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Senator Wayne D. Fontana
Last Thursday, Senator Fontana participated in a Joint Democratic Policy Committee hearing on improving air quality.  The public hearing took place at the Clairton Municipal Building, in response to a fire that took place at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works plant on Christmas Eve and the subsequent response from the Allegheny County Health Department.

2019-2020 Fiscal Spending Proposal

Sen. Fontana Comments on 2019-20 Budget Address
Sen. Fontana Comments on 2019-20 Budget Address

Last week, Governor Wolf released his 2019-20 budget proposal which includes a $34.1 billion budget.  I am encouraged by this plan and applaud the governor for his continued investment in education and job training.  Not only are additional monies being pumped into our schools, but Governor Wolf has vowed to lower the compulsory education age from eight to six years old as well as make it possible for parents to seek educational opportunities through a new “Parent Pathways” program. 

The budget will also better prepare Pennsylvania’s workforce for the jobs that are available right now and in the near future.  There are several areas where successful programs like manufacturing career training and adult technical career training will be seeing an increase in their allocations under the spending plan.  Even more powerful is Governor Wolf’s call to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2025.  By initially increasing the minimum wage to $12 per hour this year, thousands of working families would be lifted out of poverty, saving taxpayers an estimated $36 million.

With the governor’s plan in place, it is now time for the legislature to closely examine his proposal to refine and improve it. I am hopeful Democrats and Republicans will take a bipartisan and cooperative approach as we work to finalize the state’s 2019-20 spending plan.

K-12 Education

  • A $200 million increase in direct funding to school districts for basic education funding which will bring the total to nearly $6.1 billion.
  • $50 million more for special education.
  • An additional $50 million for early childhood and preschool programs.
  • $10 million increase for career and technical education.

Higher Education

  • The governor is proposing a 1.1 percent increase in funding for higher education in his 2019-20 budget proposal, bringing the total to $1.85 billion.
  • State funding for the 14 state-owned universities would rise by $7 million – or 1.5 percent – to $475.1 million.
  • No increase in funding is included for the state-related universities – Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.
  • Community colleges and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology are level funded as well.
  • Additionally, the governor is proposing to launch an $8 million “Stay in PA” pilot program to provide up to a one-time $2,500 grant to students or graduates of a Pennsylvania community college that are currently working in the state, with the goal of these individuals continuing to stay in their communities. 
  • $2.7 million to establish a PA National Guard Military Family Education Program that would allow National Guard service members to earn higher education credit for their families, with the benefit to be used for the cost of education at a PHEAA-approved educational institution.
  • A $36.8 million increase in state funding for the student grant program administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

Job Training and Workforce Development

  • A new initiative is $12 million in $1-2 million competitive grants from which businesses and industries with the most pressing needs for new workers will be able to compete for grants to support new training and recruitment programs.
  • An additional $10 million for the PAsmart pilot program which is for STEM and computer science programs.
  • $4 million for the state’s Manufacturing to Career Training Grant Program, which allows companies to identify and train a skilled workforce. 
  • $6 million will be used to develop and expand adult career and technical education training programs that target workers and nontraditional students who have career readiness. 
  • $5 million in state funds for a “Parent Pathways” pilot program to provide wraparound assistance to parents pursuing college or other postsecondary training options, including support for housing, child care, family programming, tutoring, college system navigation, and career counseling.

Libraries

  • Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s public library system will receive the same amount of funding as last year which was $54.5 million. 
  • The same can be said for library services for the visually impaired ($2.5 million) and library access ($3 million).

Departments of Human Services, Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs

  • Overall, the Department of Human Services would get $13.4 billion which is about $400 million more than last year’s budget.
  • An additional $15 million for people with intellectual disabilities which will help 765 individuals currently on an emergency waiting list for services through the Community Living Waiver.
  • $1.5 million more for naloxone for the distribution to emergency responders and the public to reverse drug overdoses involving opioids.
  • The proposal calls for $3.3 billion, up from $2.7 billion, toward long-term living services, including nursing home care and to expand home-visiting services to 800 more vulnerable families.

Environment

  • The state Department of Environmental Protection, that is tasked with ensuring all Pennsylvanians' right to clean air and water, would see state funding cut by $20.7.  However, Governor Wolf has stated that this funding loss would be made up by fees and an increase in federal funding. 

Protecting Elections

  • $15 million to help counties pay for the cost they will incur to get new voting machines.

Did You Know…

Did you know that more than half the 50 states have a minimum wage higher than $7.25/hour?

Offices Closed

All Senate offices will be closed next Monday, Feb. 18 in observance of Presidents’ Day. My offices will re-open as scheduled on Tuesday, Feb. 19. 

Slot Machine Revenue Increases

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced recently that revenue generated from slot machines in Pennsylvania increased 1 percent in January compared with January 2018.  Revenue from slot machines in January totaled more than $179.8 million, an increase from last January’s slot machine revenue of $177.7 million.  Tax revenue from slot machine play in January totaled more than $93.6 million.

The state’s gaming industry employs about 18,000 people and generates approximately $1.4 billion annually in tax revenue from both slot machines and table games.  For more information on gaming in Pennsylvania and to read reports from the Gaming Control Board, please visit them online at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program

Property TaxThe Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is now accepting applications for the 2018 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.  If you filed a paper rebate last year, you should receive an application in the mail.  Applications are also available at my district offices, online at www.revenue.pa.gov or by calling 1-888-222-9190.  As always, my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older.  The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters.  Please keep in mind, half of Social Security income is excluded.

Applications are due to the Department of Revenue by June 30 and rebates will be distributed beginning July 1. The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

Fish & Boat Commission Warns of Rapidly Changing Ice Conditions

Ice FishingThe Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) is cautioning ice anglers and others that changing weather conditions can affect the stability of ice on lakes and ponds. While freezing temperatures over the past several weeks have allowed ice to form on countless bodies of water across the Commonwealth, the rapid onset of spring like warmth, even for just a few days, should be considered when venturing out onto the ice. Additionally, ice conditions are not officially monitored by any authority and there is no such thing as “safe ice.”

The PFBC urges anglers and anyone venturing out on to the ice to follow these safety steps:

  • Always wear a lifejacket or float coat while on the ice. Avoid inflatable lifejackets, which do not perform well in freezing temperatures.

  • When arriving at the water's edge, visually survey the ice. Look for open water areas and signs of recent changes in water levels. Ice sloping down from the bank can indicate a recent drop in water level, while wet areas on the ice can indicate a rise in water level.

  • Listen for loud cracks or booms coming from the ice. This can be an indicator of deteriorating ice.
  • Look for new ice, which is clear or has a blue tint. New ice is stronger than old ice, which can appear white or gray.
  • Remember that ice thickness is not consistent across the surface of the lake or pond.

  • Beware of ice around partially submerged objects such as trees, brush, embankments or structures. Ice will not form as quickly where water is shallow or where objects may absorb heat from sunlight.

  • Anglers should use an ice staff to probe ahead as they walk. If the ice staff punches through, retreat to shore slowly.

  • Always carry a pair of ice awls, which are handheld spikes. Ice awls can assist in performing a self-rescue, in which the spikes are driven into the ice to help someone pull themselves out of the water.

  • Never walk on ice that has formed over moving water such as a river or stream.

  • Never go out on ice alone.

  • Always let someone know your plans and when you expect to return.

Those who are new to ice fishing can get started by visiting the PFBC’s Ice/Winter Fishing webpage at www.fishandboat.com.  A list of PA’s Best Fishing Waters and maps of submerged habitat structures is also available on the PFBC website.

Civic Leadership Academy

City of Pittsburgh’s Civic Leadership Academy The City of Pittsburgh’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) is an engaging 11-week program that opens the doors of local government to the community. CLA was created to foster informed, effective, and inspired community leadership. The program includes tours, hands-on demonstrations, and informational activities that give participants an insider view of how the City of Pittsburgh operates.

While it is a competitive application process, the program is free and residents from across the city are encouraged to apply. In each session, participants learn about departments across city government and the services that each provides to build a safer, more livable city for all of Pittsburgh. Any Pittsburgh resident or business owner that operates in Pittsburgh can apply and individuals actively involved in community organizations are encouraged to apply.

For more details, please contact Leah Friedman by calling 412-255-4773 or email leah.friedman@pittsburghpa.gov. Applications can be downloaded by clicking here or visiting http://pittsburghpa.gov/oca/cla-application. Applications are due no later than Feb. 28.

Youth Arts Apprenticeship

Contemporary Craft, located in the Strip District, is hosting a Youth Arts Apprenticeship in 2019. The program consists of two five-day art workshops this summer. Students ages 13-16 will learn hands-on techniques used in the art fields and will work with experienced artists and Contemporary Craft’s partners, Phipps Conservatory and Ton Pottery, to create one-of-a-kind artworks. Each five-day workshop is being offered for free through a completive scholarship application process.

Contemporary CraftThe first workshop, Art and Nature, is scheduled for July 29-August 2, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Phipps Conservancy.  Students will delve into topics of sustainability and urban wildlife at the Conservatory and then try paper making, collage, book arts, and block printing with the guidance of experienced artists.

The second workshop, Fire and Form: Ceramics, is scheduled for August 5-9, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Ton Pottery in Millvale. Students will work with clay, learn wheel-throwing, hand-building, and surface decoration techniques from multiple ceramic artists at Ton Pottery.

Interested students and their parents can apply by clicking here or visiting http://bit.ly/2019-youth-apprenticeship.  Applications must be completed no later than April 15 and awardees will be notified by May 5.  For more information on Contemporary Craft’s Youth Arts Apprenticeship, please email Jhenny Adams at thestudio@contemporarycraft.org or call 412-261-7003.

Fontana Fact

The 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, was once given a $20 speeding ticket for riding his horse and buggy too fast down a street in Washington, D.C.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Brookline District
1039 Brookline Boulevard
Suite 2
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol | Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plaza
524 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – First Tuesday of each month or by appointment