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As part of the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of PA (AICUP) lobby day, I had the pleasure of meeting with Robert Morris University seniors about their concerns with the Governor’s proposed budget. From left to right are Laura Rentler, Senator Fontana, Cara Pattinato and Lauren Southworth.

Budget Priorities

Over the past few weeks, I have tried to provide some detailed information on certain components of the Governor’s proposed budget. I have had numerous meetings with constituents and advocacy organizations who are concerned with the proposals put forth and have many more scheduled in the coming weeks. Our caucus has also focused in on our priorities as we move through this process.

There are several key restorations that we hope to make:

  • Restore ALL education programs to state non-ARRA FY 2010-11 funding levels
  • Restore critical county programs including the Human Services Development Fund ($24 million)
  • Save the HEMAP to maintain state aid for mortgage foreclosure assistance ($10 million)
  • Maintain the Tobacco Settlement Fund to ensure that funds are used for healthcare
  • Fund/Restore the adultBasic program from Tobacco Settlement Fund surpluses
  • Increase inpatient hospital assessments to restore $87 million in cuts for hospitals
  • Maintain core DCED programs with a track record of success

Of course, the question is how do we accomplish that? Quite simply, we disagree with Governor Corbett. There are budget savings that will allow us to make smart investments in the programs and services that we believe are important to our residents. We believe that $750 million can be saved within our current budget with those resources reallocated. In the Department of Public Welfare, there is $535 million in savings. The Department of Corrections and Probation & Parole can be consolidated into one Department, saving $75 million. The Department of General Services/Procurement/Human Resources processes in the Commonwealth can be coordinated for a savings of $90 million. Finally, the Department of Revenue can maximize revenue through an aggressive effort to get uncollected fees totaling $50 million.

Did You Know…

Did you know that there is strong opposition in Pennsylvania to cutting funding to local schools? A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 78% of Pennsylvanians oppose cutting funding to local school districts as proposed in the Governor’s budget.

Efforts to modernize our tax system, make taxes fair and maximize revenue would generate an additional $390 million. These plans include adopted combined reporting in the Commonwealth in order to reduce the Corporate Net Income (CNI) tax to 7.5%. A delay of the phase-out of the Capital Stock & Franchise Tax for one additional year could provide an additional $80 million. Maximizing Internet sales tax collections could total $75 million. Un-coupling from the federal accelerated depreciation (a decision made by the Corbett administration) could retain $135 million and increasing revenue from the state stores could provide an additional $100 million.

Our Caucus also disagrees with the revenue surplus estimate made by Governor Corbett. In his budget proposal, he estimates that the year-end surplus will be $78 million. Of course, the current surplus is already at $232 million. The Senate Democratic Caucus estimate is $300 million, $222 million above the Governor’s estimate.

As I have said many times, we know that we must live within our means, but we can accomplish budget savings to provide more in this year’s budget without any service cuts and without new taxes. That will be our focus throughout this budget process. With that being said, we also can count. In a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled General Assembly, we could stand on our heads in the middle of the Chamber and light ourselves on fire to evidence our belief in these priorities, but it takes more. If you share these beliefs and priorities, then reach out to the Republican members of the House and Senate so they, too, understand the importance of these services and programs and to urge their commitment to your priorities.

Offices Closed

In observance of Good Friday, all Senate offices will be closed this Friday, April 22nd, but will be open on Monday, April 25th as scheduled.

SBDC Outreach Day

Small business owners can get answers to their questions during another Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Outreach Day next Tuesday, April 26th. Client Services Liaison John Dobransky will be available at my Kennedy Office (Kenmawr Plaza) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Although not required, appointments are encouraged by calling John at 412-624-2290. This free service allows entrepreneurs to get regular assistance, whether it has to do with starting a small business or improving an existing business. If you can’t make it next week, another SBDC Outreach Day is scheduled for Tuesday, May 10th.

Around the District

This past Tuesday was a session day that also included numerous meetings on the budget. I had the pleasure of starting my morning with a visit from students from Robert Morris University who live in the district. The three young women are all graduating, but were advocating for the restoration of IAG grants within PHEAA’s budget for their classmates and future students. I also met with several advocates from the district who are also members of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. Although many early childhood programs are protected in the Governor’s budget, the attendees wanted to stress the importance of retaining those programs in the upcoming negotiations. Members of our Caucus leadership also had the opportunity to talk with PEMA Director, Glenn Cannon, one-on-one to address concerns and issues in our districts. As some of you may know, Glenn came from the City and is quite familiar with our region and its challenges. The day ended with meetings with the PA Humane Society regarding their legislative priorities and the Malt Beverage Distributors Association about their concerns and interests in the ongoing conversation about modernizing the liquor system.

Senator Fontana addresses a group of pharmacy students at the Duquesne University Mylan School of Pharmacy about becoming effective advocates for their industry. The students also spoke with the Senator about their efforts in the community and the role they play as health care providers.

On Wednesday morning, I was pleased to appear before the Senate Finance Committee to answer questions about Senate Bill 158 (SB 158), my legislation that amends the New Home Construction Tax Abatement Act to allow a longer time period for home owners to apply for the abatement when building a new home. The bill was reported from committee unanimously – and I thank my colleagues for their support. Later that morning, during a Law & Justice Hearing, the Senate Committee heard from the PA Liquor Control Board Executive Director, Joe Conti, about the board’s requests to the legislature for changes. There were also constituent meetings with residents advocated for restored/increased funding for the Penn State Agricultural Council and Penn State Cooperative Extension in the budget.

On Thursday, I was back in the district and met first thing in the morning with teachers and other school staff at the South Hills Middle School to talk with them about the budget proposal, what it means to them and what they can do to advocate for changes. I also had the pleasure of formally presenting Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC with the Senate Resolution (SR 11) recognizing their 100th Anniversary. I ended the day with a meeting with the Green Building Alliance to talk about their green products initiative and partnership with the Ben Franklins.

On Friday, the meetings with local districts continued as I met with teachers, administrators and school employees at Cornell School District. On Monday, budget meetings continued with conversations with the Pitt Small Business Development Center and Keystone Oaks School District. I also met with PPG Industries and other local businesses about their efforts to change joint and several liability in the Commonwealth and had the pleasure of addressing students at Duquesne University about how to have an effective relationship with their legislators.

Fontana Fact

One of the most influential female impressionist artists of the late 1800’s is also a Pittsburgh native. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was known for her intimate paintings of women and children. She was born on the North Side and spent much of her time in Europe as an artist. In 1871, Cassatt was commissioned by Pittsburgh Bishop Michael Domenec to copy two paintings by Correggio in Italy for St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana