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Last Few Weeks for 2011-12 Budget

Today, I joined with my colleagues in a morning press conference where we outlined our priorities for this budget. Now that the Senate has received the House’s version of the budget, negotiations and conversations will begin in earnest. I have real concerns with the House budget because it would harm victims of rape and domestic abuse, people with disabilities, children, elderly and the poor. We should be doing everything that we can to protect and support our most vulnerable citizens.

Did You Know…

A recent survey of PA school districts found that 71% expect to cut instructional programs in the 2011-12 school year to reduce costs and make up for potential funding shortfalls? According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators’ April survey, nearly ¾ of school districts anticipate that they will need to reduce or eliminate educational programs next year in order to balance their budgets, and 86% of districts say they may need to increase class size.

Of course, that is not the only piece of the budget that remains at issue. Although the House budget restores some funding for basic education and higher education, it is not to the level that it was in the prior fiscal year. For our local school districts, that could mean increases in local property taxes or the elimination of tutoring, after-school and pre-school programs. For the City of Pittsburgh, it has already meant the loss of a program aimed at bringing young, energetic teachers to the city schools.

I still have grave concerns about the steps that the Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) plans to take to consolidate services. I will continue to advocate for the separation of the line items for Small Business Development Centers, the Industrial Resource Centers, the Local Development Districts, and Industrial Development Corporations, rather than seeing the programs collapsed into the proposed Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance, or PREP Program. Earlier today, I also called on DCED Secretary Walker to provide information on their proposal for the Liberty Loan Fund and to engage in an open dialogue about the changes that they would like to make and what the proposal will encompass.

Please be assured that I have received the many communications from my constituents about their specific interests and concerns related to the budget, and have noted all of them. I appreciate your advocacy and interest in the budget issues and am glad for the communications. I rely upon that information to determine what the budget priorities are for my district. As we move into the final weeks of the budget, I pledge to be your voice here. It is not going to be an easy process - 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.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Application Deadline Extended

Property Tax Relief Have you filed for the Property Tax & Rent Rebate Program yet? The deadline has been extended until December 31, 2011. If you are a Pennsylvanian age 65 and older, a person with a disability 18 and older, or a widow or widower age 50 and older, you may be eligible. Income limits are $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters. The maximum standard rebate is $650, but supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners can increase rebates to $975. You can stop by any one of my district offices to get a claim form (PA-1000), receive help in completing your application, and check the status of your claim.

More than 600,000 people are expected to receive a benefit under the program, with 120,000 seniors having their school district property tax bill eliminated. Rebates will be sent out beginning July 1st. Eligible residents who submit their application after June 30th will receive their claim after it is processed. You may also check the status of claims online by visiting the PA Department of Revenue website or call 1-888-PATAXES. The program is supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

Free Asthma Camp

The Duquesne University Mylan School of Pharmacy is offering a series of free asthma camps for children (ages 5 to 17) beginning this Saturday, June 11th. The camp sessions will provide screenings, education on asthma control and a chance to exercise with Duquesne athletes. Each camp will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the A.J. Palumbo Center on the following dates: June 11th, July 2nd, and August 6th.

Walk-ins are welcome, but a parent or guardian must accompany their children. If you are interested in registering your child for asthma camp, you may call 412-396-2155. Physicians from the Department of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at Allegheny General Hospital and members of For Your Good Health are also involved in the project.

Pup-Nights at PNC Park

Pup-NightsIn what’s become an annual tradition at PNC Park, fans are invited to bring their dog to a Pirates game. Once a month, the Pirates hold “Pup-Night” at PNC Park so that fans can experience a game with their dog (one dog per person per game limit) while raising funds and awareness for animal-friendly related causes. Tickets are $20 a game and can be ordered by calling 412-325-4797. A portion of the proceeds benefit local animal shelters. The Pup-Night schedule includes the following games:

June 21st (vs. the Baltimore Orioles)
July 5th (vs. the Houston Astros)
August 16th (vs. the St. Louis Cardinals)
September 13th (vs. the St. Louis Cardinals)

Around the District

This past week was a short week in the office with the Memorial Day holiday, but I was proud to participate in, and have my staff represent me at, so many celebrations in honor of those who died in service to our country.

National Volunteer WeekOn Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Elder-Ado Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon and thank the many volunteers who make this organization, and so many others, run. As part of that recognition, I presented the organization with copies of Senate Resolution 87, designating National Volunteer Week in PA. The resolution pays tribute to those individuals who strengthen our communities and provide services that may not otherwise be available. Volunteerism has never been more important as we are all being asked to do more with less.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday included meetings with a number of organizations in the district that are making or planning big improvements in our region, including Duquesne University and the Ohio Valley General Hospital. I appreciate their updates and information and look forward to continuing to work together with them for the district.

The week was rounded out with budget issues and budget requests and concerns. As I noted above, the House’s version of the budget has now been sent to the Senate and activity will begin in earnest. Yesterday, the food banks in PA received a generous donation through the Strike for Hunger Event where the PA Bowling Proprietors Association made a donation for every bowling ball thrown down their make-shift lane in the Capitol. The day also included meetings with representatives of the PA Professional Fire Fighters Association, the PA Beer Alliance and the PA State Building Trades Council, all of which were participating in lobby days in the Capitol.

Fontana Fact

Hall of Famer Honus Wagner (a.k.a. the “Flying Dutchman”) batted .300 or better 14 of his 18 seasons with the Pirates. In 1901, his second season with the club, Wagner helped the Pirates win the National League pennant for the first time by hitting .353 with 126 RBI’s, 101 runs scored and 49 stolen bases.

 

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana