In February, Governor Corbett announced his budget proposal, which was based on revenue estimates provided by the governor’s budget secretary. As we enter into the month of May, the next step of the budget process has begun with the release of funding estimates by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). The Legislature is now in full swing to start voting on different bills that will create the 2012-13 budget.
Until this fiscal year, Pennsylvania lawmakers and the people they represent have had only one source of state budget numbers, which came from the governor’s office. Act 120 of 2010 established the nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office that provides a second source of revenue estimates for upcoming budgets. The budget secretary will still make the official estimates, but the IFO serves as a check and balance by reviewing estimates and presents a public benchmark of its accuracy on how much the state has available to spend in the coming year.
The IFO provides constituents with more transparency, accountability on the part of state government, and takes some of the politics out of the budget process. This state agency is modeled after the Congressional Budget Office, which has become a public resource for honest data for federal cost estimates. The IFO operates in an advisory role and presents estimates in May as well as mid-June. The fiscal office has a number of additional duties including a five-year projection of the state’s fiscal condition and to recommend ways to modernize the state sales tax.
For months now, the Senate Democrats have insisted that Pennsylvania’s state deficit is not accurate or as deep as the $719 million shortfall the governor has suggested. The Independent Fiscal Office’s projections have verified our findings with the release of their own estimate this week. As a result, the shortfall according to the fiscal office will be below $300 million, which means a $420 million savings. The fiscal office also increased the estimate of revenues for 2012-13 by $395 million. The combined increase would essentially make $815 million available to restore cuts to the current year budget.
The General Assembly needs to address this additional revenue and discuss what programs and services should receive some restoration of its funding. Some areas that need to be looked at include basic education, additional financial assistance for students seeking higher education through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), programs and services within the Department of Public Welfare or nonprofits, all which experienced draconian cuts in last year's budget. The administration still has not addressed our aging and crumbling transportation infrastructure and using this increase in revenue could jump start an investment. The General Assembly needs to analyze what this additional revenue can mean for the 2012-13 budget so we can begin to correct the imbalance that has taken shape over the last two budget cycles.
Animal Friendly Legislation
The Pennsylvania Senate recently unanimously passed legislation that would prohibit the gassing of cats and dogs with carbon monoxide. Currently, most shelters that euthanize animals have veterinarians who use a lethal injection to put them down which is considered the most humane method. However, some rural shelters do not have easy access to veterinarians with the necessary drugs and instead use gas chambers.
Senate Bill 1329 (SB 1329), requires a licensed technician to administer an injection of sodium pentobarbital or a derivative to euthanize dogs and cats. Furthermore, veterinarians, animal shelters, and humane society organizations would have to publically post how they euthanize animals so that owners can be better informed about the services they may someday need.
The legislation was created after a 5-year old beagle, named Daniel, received national attention for surviving a euthanasia attempt in an Alabama gas chamber. Although Daniel was lucky and now resides with a loving family in New Jersey, the Commonwealth needs to define our animal laws to guarantee dogs and cats are euthanized in a more humane and reliable way.
The bill now sits in the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. If signed into law, Pennsylvania will join 19 other states in outlawing the use of poison gas.
Market on Broadway Update
The Market on Broadway IGA is hosting a corporate ribbon cutting ceremony on May 2nd at the store, located at 1616 Broadway Avenue in Beechview, as the façade work on the outside of the building is complete and the new sign has been installed. The IGA is also holding a Shopping Spree Grocery Grab in May. One winner each on May 2nd, May 9th, and May 16th will be selected and will receive a chance to grab groceries for two minutes. Entry forms are located at the bottom of the IGA Circulars. Be sure to visit the IGA's website where you can find weekly ads, recipes, create a shopping list and sign-up for weekly newsletter updates.
I was proud to help the neighborhood I grew up in secure the necessary infrastructure and gap financing to complete the grocery store project. Working closely with Mayor Ravenstahl and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), we were able to bring back a much-needed and much-deserved grocery store to the residents of Beechview. I am confident this economic development success will open doors and help bring more development and businesses to Beechview in the near future. I also want to commend Phyllis Didano, the President of Community Leaders United for Beechview (C.L.U.B.), and the members of C.L.U.B., who work tirelessly in their efforts to promote the IGA to the residents of the community. This spirit of cooperation and working together in the community is what ultimately will bring new life to the Beechview business district.
Reminder on Property Tax/Rent Rebates
I want to remind my constituents that my staff can assist you in applying for the PA Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. In recent weeks, I have spoken with several constituents that have received letters in the mail from private companies offering to assist with the application for a fee. Please know you can visit any of my district offices to receive assistance with obtaining and submitting the necessary paperwork and with filling out the application free of charge.
The PA 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. Homeowners with a maximum yearly income of $35,000 and renters with a maximum yearly income of $15,000 are eligible for a rebate. The deadline to apply for a rebate on property taxes or rent paid in 2011 is June 30th.
Pittsburgh Marathon Looking for Volunteers
The 2012 Pittsburgh Marathon is scheduled for this Sunday, May 6th, with the race beginning at 7:30 a.m. If you are interested in volunteering during marathon weekend, you can visit www.pittsburghmarathon.com and view the Volunteer Page to register and see what positions need to be filled. All volunteers will receive a free t-shirt, $10 Dick’s Sporting Goods cash card and an invitation to the Volunteer Appreciation Party. Volunteers that sign up before race weekend will be entered to win prizes including: two round-trip airline tickets on Spirit Airways; a $200 Giant Eagle gift card; a $25 Panera gift card; and a $50 Dick’s Sporting Goods cash card. Volunteers that serve four hours or more for Marathon events also qualify for a free Pittsburgh Pirates game ticket as part of the Pittsburgh Cares All-Stars.
For more information on the marathon, please visit www.pittsburghmarathon.com or click on the following links to view a schedule of events or the race weekend page to learn about available parking, race detours, and much more.
Did You Know…
Did you know that 20,000 runners will participate in the marathon, half marathon and relay, setting a new Pittsburgh Marathon record?
West End Village Hosting Marathon Party
West End Village is hosting a neighborhood festival in conjunction with the 2012 Pittsburgh Marathon on Marathon day, Sunday, May 6th from 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. Festivities will take place on South Main Street. Attendees are encouraged to arrive between 7 – 9 a.m. to cheer on the runners as they pass through the West End Village. The festival features the Pittsburgh Musical Theater, the Elite Show Band, the Irish Pretenders and the Damaged Pies. There will also be booths showcasing local businesses, face painting, a balloon artist, great food, prize giveaways and much more. For more information please contact Lisa Costa at 412-922-2740 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Patti Knapp at 412-539-0900, ext. 232 or email@example.com.
Pittsburgh Youth Civic Leadership Academy
Applications are available for the city of Pittsburgh’s Second Annual Youth Civic Leadership Academy (YCLA). YCLA is a free, six-week course designed to educate and engage high school students about the inner-workings of city government. The sessions led by city directors will highlight different departments and the services they provide with tours, hands-on demonstrations and fun activities to provide an up-close view of how each department helps to operate the city. At the conclusion of the course, Mayor Ravenstahl will lead a graduation ceremony where participants will be awarded certificates.
The YCLA program will take place on six consecutive Wednesday evenings between July 11th and August 15th from 5 – 7:30 p.m. The city will provide transportation to sessions held outside the downtown area, as well as Port Authority bus passes for all sessions. Applicants must be in high school and reside within Pittsburgh city limits. Special consideration will be given to applicants who are highly motivated, interested in community service and civic engagement, and committed to using the experience to make a positive difference in their neighborhood and school communities.
Interested students can apply online at the city of Pittsburgh website's YCLA page or by calling (412-255-4765) or emailing (firstname.lastname@example.org) the Mayor’s Office of Service & Civic Engagement to request an application. Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on May 31st and applicants will be notified of their status by mid-June.
Scholarships for Students
The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (PMAHCC) has extended the deadline to apply for a Foundation Scholarship. Hispanic students enrolled or accepted into a post-high school educational institution can apply for a Foundation Scholarship through June 30th. Grant amounts are evaluated for each applicant depending on individual need and available funds and awards can range from
$1,000 - $2,000. You can download an application here. The application and all required supporting documents must be mailed to PMAHCCF in one envelope and be postmarked by June 30th. For more information on the Foundation Scholarship please visit www.pmahcc.org.
Robinson Library Celebrates 5th Anniversary
The Robinson Township Library is celebrating its 5th Anniversary the week of May 14th. As part of the celebration, everyone visiting the library during that week will be eligible to win one of three raffle baskets. The library will host an event to officially recognize their anniversary on May 17th from 4 – 7:30 p.m.
The library’s Art Club will be hosting an art exhibit on May 9th from 6 – 7 p.m. Library visitors are welcome at the exhibit to view the Art Club members’ work. The library’s Art Club is for ages 10 and over and an Adult Art Club will begin on June 11th. For more information on the library’s 5th Anniversary, the Art Club, and other programs and classes offered, please visit www.robinsonlibrary.org.
McGuire Memorial Homes
I was pleased to spend time last week with Sister Mary Thaddeus, and the staff and board of directors, of McGuire Memorial Homes. The staff and board at McGuire are committed to providing person-centered services that promote self-determination, inclusion and advocacy for our most fragile individuals. Through their dedication, care, and thoughtfulness McGuire has become a leader in providing the highest quality of services to individuals with disabilities. I want to thank the staff and board at McGuire for inviting me to learn more about their mission. It was an eye-opening experience and I am grateful for the role they play in allowing individuals with severe disabilities to live a life of enrichment. The families of these individuals can be comforted in knowing that their loved ones are being cared for in such a compassionate and loving environment.
To learn more about the wonderful work being done at McGuire please visit their website at www.mcguirememorial.org.
Point Park University's dance and theatre programs were established in 1968 and evolved into the Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) which became one of the institution’s schools in 2003 when Point Park received university status. COPA currently consists of three departments: dance; theatre; and cinema and digital arts. COPA’s dance and theatre programs are among the most competitive in the nation as only 10% of those who apply are accepted.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana