeply personal as local social service programs, senior centers and veterans’ programs will feel financial pressure that could have easily been avoided had the governor elected to exercise his line item veto power instead of tossing the entire spending plan aside on June 30.
Instead, it has become a battle of words and rhetoric with no end in sight. The governor remains committed to his tax and spending increases and Senate Republicans are steadfast in our opposition to placing additional and unnecessary financial burdens on working Pennsylvanians and our senior citizens.
Celebrating Economic Growth in Murrysville
Energy Efficiency Grants for Small Business Now Available
Small businesses looking for help in implementing projects to trim energy costs and reduce pollution can now apply for state grants.
The Small Business Advantage Grant Program through the state Department of Environmental Protection provides a 50 percent matching grant of up to $9,500 toward energy efficiency improvements on systems such as lighting, heating, cooling, as well as building insulation projects.
Applications and more information are available by visiting www.dep.state.pa.us and clicking on the “Small Business Advantage Grant” button.
Property Tax Rent Rebate Deadline Extended
The Property Tax Rent Rebate Program provides financial assistance to low-income seniors and disabled individuals by refunding a portion of rent or property taxes paid during the previous year. The application deadline for the program was recently extended to give eligible applicants more time to apply.
Information and applications for the Property Tax Rent Rebate program are available online at www.revenue.state.pa.us or by calling toll-free (888) 222-9190.
Enjoy our local fairs
Summer may be winding down, but there is still time to spend the day at one of our local fairs. I am looking forward to visiting several over the next few weeks, including the Dayton Fair (August 16-22), the Indiana County Fair (August 29-September 5), the Ox Hill Community Fair (September 7-12) and the Cookport Fair (September 13-19). I encourage everyone to come on out with your friends and neighbors and enjoy a local fair.
Mark your calendar
Representatives Donna Oberlander and Jeff Pyle and I will co-host a Senior Expo on Tuesday, September 1, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Kittanning Township Volunteer Fire Department, 13126 State Route 422, Kittanning.
A number of local organizations and businesses, health associations as well as state and federal agencies will be participating in this free event. Representatives will provide information on numerous subjects of interest to older residents including, health care, insurance, nutrition and exercise, fire safety, financial planning and personal safety.
Participants will be eligible for door prizes and free refreshments will be
provided. For more information, please call my Kittanning District Office at
(724) 543-3026 or toll-free at (866) 366-9448.
286 Main Capitol