The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the 2014-15 budget last week, a $29.1 billion spending plan. Unfortunately, the majority party in both chambers’ misguided priorities balanced the budget with over $1.75 billion in one-time revenue sources that almost promise the need to raise taxes next year while at the same time still managing to underfund schools, job creation programs and human services.
This budget also counts on $75 million from the awarding of two casino licenses; $95 million from leasing the ground under state forest land to gas drillers and $150 million from the state shortening the time it holds onto unclaimed property. But once again, there are no guarantees of these revenue amounts.
Due to the fiscally irresponsibility as well as the inability for Republicans to work in a bi-partisan manner to address some of the Democrats’ concerns and suggestions, I voted against the 2014-15 budget. The following is a more detailed breakdown of the 2014-15 fiscal plan:
- Funding for the Department of Agriculture is set to increase about 3 million for a total of $126.8 million for the new budget year.
- Despite food insecurities reaching an all-time high in Pennsylvania, funding for the State Food Purchase Program will remain at last year's level which is $17.4 million. Under this program, the state provides cash grants to counties to buy and distribute food for low-income people through food pantries and soup kitchens.
Colleges and Universities
- The 2014-15 budget overall provides $1.6 billion for higher education, with most colleges and universities receiving about the same that they did last year.
- Community Colleges will see a slight increase ($3.5 million) in hopes that it may help to keep tuition increases a little lower.
- The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities, funding was not cut, but students who attend these schools might see larger classes and other changes, along with higher tuition bills, as a result.
- Funding for the state's need-based grant program stayed the same, but included in the higher education budget is a new $5 million Ready-to-Succeed merit-based scholarship program for middle-income families.
- The 2014-2015 budget for Community & Economic Development decreases by about $32 million compared to the 2013-2014 budget, from $236.3 million to $204.5 million.
- This major cut will affect marketing programs to attract new businesses and residents to the Commonwealth significantly. The Pennsylvania First grant and loan program, through which companies can receive state money for improvements such as new machinery and job training, was cut nearly in half, from about $37.8 million to $20 million which is just one example of the Governor’s lack of investment towards job creation and business sustainability.
- $10 million increase for early childhood education bringing the total to $97.3 million.
- The budget replaces the $100 million Accountability Block Grant program with a $200 million Ready-to-Learn Block Grant program, which gives the schools more flexibility in how they choose to spend their share of funding.
- The primary state funding that helps support district’s operating budgets, the basic education subsidy, saw no increase and will remain at $5.526 billion which means most schools will be looking to increase property tax rates to fund their budget. This is due in part to make up for the more than $1 billion in education cuts since Governor Corbett took office with the overall cumulative loss of nearly $3 billion in state resources.
- Includes $19.8 million for special education that will be distributed to the state’s 500 school districts on the basis of a three-tiered formula that considers the severity of a student’s disability and other factors. Although special education will see a $20 million increase, we need to remember that this item in the budget has received flat level funding over the past six years even though the special education costs to districts have risen more than $400 million during this time period.
- $10 million for school construction and renovation projects which is known as “PlanCon” will be allocated from this budget to end a moratorium that existed in the program. However, this amount is not nearly enough when you consider the more than $1.2 billion in backlog of construction reimbursement that is due to school districts.
- Funding for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was cut in half, from $30 million to $15 million.
- As mentioned previously, this fiscal plan will raise around $95 million by leasing about 6,000 more acres of land under the state parks and forests to natural gas drillers.
- The budget also increases funding for the Department of Environmental Protection by more than $31 million with the majority of the moneys coming from drilling in the state forests.
- Total funding for the state Department of Public Welfare is $11.2 billion. This funding covers health-related programs, including health care for the poor, programs for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and programs to care for frail seniors in nursing homes or to help them continue to live at home.
- The Department of Health will receive $199.4 million.
- The budget will use about $500 million in state lottery funds for Medicaid programs including nursing home care for seniors. Lottery funds have typically been used to cover other programs for seniors whereas funding for Medicaid programs came out of the General Fund.
- Public libraries will see level funding under the 2014-2015 state budget of $53.5 million, as well as services for the visually impaired and disabled ($2.5 million) and services designated under library access ($3 million).
- Moneys for the statewide card reimbursement program - which provides funding for library users who live in other counties - was eliminated a few years ago, yet county library systems are required to run the program.
- The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which oversees about 40 state-owned sites across the Commonwealth, including museums, zoos and popular destinations, will remain level in the 2014-15 state budget at $20.9 million.
- The cost of incarcerating Pennsylvania's 51,000 state prison inmates has officially exceeded $2 billion, the third highest expense for the state behind welfare and education. The new fiscal plan increased funding for prisons by nearly $20 million over Gov. Corbett's proposed budget, for a grand total of $2.06 billion.
- The State Police will receive $13.7 million for four new classes of State Police cadets and will acquire an additional $3.9 million on top of that.
The 2014-15 budget, although passed on time, is still pending enactment due to the lack of Governor Corbett’s signature.
Captain Sean M. Ruane Memorial Highway
This week, Governor Corbett signed Act 103 into law. This act officially designates the portion of Route 51 near Fleming Park Road in Kennedy Township as the Captain Sean M. Ruane Memorial Highway. Captain Ruane, a Kennedy Township native who bravely served the United States Air Force in tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, was stationed with his wife and son in England, where he was killed in a tragic accident in January. Nothing can replace such a terrible and unexpected loss, but I hope that this act will help to serve as a lasting reminder of the great sacrifices and risks our heroes in the military, like Captain Ruane, endure in their defense of the United States.
Highmark – UPMC
Last week, I wrote that Highmark and UPMC came to two separate agreements with the Commonwealth. This will provide in-network access to some UPMC services and facilities for Highmark members during a transition period that will start once the companies’ contract expires at the end of this year. Now that more details are available, I would like to share them with you.
Under this “Patients First” agreement, some services or groups will be protected with in-network access without expiration. These include emergency room care, which includes inpatient admissions and continuing care; any and all cancer care; and all seniors in any existing Highmark plan. Further, if a Highmark member needs continuing care, for example due to injury or pregnancy, or if they are unable to find an alternative physician in their area, their care will be continued into 2015 until treatment has been completed. Highmark has stated that it will make a major effort to help direct its members to new physicians. Overall, though, they say that the majority of their members will be able to keep their doctor.
Additionally, many UPMC facilities will continue to be in-network for several years. UPMC Mercy will stay in-network until July 2016. The contracts for UPMC Altoona, Bedford, Hamot, Horizon, and Northwest; Kane Community Hospital; Western Psychiatric; and the Hillman Cancer Center will expire in 2020. Finally, the contract for the Children’s Hospital will remain in effect until July 2022. Magee Women’s Hospital, UPMC East, McKeesport, St. Margaret, Passavant, and Presbyterian-Shadyside will all be out-of-network at the end of this year.
While I would have preferred to have seen Magee Women’s contract extended for in-network access, I am pleased that this agreement maintains many affordable health care options for patients. Further, the contract extensions give the groups on either side of this ongoing situation the time to develop innovative solutions to meet the health care needs of Pennsylvanians. I encourage them to put the people first and act with the goal of affordable, accessible care for all.
10th Annual FontanaFest – Save The Date
The 10th Annual FontanaFest 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 throughout the month.
FAFSA Completion Sessions for Community College Enrollees
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.
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 the remaining three FAFSA Completion Sessions is as follows:
|July 8th, 1 – 2:30 p.m.
CCAC West Hills Center
1000 McKee Road
Oakdale, PA 15071
| July 12th, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
ALL CCAC Campuses and Centers
Complete listing at www.ccac.edu
|July 17th, 5 – 6:30 p.m.
8701 Perry Highway
Pittsburgh, PA 15237
Amusement Ride Safety
As many families and children spend time during the summer attending amusement parks and community fairs, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture reminds all riders to stay safe and follow basic safety guidelines. Before riding, make sure to look for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania registration plate on the ride and the public notice sign verifying it has been inspected according to Pennsylvania Amusement Ride Safety Act standards. If you are riding with or assisting a child, make sure you know their capabilities and take an active role in determining whether a ride is appropriate. The following is a list of additional safety tips for riders as they visit parks this summer:
- Before getting in line for a ride, check and follow boarding restrictions, including those for medical concerns, height and weight.
- Listen carefully to all instructions. Operators are trained to keep riders safe.
- Make sure ride operators are alert. Never board a ride if the operator appears to be inattentive.
- Stay in to stay safe by keeping arms, hands, feet and legs inside the ride at all times. Always remain on the ride until it comes to a complete stop.
- Use shoulder harnesses, seat belts, lap bars or chains appropriately.
- Stop riding before you get tired as tired riders are more likely to be injured.
- Stay hydrated. Not drinking enough water can increase your risk of injury or illness on some rides.
Did You Know…
Did you know that nearly 70 percent of injuries on amusement park rides occur due to rider error?
PTSD Family Seminar
It's About The Warrior Foundation is hosting a family seminar on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on July 19th from noon – 3 p.m. at Latitude 360 in Robinson Township. All veterans and their family members
are welcome to attend this free seminar and lunch buffet. The three-hour seminar will offer insight into living with post-traumatic stress disorder, offering perspectives from both the point of view of veterans and
their families. The presentation will serve as an open forum for two-way conversation about PTSD and will include guest speaker, retired wounded U.S. Marine Gary Myers, who will speak about his fight and success with PTSD.
If interested in attending this free seminar, please call 724-712-1355 or email firstname.lastname@example.org your R.S.V.P. no later than this Friday. To learn more about the It’s About The Warrior Foundation, please visit them online at www.iatw.us.
As much of the country has been swept up in the 2014 World Cup and the success enjoyed by the U.S. Men’s National Team after reaching the tournament’s round of 16, questions have led to just how much the sport has grown in the United States. Based on statistics from U.S. Youth Soccer, the answer is quite a bit. In 1974, U.S. Youth Soccer’s annual member registration of players was just over 100,000 nationally. By 2012, the annual member registration nationally was over 3 million.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
524 Pine Hollow Rd
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216