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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 

It’s Time for Huge Non-Profits to Pay Their Fair Share of Pittsburgh’s Tax Burden

Recently, our city’s financial overseers released a five-year plan aimed toward greater stability. While I applaud the recovery officers’ ongoing effort toward a path of reasonable, financial sustainability for Pittsburgh, I have serious reservations about a provision in this plan that would raise property taxes.

calculatorSome of the reaction to the recommendations in the Act 47 plan in recent days has been that more needs to be done at the state level to help address the city’s budget woes, including calls for allowing a commuter tax. While I agree that the state should seek legislative solutions that could help the city, I disagree with imposing new taxes directly upon area individuals. As the mayor and city council consider options, they must look to reliable and sustainable funding mechanisms. One better option for moving forward is through legislation that I authored in the Senate.

My proposal (Senate Bill 143 (SB 143) would require non-profit organizations to pay taxes on the assessed value of their land. An exemption for the first $200,000 of land value is included in the legislation to protect smaller organizations such as health clinics, charitable organizations and churches to allow them to continue their missions. However, larger companies have been achieving record profits year after year while the city is suffering substantial revenue losses. We should examine alternatives such as SB 143 further before we wade into “solutions” that would only serve to harm those who are struggling the most among us.

To put things into perspective, let’s examine some numbers. The total worth of all tax-exempt land in Pittsburgh is over $2.4 billion. By going with the total worth of an organization’s real estate, non-profit-owned land in Pittsburgh would have an estimated worth of nearly $526 million under the guidelines set forth in SB 143. Under the proposal, a combined city-school district-county tax rate on that real estate could help garner an estimated $166 million.

I am open to suggestions on ways to improve the bill. For example, the exemption on assessed land value could be raised above $200,000. In a scenario where we increase the amount to $500,000, approximately $127 million in revenue could be gained. If we were to amend the legislation to tax on a per parcel basis rather than on the total assessed land value, there would be a slight decrease in revenue generated, but it would still garner a substantial amount. Keeping with an exemption for the first $200,000 in land value, a per parcel formula would provide an estimated $125 million. Again raising that threshold to $500,000, an estimated $111 million could be generated.

Unfortunately, I have gathered little support in Harrisburg for my proposal even though it seems like common sense to enact a statewide law that would obligate large non-profit corporations to pay their fair share. After all, they too benefit from the services that our municipalities provide each and every day -- just like our taxpaying homeowners.

Basic Education Funding Commission Study

House Bill 1738 (HB 1738) was signed into law as Act 51 of 2014 last week that will create a 15-member commission to develop a basic education funding formula for Pennsylvania’s schools.  Currently, Pennsylvania divvies up state funding to school districts in proportions that have remained fixed and are no longer applicable under this economic climate.  The passage of this legislation means the method will be re-evaluated and address any inequalities through development of a new formula for the distribution of any future increase in basic education funding. 

additionPennsylvania is one of only three states that do not have a funding formula.  Rather, the General Assembly enacts a new basic education funding formula each year.  For several years now, the formula to each school district is at least the same level of funding as the district received in the prior year.  However, this manner of distributing of moneys has failed to recognize the differing needs of schools with increasing or decreasing enrollment levels among other elements.

Some of the factors that the commission will use to determine a new funding formula for basic education are as follows:

  • Market value/personal income aid
  • Millage rate
  • Geographic price differences for each school district
  • Exceptionally high enrollment growth
  • Exceptionally high level of local support
  • Level of students in poverty
  • Students identified as limited English proficient
  • The scarcity/density of a population in relation to the district size

The commission will issue a report of its findings in one year and at that time recommend a more equitable way to distribute the state’s education budget.  I supported this bill because I feel that a fair education funding allocation system is well overdue and we owe it to the future generations as well as school districts’ sustainability.  

Deadline for Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Extended

Tax form If you have not filed for a rebate through the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rent Rebate program, the deadline has been extended.  The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue will now be accepting applications through December 31st.  The previous deadline had been June 30th.

If you received a rebate last year, you should have received an application in the mail.  If you did not receive an application, or did not apply last year and wish to apply this year, the applications can be obtained from any of my district offices and my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and over; widows and widowers age 50 and over; and people with disabilities age 18 and over.  Homeowners with a yearly income of $35,000 and renters with a maximum yearly income of $15,000 are eligible to receive a rebate.  The maximum standard rebate is $650.  Distribution of rebates will begin on July 1st.  After June 30th, rebates will be distributed as claims are received and processed.

Did You Know…

Did you know that 600,000 older Pennsylvanians and residents with disabilities are expected to receive a rebate through the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program in 2014?

10th Annual FontanaFest Changing Venues

FontanafestI am excited to announce that FontanaFest, the 10th annual, is changing venues this year.  This year’s annual community event is being held at Highmark Stadium at Station Square, home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday, August 9th from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.  Children in attendance will have the opportunity to participate in soccer activities with members of the Riverhounds on the field at Highmark Stadium.  Other activities include inflatables, balloon making and crafts, along with the chance for children and families to receive important information on exercise, nutrition, healthy lifestyles, health care, education and jobs and jobs training.  Lunch and beverages will be provided, and once again, IT’S ALL FREE!  Station Square will be providing free parking in the Stadium’s West Lot for attendees from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Make sure you save the date, Saturday, August 9th and note the change in venues this year.  I will make sure to update you with more information on the 10th Annual FontanaFest as the summer moves along.

FAFSA Completion Sessions for Community College Enrollees

PHEAA PHEAA As Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to remind students and families that August 1st is the deadline for first-time applicants to file an application for the 2014-15 Pennsylvania State Grant Program.  This deadline applies only to students planning to enroll in a community college; business, trade or technical school; school of nursing; or a two-year program that is not transferable to another institution.  For first-time applicants planning to enroll in a degree program or a college transferable program at a junior college or other college or university, excluding community colleges, or all renewal applicants, the deadline to apply was May 1st.

Any student applying for a Pennsylvania State Grant must also complete and submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  The FAFSA is the federal form that all students must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance.  The FAFSA can be accessed online at www.fafsa.gov.  Completing the FAFSA online saves time and reduces application and processing errors.

CCAC ccac The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is hosting a series of FAFSA Completion Sessions this summer where students can receive assistance in completing and submitting the FAFSA.  The schedule for FAFSA Completion Sessions is as follows:

June 25th, 11 a.m. – noon
CCAC Allegheny
808 Ridge Avenue
Financial Aid Office
Pittsburgh, PA  15212

July 12th, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
ALL CCAC Campuses and Centers
Complete listing at www.ccac.edu

July 8th, 1 – 2:30 p.m.
CCAC West Hills Center
1000 McKee Road
Oakdale, PA  15071

July 17th, 5 – 6:30 p.m.
CCAC North
8701 Perry Highway
Pittsburgh, PA  15237

Art of the State

Art of the StateThe 47th Annual Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2014 exhibit at the State Museum of Pennsylvania opens to the public this weekend and a constituent from the 42nd Senatorial District is among the artists featured this year.  Alan Byrne, a resident of Bellevue, is having his painting, Brown Fedora, featured at this year’s exhibit.  Mr. Byrne’s work was one of 122 works that was selected from nearly 1,800 entries.  The exhibit represents the work of 115 Pennsylvania artists from 31 counties.

The exhibit at The State Museum in Harrisburg is open to the public from June 22nd – September 14th.  In addition to fine arts, The State Museum also offers exhibits and programs on Pennsylvania’s human and natural history.  Information regarding events can be found at www.statemuseumpa.org

Congratulations to Alan Byrne on this terrific accomplishment!

chuck NollPassing of a Legend

Pittsburgh lost one of its great legends and ambassadors last week with the passing of former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll.  Coach Noll was 82 years old.  He is the only coach in NFL history to have won four Super Bowl titles and won 209 games as head coach of the Steelers from 1969-1991.  He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.  Coach Noll built the Steelers into a powerhouse at a time when the city of Pittsburgh and this region needed something to rally around.  I extend my condolences to Coach Noll’s family and friends.

Cinema in the Park

Cinema in the ParkThe City of Pittsburgh Citiparks is once again hosting Cinema in the Park this summer at seven parks around the city of Pittsburgh.  Movies begin at dusk on their scheduled dates.  To view a listing of scheduled movies and the dates and locations, please click here.  Movies will be shown through the end of August at the following parks:  Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville; Brookline Memorial Park; Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park; Grandview Park in Mt. Washington; Highland Park; Riverview Park; and West End/Elliott Overlook. 

Volunteer Opportunities

Open Your Heart to a Senior, an initiative of the United Way of Allegheny County in cooperation with Family Services of Western Pennsylvania and North Hills Community Outreach, is in need of volunteers.  Volunteers Open Your Heart to a Seniorare needed in all neighborhoods throughout Allegheny County to assist seniors with light yard work this summer.  This is a great summer volunteer opportunity for teens and groups and the time commitment is flexible.  To register as a volunteer with Open Your Heart to a Senior please call 412-307-0071 or email Allegheny@openyourhearttoasenior.org.

Heinz KetchupFontana Fact

Today the H.J. Heinz Company sells its products in over 200 countries around the world.  Its most popular item is ketchup as it sells more than 650 million bottles each year.  The company got its start in 1869 in Sharpsburg when Henry John Heinz began producing and packaging pickled horseradish with Clarence Noble and together formed Heinz Noble & Company.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

  Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Fax: 412-344-3400
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol
Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plz.
524 Pine Hollow Rd
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Fax: 412-331-2079
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone: 412-343-2080
Fax: 412-343-2418
Open Your Heart to a Senior Art of the State 2014