Subscribe to this e-update.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Budget Season Begins in Harrisburg

As the Legislature returns to Harrisburg for June budget season this week, I wanted to provide a brief review and status update on where things stand. As always, I will continue to keep you informed as details on a resolution for the final budget emerge.

Governor’s Proposed Budget

capitolThe Governor’s original February plan proposed a $29.4 billion budget.

A proposed “Healthy PA Plan” opted to expand Medicaid through the private Healthcare Exchange, but would require federal approval to make additional changes in current Medicaid plan benefits. The budget assumed implementation beginning January 1, 2015, with four months of state budget savings totaling $125 million due to the shift of some eligible recipients from state to federally funded benefit plans.

The Governor’s budget was also filled with several one-time funding maneuvers totaling more than $1.2 billion. A list of these one-time revenue plans is listed below:

  • Transferring $225 million of cash and equity investments from the Tobacco Settlement Investment Board to the Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) to reduce state employer pension payments.
  • Reducing General Fund payments to PSERS & SERS by more than $170 million by reducing pension collars from 4.5% to 2.25% of payroll.
  • Transferring $130 million in Lottery Fund proceeds above the typical amounts transferred in prior years to offset General Fund support for home and community based care programs.
  • Delaying $393 million in provider payments for physical and behavioral health services until the next fiscal year. Providers will simply lose one month of payment for services next year.
  • “Escheat Reform” which would reduce the holding period from 5 to 3 years before crediting the General Fund for the receipt of an estimated $150 million in unclaimed property by the state.
  • Transferring $75 million from the Oil & Gas Fund to the General Fund through ”Non Surface Impact drilling” in state parks & forests.
  • Transferring $62.8 million from the Tobacco Settlement fund to the General Fund above typical amounts transferred in prior fiscal years to offset Long Term Care costs.

Current Revenue Shortfall

Revenues have now fallen below estimate for the past five consecutive months. This negative budget picture grew dramatically worse in April when revenues fell $328 million under April’s estimate. With only two months remaining, year to date collections are now $505 million less than what was forecasted. All major tax categories are significantly beneath estimates and total projected tax collections for the current fiscal year are expected to fall below last year’s total. This is unprecedented during a period of sustained national economic growth.

On May 1st the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) issued its preliminary revenue forecast for both the current and next fiscal year. Their forecast assumes a year end shortfall of $569 million this year. The IFO recommends lowering the Governor’s February revenue estimate for next year by an additional $778 million. Together these assumptions create more than a $1.3 billion hole in the governor’s current budget plan.

Senate Democratic Caucus Budget Plans

In anticipation of the deteriorating fiscal climate in Harrisburg, Senate Democrats offered a list of $1.1 billion in commonsense budget alternatives that could help eliminate the current revenue shortfall and maintain or grow essential state support for education, human service programs, and other critical funding needs. That list includes the following options among others:

  • Medicaid Expansion ($400 million)
  • Enact responsible Marcellus Shale Tax ($700 million)
  • Escheat Reform ($150 million)
  • Wine and Spirits Modernization ($125 million)
  • Charter School Funding Reform ($85.5 million)
  • Freeze corporate tax cuts ($75 million)

Saving the August Wilson Center

(Below is an opinion piece authored by Senator Fontana that was distributed to media outlets)

August Wilson CenterAs the fate of Pittsburgh’s treasured August Wilson Center for African American Culture inches closer to foreclosure, it is time to step back from this pitched battle between bidders, bankers and community authorities and examine amicable and innovative solutions.

In my view, we should explore combined and creative ways to use available and prospective resources to satisfy the center’s debt with an eye toward preserving the integrity and viability of the center’s future. This solution would include contributions from all of the players.

Without wading into the dispute and legal entanglements that have marred the potential sale of the center, why not explore resolutions that encourage the growth and attractiveness of that site while saving the center?

Let’s strike an agreement with the hotel developer that would enhance the appeal of that area, generate greater tourism and attract even more financial investment to that part of the city. In doing so, why not negotiate a way to use some of the hotel’s resources to help preserve the center? Payments for air space, hotel access through the center and some mutually beneficial rental agreement would help retire the debt, preserve the center’s noble mission and support its operation into the future.

Why not also work in the $5 million offer from the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation to further the original mission of the center? Using these combined resources would more than cover the center’s debt and bolster its viability for years to come.

In essence, we need to reach a resolution that welcomes this promising development while preserving the center’s space and original mission. All of the parties in this matter have already expressed a willingness to pursue such a workable resolution.

We just need to find a creative way to put such an arrangement together. I am confident that if the players in this matter step away from entrenched positions, we can find a way to make this work. Once we agree to such a blueprint, I am confident the financial details will work themselves out. So, let’s get started.

August Wilson once wrote, “It ain't nothing to find no starting place in the world. You just start from where you find yourself.”

Before some bankruptcy court chooses winners and losers, let’s first bring everyone together to see what we can collectively accomplish.

Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program

The 2014 Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) is available to eligible consumers across Allegheny County.  Eligible individuals can receive one set of checks, worth a total of $20, to be spent at participating farmers’ markets through November 30th on produce that is grown in Pennsylvania or purchased directly from a Pennsylvania farmer.

farmers marketAll Allegheny County residents who will be 60 years of age or older by December 31st and who meet the income guidelines are eligible.  For a one person household, the income limit is $21,590 and for a two person household, the income limit is $29,101.  Married couples may each receive one set of checks.

Checks will be distributed on June 17th at select times at well over 50 senior center locations throughout Allegheny County.  For a complete schedule, please click here and then click on the link titled “2014 Farmers’ Market Distribution Locations and Times.”  You will be required to show proof of residence upon picking up the checks.  If an eligible consumer requires a proxy to receive their checks, the proxy is responsible for signing for and spending the checks for the individual.  All individuals must complete a proxy form in order to have a proxy receive checks for them.  Proxy forms can also be obtained by clicking on the link provided above and then clicking on the link titled “2014 Farmers’ Market Proxy Form.”

Did You Know…

Did you know there are over 63,000 farms in Pennsylvania and the average farm size is 124 acres?

Veterans Symposium

Allegheny County is hosting a Veterans Symposium on June 14th at the Foerster Student Center at the CCAC Allegheny Campus from 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.  Veterans and their families are encouraged to attend and connect with local agencies, groups and organizations that provide valuable resources.  Vendors and agency representatives will be available throughout the day.

Veterans SymposiumRegistration and a continental breakfast will begin at 8 a.m. followed by Keynote Speaker, Sergeant Major Bart Womack at 9 a.m.  There will be six breakout sessions covering issues specific to veterans including employment, entrepreneurship, benefits, mental health, education and legal issues.  After lunch and a panel discussion the morning breakout sessions will be repeated.

The event is free and open to the public.  Pre-registration is encouraged by not required.  For more information on the Veterans Symposium and to pre-register, please call 412-350-6109.

Side Yard and Blighted Structure Program

The Allegheny County Department of Economic Development has launched its 2014 Side Yard and Blighted Structure Program through its Vacant Property Recovery Program.  This program provides an opportunity for individuals, businesses, non-profits or government entities to apply for lots at a discounted price to the applicant. 

Allegheny County will accept applications to acquire vacant properties in 28 municipalities at a reduced cost to the applicant.  These municipalities include:  Carnegie; Coraopolis; Green Tree; Heidelberg; and Scott Township.  Applications must be submitted no later than August 30th.  Up to 60 applications will be accepted on a first come-first served basis and only five applications will be accepted per municipality to ensure all municipalities and residents have an opportunity to apply.

Discounts similar to the 2014 Side Yard and Blighted Structure Program are available on an ongoing basis in the other 16 municipalities that currently participate in the Vacant Property Recovery Program including:  McKees Rocks; Sharpsburg; and Stowe Township.  Funding for the program is provided through Community Development Block Grant funds, Allegheny County general funds and applicant payments towards acquisition costs. 

For more information, or to request an application, please contact 412-350-1090.

Future of Public Transportation

Port Authority Port Authority Forum The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is inviting transit riders and local citizens to share their vision for the future of public transportation in our region through PAT’s new community engagement website.  Forward Thinking, located at http://paac.mindmixer.com/ presents a variety of questions on topics including capital projects, barriers to transit use, and accessibility for seniors and riders with disabilities.  Participants can share their thoughts or weigh in on ideas submitted by others.  The site will help PAT collect ideas from riders and local citizens and collectively will assist in generating a vision of a modern transit system throughout Allegheny County.

Members of the Port Authority’s Board of Directors, CEO Ellen McLean, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald will be participating in the discussion and listening to participants’ thoughts and suggestions.  The site will be active through at least June 13th.  If interested in participating in this online forum, please visit http://paac.mindmixer.com/ to get started.

Communities Honored

Allegheny LeagueRecently the Allegheny League of Municipalities (ALOM) announced that 31 member municipalities were designated as banner communities in 2014.  The Banner Community program is designed to recognize municipalities that implement best practices.  Included among the honored communities were several that reside in the new 42nd Senatorial District including:  Castle Shannon Borough; Heidelberg Borough; Reserve Township; Scott Township; and Sharpsburg Borough.

These communities had to meet certain criteria including showing participation in educational and training programs; being active members in good standings; participation in their COG through meeting attendance, cooperative purchasing program and shared services; conduct a local government week activity; conduct an effective citizen communication program; and promote and implement long-term sustainable governing practices.  Congratulations to the honored communities!

Duquesne Center for Pharmacy Services

Duquesne Center for Pharmacy ServicesThe Duquesne University Center for Pharmacy Services is hosting a series of community outreach activities this summer including preventative health screenings, healthy heart classes, health and wellness education talks, and other activities that are free and open to the public.  To view the listing of summer outreach events, please click here.

Duquesne’s Center for Pharmacy Services is a community pharmacy located in the Hill District neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh.  The goal of the Center is to improve access to medications and patient adherence, while enhancing medication safety and reducing overall health care expenditures.

Josh GibsonFontana Fact

On this date (June 3rd) in 1937, Josh Gibson hit a 580-foot home run in Yankee Stadium, thought by many as the longest home run ever hit in that ballpark and one of the longest home runs hit anywhere.  In 17 seasons with the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays, Josh Gibson hit a remarkable 962 home runs.  He passed away three months after Jackie Robinson started playing in Major League Baseball and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

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
August Wilson Center Duquesne Center for Pharmacy Services