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PA Film Tax Credit Freeze

As you may have heard by now, Governor Corbett has instructed the Department of Community & Economic Development to stop accepting applications for the PA Film Production Tax Credit Program. Although the budget agreement reached by the General Assembly calls for $60 million in credits to be available, and those credits are against future revenues and do nothing to help the current budget – that is the decision that has been made.

Like you, I was shocked to hear that he has taken such action and am deeply concerned about the impact that it will have on jobs and revenues in our region. I support the Film Tax Credit and have long been an advocate for this program. I have boasted of its impact on our region and state in many forums. In the News & Views alone, I have frequently spoken about the productions occurring in our region – and the impact that it has on our economy. I will continue to voice that message, but I do not have a decision on this issue. It is solely in the hands of the Governor. Although I have asked for more detailed information on why the freeze was imposed, which productions it impacts and when it will be lifted, I have yet to receive those answers.

In 2009, an independent report on the Film Production Tax Credit showed that it has a high level of multiplier impacts and is in the top 10% of Commonwealth industries. That report showed that the program has an estimated $58.2 million cost to the Commonwealth in terms of tax credits. The industry generates an estimated $17.9 million in additional state and local tax revenues and also produces fiscal benefits of $62.7 million. For FY 2007-08 (the dates reviewed for the last report), direct spending from the movie industry totaled $267.3 million, the output totaled $524.6 million, wages totaled $146.5 million and 3,960 jobs were created.

Port Authority Route Changes

Many of you have contacted me by phone and expressed concerns that your route is being cut or that the service has been reduced. While I appreciate your advocacy on this issue, the information that has been put out is misleading and, in some cases, incorrect.

Last year, when the proposed service cuts were going to reach 35%, I and other members of the Allegheny County delegation in the General Assembly lobbied the Governor to help sustain mass transit in Allegheny County. Because of our actions, the Governor identified $45 million in unused economic development funds that were directed to the Port Authority. As a result, the Board scaled back the cuts to only 15% so that the additional $45 million secured by the legislature would last for 18 months. (Had it not been for the legislature's request and advocacy, the proposed cuts would be at 35% right now.)

Pennsylvania currently provides 63% of the Port Authority's budget. In this fiscal year, the state provided $184.4 million in operating assistance and another $34.9 million in asset maintenance for a total of $219.3 million in state support. The budget is also funded by revenues from riders ($78.6 million), federal funds ($22.3 million) and local funds ($30 million), but the BULK of the funding comes directly from the state.

A large part of the Port Authority's budget includes post-retirement benefits, specifically health care. Health care and pension expenses have risen at an annual rate of 21.8%. These costs are impacting the authority's ability to operate. As a comparison, the line item for post-retirement health care in the Port Authority budget this year totals $34 million. The Southeastern PA Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which is located in Philadelphia and is four times the size of the Port Authority, has a line item for post-retirement health care of only $8 million. Pennsylvania state law prohibits any further restructuring of pension and health care benefits for retirees, who currently make up 50% of the authority's costs. Only the union itself could make changes.

Based on that information, it is unlikely that more funding will be forthcoming from the state for the Port Authority at this time. The state has provided substantial funding to mass transit across the state, but the Port Authority's legacy costs are continuing to drive this issue. The post-retirement benefits for which the authority is responsible (specifically health care) have risen at an annual rate of 21.8%. They must come up with a solution, locally, to address that cost. The local match is funded by Allegheny County's drink and car rental taxes. In peer cities across the country, only Baltimore and Salt Lake City provide less local funding to their transit than Allegheny County does - and Baltimore's system is actually operated by the state of Maryland.

Last but not least, I have no role in the decision that was made on service cuts and reductions. It is entirely in the hands of the Port Authority Board and it is those individuals that you should be contacting, if you have not done so already. You can do so by visiting their website at www.portauthority.org and clicking on "Contact Us" or by calling Customer Service at 412-442-2000.

Homestead Exemption Deadline Approaches

If you haven’t yet filed a homestead exemption application for your property, there’s still time. The deadline for application is next Tuesday, March 1st. Under the Gaming Act, property tax relief money for property owners who have filed for the homestead exemption is sent directly to the school district and is credited against your property tax bill.

You only need to file a homestead exemption once. If you have already done so you do not need to do it again. If you need help determining whether you already have a homestead exemption on your property, stop by any one of my district offices and my staff will be happy to assist you. You can also visit my website for information on how to check for your homestead exemption by yourself and more information on the program and taxpayer relief provided through gaming.

Spring Job Fair

Are you looking for a job? Whether you’re unemployed or trying to find another job, the Community College of Allegheny County’s (CCAC) Spring Job Fair is just your opportunity. Come meet with employers who have jobs that need filled immediately on Wednesday, March 9th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at CCAC’s South Campus (Building B, 4th Floor Commons). The Job Fair is free and open to the public, so dress professionally and bring plenty of resumes!

Don’t Forget…

You can also search for jobs 24/7 on the front windows of my Brookline Boulevard office at the Job Corner. Employment information received from companies throughout our region is posted in the windows on an ongoing basis. If you haven’t checked out the Job Corner for yourself, or haven’t viewed it lately, I invite you to stop by.

 

Resource Guide for Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing

The Behavioral Health Task Force has recently updated its online resource guide for persons who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing. The Southwestern Pennsylvania-area resource guide contains a list of regional behavioral health care providers that work with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. It also has information for persons who are deafblind, physicians, audiologists, behavioral health care professionals and the general public. There are more than a dozen agencies and programs listed in the guide.

You can download and print the guide for free on the Behavioral Health Task Force for Persons who are Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing of Allegheny County website and on the Allegheny County Department of Human Services website. If you have questions or concerns regarding your rights and accommodations, call the Disabilities Rights Network intake line at 1-800-692-7443.

Around the District

The early part of last week was spent in Harrisburg. I had several meetings with constituents and interest groups including the Boilermakers, Calgon Carbon Corporation, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, companies interested in the future of the PA Recycling Market Center, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, the Broadband Cable Association and Duquesne University.

The Law & Justice Committee also met last week for the first in what will be a series of hearings on the issue of possibly privatizing the liquor stores.

Back in the district, I met with the developers of the One Grandview Hotel/Condo project in Mt. Washington for an update on their progress. As I noted a few weeks ago, you can keep up with the progress of the project yourself by “friending” them on Facebook.

On Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of presenting Senate proclamations to Phillip Ameris, Sr., John Weinstein and Samuel Staten, Sr. on behalf of my colleagues from Allegheny County. All three men received awards at the 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Community Fund Dinner. Congratulations to each of them on the recognition!

On Friday, it was my pleasure to talk with members of the Constructive Legislative Council of Western PA about what is going on in Harrisburg and to discuss with them the issues that are of interest and importance to them.

Although I was unable to attend, Tony Mosesso of my staff ably represented me at the Brentwood VFW 49th Person of the Year Banquet where The Honorable Mike McCarthy, Judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, was recognized with the Person of the Year award. A Senate Resolution was presented to Judge McCarthy on behalf of myself and Senator Orie, congratulating him on this great honor.

Fontana Fact

Did you know Pittsburgh played a major role in the coffee market in the 1800’s? A man by the name of John Arbuckle (1838-1912) packaged the first ground coffee in Pittsburgh. John invented a machine which filled, weighed, sealed and labeled coffee in paper packages. Arbuckles’ Ariosa Coffee emerged as a major seller of American coffee. The company got its start in the 1860’s on Pittsburgh’s Liberty Avenue, which is where the Arbuckle family owned a grocery business.


 

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana