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On Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit the Scott Township Library to celebrate their 10th Anniversary with them.

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit the Scott Township Library to celebrate their 10th Anniversary with them. I have been proud to have been able to provide financial support for the library in the past and was very grateful of their acknowledgement of that support this past weekend. My thanks to Elaine Pribico, left, and Director Janet Forton, right, for their hospitality and kindness.

Legislation Reconfiguring Port Authority Board

Earlier today, I introduced legislation to reconfigure the Port Authority Board to ensure better representation for those impacted by the decisions made. The actions over the past few days have only emphasized the need to bring a new perspective to the board and the decisions it makes.

The bill would amend the Second Class County Port Authority Act to require the Chief Executive to appoint members to the board that would represent specific segments of the population. The only requirement in the current law is that a member of County Council shall be on the board, a requirement that is kept in my bill. Additionally, the bill would require the appointment of a member of the House and Senate from Allegheny County, a member of the Transit Council, and a member that would represent labor.

The Commonwealth currently provides 63% of the Port Authority’s budget, yet has absolutely no say in the decisions made by the board in regard to service or other issues. This has to change. With over $239 million provided by the state to the authority this past year, it is absolutely necessary that we have a seat at the table. Ensuring that the users (Transit Council) and labor are also at the table is important to provide a full understanding of the issues before the board.

All of the appointees should possess knowledge, ability or skills related to the operation of a transit authority. The bill also provides that, to the extent possible, that the members reflect the racial, ethic, gender and geographic diversity of the county.

Designating members of the board will, hopefully, provide a clearer picture of the state’s responsibility and capability to address funding and to identify options available locally. While the county has fully matched the Act 44 operating funds over the past few years, it has not provided any additional funding to the authority although it lobbied for the Poured Beverage and Car Rental Tax for exactly that purpose. In reality, that tax rate has actually been reduced and the authority has not seen any additional funding. It is time for the county to expand the board’s perspective for its local funding decisions and options.

Currently, the nine-member board is appointed by the Chief Executive and confirmed by County Council. The only requirement is that members must be residents of the county and citizens of the United States and that one member must be a member of County Council.

Budget Hearing Nearing Their End

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee completes a month of budget hearings with the various departments and agencies that receive funding from the Commonwealth. Since Governor Corbett’s budget proposal was released, many of you have contacted me about the issues with which you have an interest. That input and feedback is vitally important to the process and I encourage you to remain in contact with me as the budget moves forward.

As I have said before, this budget laid out the Governor’s priorities, but some of my priorities are very different from his. This past month of budget hearings has shown that is true across the board. We all understand that we must live within our means and while there may be agreement on some of the proposals put forth in this budget address, there is still much work to be done. The concerns about the cuts to education and higher education are shared by members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. The Governor said that this budget has no tax increases and no new fees, the effect of the budget is increased taxes. The proposal put forth by the governor will result in tax increases when school districts have no other option but to increase taxes to pay for basic education. It will result in increases in tuition because higher education was cut so drastically that parents will be taking more money out of their own pockets or young adults will not have the opportunity to go to college. I believe that the Governor has missed the connection between education and jobs, but I can assure you that my colleagues and I have not. I expect that there will be many proposals to increase funding for public education, higher education and other programs. The real question, of course, is from where those funds will come.

Did You Know?

Did you know that there is strong support for a Marcellus shale tax in Pennsylvania? According to a Franklin & Marshall College poll conducted earlier this month, 62% of Pennsylvanians favor taxing companies that extract and sell natural gas in the Commonwealth.

Even after listening to dozens of secretaries and other agency and department officials, I still do not believe that this budget is a “shared sacrifice.” This budget impacts the middle class and rewards big business. The Delaware loophole remains open, the phase out of the Capital Stock & Franchise Tax is still on schedule, there is no Marcellus shale tax, and other changes have been made by rule or executive decision that maintain a structure that requires small businesses and taxpayers to pay more while big business pays less.

Please be assured that I am with you and am going to be your voice on these issues in Harrisburg. Help me raise my voice – by raising yours. We need the voters to tell Governor Corbett that his budget is not their budget. In his budget address, he said that he is doing what the taxpayers sent him to the Governor’s office to do and that the voters have spoken. If you don’t agree with the decisions that he has made, then you need to let him hear you again.

The budget process is always a difficult process. We must work within the parameters that have been set and giving more money in one area means taking away money from another. I don’t know what all of the answers are, but I am going to continue to look for them and fight to protect my constituents.

PA Works – Infrastructure Investment

Infrastructure investment is the fifth piece of the PA Works Plan because it is absolutely critical to creating jobs and stimulating the economy. For Pennsylvania to move forward, we must invest. We must put shovels in the ground. Our transportation infrastructure is in need of serious repair. Our water and sewer systems are old and outdated. Our gas utility lines are failing and we need to upgrade our communications technology.

Some of these things can be addressed immediately. The Caucus is supporting the exploration of public-private partnerships, tolling, and bonding as short-term solutions to our transportation funding woes. We have also encouraged the release of the remaining $172 million of H2O funding for water and sewer projects.

As I detailed in a prior edition of News & Views, there is much to be concerned about with our Transportation budget. The future security of the Federal Highway Trust Fund is in question. The funding available for repair, resurfacing and reconstruction has been decreased with only 300 structurally deficient bridges on the replacement list this year and 210 bridges on the preservation list. The revenue loss from the rejection of the I-80 tolling application is $150 million to transit agencies in capital support and $300 million to PennDOT for highway and bridge improvements. Those funds are just the tip of the iceberg. The PA Transportation Advisory Committee has stated that $3 billion is needed to address PA’s annual unmet transportation funding needs.

During the coming months Senate Democrats will be working with private industry leaders, our federal counterparts in Washington, local government officials, and key stakeholders to understand critical infrastructure funding needs and identify logical funding options to address this essential building block for future job creation and development.

Camp Cadet

Allegheny County Camp Cadet The Allegheny County Police Department is holding Camp Cadet this summer for boys and girls, ages 12 through 14. Camp Cadet will take place from July 24th through July 30th at Camp Guyasuta in O’Hara Township. It is free and open to youth who live in Allegheny County. Applications are being accepted through April 15th. Officers will teach boys and girls about law enforcement activities while they live in an environment similar to a real police academy. Some of the activities include physical training, mock crime scene investigations, mock criminal trials, sporting events and presentations by different agencies. Visit the Allegheny County Camp Cadet website to download an application form, or call Officer Mike Spagnoletti at 412-473-1322 for more information.

Spring and Summer Volunteer Opportunities

Spring is here and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is looking for volunteers for a variety of weekday or weekend projects beginning this Saturday (April 2nd). The projects will only require a few hours of your time and you get to work outdoors. This Saturday the Conservancy will continue improvement work in the Hill District by cleaning up trash and removing vines. The Conservancy is also looking for people who like to dig in the dirt, as some of its future projects involve gardening. These range from regular weeding to planting flowerbeds. To see what opportunities are available and to sign up to volunteer, visit the Volunteer Work Days section on the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy website. Happy volunteering!

Around the District

Budget hearings continued this past Tuesday with appearances by the PA Liquor Control Board, the PA State Police and the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. On Wednesday, the Department of Revenue, Department of Health and the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) were before the Appropriations Committee. The interaction with the various representatives of PASSHE was very helpful to me and my colleagues. Many members and staff members are alums of the system and are very concerned with the impact of the Governor’s proposed cuts were they to become part of the final budget.

Thursday’s hearings included the Department of Environmental Protection, Transportation and Aging, each of which have their own challenges before them. I returned to the district on Thursday evening and finished off the week with meetings on the budget with a variety of groups, grassroots organizations and individual constituents.

On Saturday, I was thrilled to stop in at the 10th Anniversary celebration at the Scott Township library. My thanks to Janet Forton, the Scott Library Director, and Elaine Pribicko who both made me feel so very welcome. Janet was also kind enough to show me a library cart that was one of the items purchased with the past financial support that I was able to secure for the library.

I returned to Harrisburg on Sunday evening and participated in hearings with the Judiciary and the Department of Labor & Industry on Monday. I also had several meetings with local organizations that were in town for the budget hearings and watched an impressive rally by students from PASSHE schools. They numbered in the hundreds and were all there to protest the massive cuts being proposed by Governor Corbett.

Fontana Fact

The Pittsburgh Pirates open the 2011 season on the road against the Chicago Cubs this Friday. This will be the organization’s 124th season dating back to the late 1800’s. On April 30, 1887, the Pittsburgh Alleghenies defeated the Chicago White Stockings 6-2 at Recreation Park in its first National League game (the team wasn’t renamed the Pirates until 1891). Let’s Go Bucs!

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana