Why I Voted Against the Budget
Right after Governor Wolf released his budget proposal in March, Franklin and Marshall College polled registered voters and found that 59 percent of respondents favored the governor’s overall budget plan. Fast forward to the middle of June when Franklin and Marshall once again polled residents on the governor’s proposal with 58 percent of voters still favoring his budget. The poll also found that respondents’ top priorities for state lawmakers was more public education funding and property tax relief. The evidence is clear that residents of the commonwealth want a change from the devastating impacts of the past administration’s ideologies and that is why I voted against the Republican-led budget that passed on June 30th. It’s also important to mention that the governor campaigned last year on these very policy issues and was elected in a landslide victory.
Since being elected, Governor Wolf has made it clear that he will fulfill his campaign promise of asking the natural gas industry to pay their fair share in the form of a severance tax to fund our schools and provide property tax relief to homeowners. Yet the Republicans have consistently ignored this request. This was made evident last week when the Majority Party passed a $30.1 billion spending plan that represents a 3.6 percent increase from the 2014-15 Fiscal Year. What is being labeled as Governor Corbett’s “Fifth Budget,” the spending plan once again relies on one-time revenue gimmicks. These smoke and mirror maneuvers created the current $1.25 billion deficit Pennsylvania is facing which is estimated to grow to over $3.1 billion by 2016-17. At some point Pennsylvania is going to have to address the growing deficit and it’s clear that the Majority Party’s math does not add up nor does it move Pennsylvania forward.
Governor Wolf wants a five percent severance tax on natural gas extraction from shale drilling to fund education. This would help restore the hundreds of millions of dollars schools have lost over the past four years. Districts have seen devastating effects because of the previous cuts including more than 23,000 educators losing their jobs, 75 percent of school districts being forced to cut academic programs, and 70 percent of school districts being forced to increase class sizes while seeing test scores decreasing.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Marcellus Shale region is the most productive natural gas formation in the country. Pennsylvania’s most prolific shale driller reported record natural gas and liquids production from Marcellus Shale wells last year. In fact, this record production resulted in their profits surging with a net income of $146.4 million in their third quarter. This is followed by the company reporting record-high production again during their first quarter of 2015.
Even with record profits, the Republican spending plan did not include a drilling severance tax. So once again our schools are expected to be satisfied with status quo funding while the commonwealth continues to foster economic prosperity for a Texas-based company removing our resources?
By not reinstating education funding, the direct results will continue to be felt by Pennsylvania homeowners. Just last week, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review published an article that stated that “about half of the school districts in Western Pennsylvania have raised property taxes to balance their budgets.” The article continues to read that this is a central issue to the state budget disputes between the governor and Republican leaders and that more than 70 percent of school districts statewide are warning they plan to raise taxes. Taxpayers have been loud and clear that they would like to see property tax reform. However, the budget that passed on June 30th does not even come close to addressing this matter and continues to ignore the priorities of the people.
Lastly, the Legislature should be working on ways to stimulate job creation instead of closing down a predictable funding asset that has generated billions of dollars and killing thousands of jobs statewide. Privatizing Pennsylvania’s state stores would also result in young people getting alcohol more easily, wine and liquor prices going up while selection goes down, and stores showing up in nuisance locations. Like myself, the governor supports a plan that would modernize the state store system that would change the state store operations, how pricing is determined, direct shipment of wine, procurement of stores while at the same time protecting these family-sustaining jobs. In addition, it has been estimated that modernizing the commonwealth’s liquor stores would bring in over $100 million annually in additional revenues.
The budget that passed on June 30th would accomplish none of Governor Wolf’s goals or meet the priorities of Pennsylvania’s citizens. I am proud that the governor continues to stand up for real change and vetoed this unreasonable plan. For four years we had a governor whose policies have failed the state by not meeting the real needs of Pennsylvanians and has undermined the commonwealth’s financial stability. We cannot continue to have short-term revenue gains that ignore the longer term revenue implications. Governor Wolf has a plan and the General Assembly owes it to the taxpayers to work together to create jobs, increase education funding and decrease property taxes by raising broad-based taxes on the natural gas industry.
Did You Know…
Did you know that Pennsylvania is the only major oil and natural gas producing state in the county that does not levy a severance tax on its producers? Natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale increased from 1.2 billion cubic feet per day in May 2007 to 16.49 billion cubic feet per day in May 2015.
PHEAA Hosting Job Fair
As the Vice-Chair of the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) I want to alert all job seekers that the organization will be holding a job fair to fill full-time, entry-level positions for Call Center Representatives and Loan Counselors at its Parkway Center facility. The job fair is scheduled for Wednesday, July 15th from 4 – 7 p.m. at the Parkway Center facility, located at 11 Parkway Center.
Representatives from PHEAA’s Human Resources and operational departments will be available to provide information about employment opportunities, answer questions, and to conduct on-site interviews. Potential applicants should bring a resume to the event for immediate consideration. Additionally, applicants are encouraged to visit www.PHEAA.org/jobs to learn more about available opportunities and to submit an application in order to be considered for employment.
PHEAA offers competitive salaries, paid training, regular pay increases, medical benefits, and career advancement opportunities. Spanish speaking skills are a plus. The agency is an equal opportunity employer. For more information, please visit www.pheaa.org.
11th Annual FontanaFest!
The 11th annual FontanaFest is scheduled for Saturday, August 22nd from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and will once again be held at Highmark Stadium, home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds!
The annual community event is perfect for families and children, promoting healthy and active lifestyles by providing many fun activities and crafts. Attendees also are provided with the opportunity to engage with several organizations from around the region and receive important information on available services and programs, nutrition, health care, jobs and jobs training. Lunch and beverages will be provided, and once again, IT’S ALL FREE!
Make sure you save the date, Saturday, August 22nd, and stay tuned throughout the summer for updated information on the 11th annual FontanaFest!
Property Tax/Rent Rebates
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is still accepting applications for the 2014 Property Tax/Rent Rebate program through the end of the year. Nearly 456,000 older homeowners, renters, and people with disabilities across Pennsylvania are being issued rebates totaling $214 million starting last week. Rebate checks for anyone who had a claim approved prior to June 30th were mailed on July 1st and anyone who opted to have their rebate directly deposited into bank accounts should have received their rebates on July 1st.
If you are eligible and have not applied for a rebate yet, applications can be obtained from any of my district offices and my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application. From now until December 31st rebates will be distributed as claims are approved.
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 maximum yearly income of $35,000 and renters with a maximum yearly income of $15,000 are eligible for a rebate. Keep in mind that half of Social Security income is excluded.
Due to program changes enacted last year to ensure claimants aren’t disqualified from rebates solely because of Social Security cost-of-living-adjustments, homeowners and renters may be eligible for rebates even if their eligibility income is greater than these limits. Any homeowner who collected Social Security, received a property tax rebate in 2013 for claim year 2012 and had annual income last year, discounting half of Social Security, up to $36,129, is encouraged to apply for a rebate for claim year 2014. Any renter in that same situation with an annual income in 2014, discounting half of Social Security, up to $15,484, is also encouraged to apply.
LifeSkills Training Aimed at Reducing Drug Use
Our children’s health should be of the utmost concern for parents and teachers alike out there and under no circumstances should their well-being be compromised. That is why Pennsylvania middle school students will again have the opportunity to receive LifeSkills Training (LST). This program aims to substantially reduce drug use among adolescents by teaching prevention-related strategies, promoting anti-drug norms, teaching drug refusal skills, and fostering the development of personal self-management and general social skills. Lessons in the curriculum also focus on anger management and conflict resolution skills.
More than a dozen studies have shown that LST dramatically reduces tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use, reduces multi-drug use, and also decreases use of inhalants, narcotics, and hallucinogens. Furthermore, these studies have shown that the program works with a diverse range of adolescents, produces long-lasting results, and is effective when taught by teachers.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) has supported LST through funding and technical assistance for over a decade. Most recently, approximately 4,800 students across 35 school districts participated in LST through a prior funding initiative offered by the Center of Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado.
The University of Colorado is again offering the opportunity for Pennsylvania schools to register for staff training on the LST model and receive copies of the curriculum for use in their classrooms at no cost. Training will occur during the summer of 2016, with the program offered for three years beginning with the 2016-17 school year.
Any parents or school officials that are interested in learning more about this initiative or to apply for this opportunity, please click here. The deadline to register is October 31, 2015.
Port Authority Seeking Public Comments
The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is seeking public comments on its proposal to charge up to a $5 fee for its ConnectCard. Public comments can be made online by clicking here or visiting www.portauthority.org. Riders and residents who currently do not have a ConnectCard can still get a card for free until August 1st. The ConnectCard is a reusable plastic smart card that makes paying fares faster, easier and more secure than cash. To read more about ConnectCards please visit www.connectcard.org.
McKees Rocks FEASTival
The McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (CDC) is hosting FEASTival in McKees Rocks on Saturday, August 1st from 3 – 9 p.m. The FEASTival has grown in each of its first two years, with over 1,500 attendees last year. It aims to celebrate the CDC’s vision of a revitalized, mixed-use downtown McKees Rocks and Stowe while bringing awareness to the steps needed to get there.
The event features many food trucks, craft beer, a craft market, entertainment and family-friendly activities. For more information on the event and how to purchase tickets, please visit www.pghfeastival.com.
This Sunday, July 12th is Italian Day at Kennywood Park. Trello Cioccolato, a local fine custom chocolate store, is a sponsor of this year’s event. Italian Day is one of 12 nationality days at Kennywood this summer and is one of the oldest. The first Italian Day at Kennywood took place in 1935 joining Croatian Day, Hungarian Day, Polish Day, Serbian Day and Slovak Day as some of the longest standing annual Nationality Days. For more information on this year’s Italian Day please click here.
This year’s EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta featured a Ferris Wheel for the first time, at Point State Park. The “Wheel of Light” stood 90 feet tall and was able to hold 96 people. It was fitting to have a Ferris Wheel at the Regatta since the Ferris Wheel was invented in the 1890’s by George Ferris, a resident of Allegheny City, today’s Northside. An exposition in Chicago was seeking a superstructure that would rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Ferris spent $25,000 of his own money to complete design work. Once approved, the construction began on the 250-foot diameter wheel. Ferris’ design was not the first wheel structure but he was the first to build one out of steel and on so monumental a scale. It was featured at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm