Passage of 2013-14 Pennsylvania State Budget
The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a 2013-14 state budget this week. The $28.4 billion budget increases spending by $719 million, or 2.6 percent, over the previous budget. On the plus side, this budget does not raise any taxes. However, there are many shortcomings for essential programs and services in this plan which is the main reason why I voted against the measure. These shortcomings are on top of the drastic cuts so many programs have already faced in previous budgets under this administration.
Over the last few months, I have heard from hundreds of my constituents about what programs are important to them. Although the Senate Democrats’ voices were heard with a lot of funding restored for these key services and programs, there were also many losers in this year’s 2013-14 budget. I believe this spending plan does not do enough for financially strapped schools and individuals who need assistance, nor does it stimulate job creation initiatives.
Every child is entitled to a good education. We must provide students with the tools and knowledge at an early age to set these young individuals up for a successful and bright future. Unfortunately, the 2013-14 spending plan does little for students and schools. Although the budget increases the allocation to basic education by more than $122 million, over the past two years, the governor has cut nearly $1 billion from education spending.
The Accountability Block Grant, which provides support for pre-kindergarten, class size reduction, and tutoring remains flat funded at $100 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year. To put this amount into perspective, the block grant allocation in 2010-11 was over $254 million. Even more alarming is that the dozens of school districts across the state that are considered “distressed” will not be seeing an earmark of extra funding in this spending plan. How can we turn our backs on these economically hard-hit school districts that have already faced deep cuts and are barely surviving?
Institutions of higher education ($1.2 billion), community colleges ($212 million) and grants to students ($344 million) will see flat level funding under the 2013-14 budget.
Other areas of the budget that maintain or saw increased funding included:
- Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - $16.3 million
- Council on the Arts - $886,000
- State Food Purchase Program - $17.4 million
- Farmers Market Food Coupons - $2 million
- Public Library Subsidy - $53.5 million
- Library Services for the Visually Impaired and Disabled - $2.56 million
- Services for Children with Special Needs - $1.5 million
- Children’s Health Insurance - $9.4 million increase
- Long Term Care under Medical Assistance - $67.6 million increase
- Autism Intervention Services - $2.5 million increase
- Child Care Services - $14.3 million increase
- Services to Persons with Disabilities - $26 million increase
- Department of Public Welfare budget - $333 million increase
Some areas of concern under the 2013-14 spending plan include:
- State Parks - $20 million cut
- State Forests - $5 million cut
- Home and Community Based Services under Medical Assistance - $40.6 million cut
- Community Based Intellectual Disabilities Services - $305,000 cut
One of the greatest apprehensions I have under this budget is the insufficient funding for proven job-creation initiatives and economic development programs such as tax credits. The Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, which ensures Pennsylvania companies and entrepreneurs have all of the tools they need to build globally competitive technology companies in our state will once again receive flat level funding. More alarming is that the Commonwealth Financing Authority, which administers stimulus packages and invests in Pennsylvania’s economic growth was actually cut by more than $7.5 million under this budget.
Furthermore, the only significant job training program supported by Governor Corbett, Keystone Works, will be seeing a reduction in its allocation by $1.5 million. With Pennsylvania’s unemployment at 7.6 percent, our state can’t afford to not invest additional funding to proven successful initiatives.
The 2013-14 state budget is not fiscally responsible and has misguided priorities. The spending plan takes away from the human needs, inadequately invests in public education and lacks opportunities to invest in the working class while at the same time failing to close corporate tax loopholes or appropriately taxing drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Instead, this administration wasted valuable time advocating for pet projects like giving Pennsylvanians access to more booze. The budget does not address or meet the needs of so many of our residents and once again moves our state in the wrong direction.
All Senate offices will be closed on Thursday, July 4th in observance of Independence Day. My offices will re-open on Friday, July 5th as scheduled.
The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is a federal holiday that celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. On that day, the thirteen colonies claimed their independence from England, an event which eventually led to the formation of the United States. Each year on July 4th, Americans in communities everywhere celebrate that freedom and independence on our nation’s birthday with family and friends, picnics, parades and fireworks. As we celebrate this year, let us remember the sacrifices our brave men and women of our armed services have made and continue to make today, to protect our freedoms. Happy Birthday America!
AFIG Grant Workshop
As I mentioned in the June 18th edition of my News & Views the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is accepting applications for the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant (AFIG) program through July 26th. An estimated $10 million is available through this program for the purchase or conversion of medium- to light-weight natural gas vehicles, the conversion or purchase of electric, propane or other alternative fuel vehicles of any size. Eligible applicants include: municipal authorities; political subdivisions; non-profit organizations; corporations; school districts; and limited liability companies or partnerships incorporated or registered in the state.
To assist interested applicants with the online grant submittal process, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) in conjunction with Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities is co-sponsoring an AFIG Application Assistance Workshop on July 11th. The workshop will begin at 10 a.m. at the Cranberry Municipal Building, located at 2625 Rochester Road in Cranberry Township, Butler County. An overview of the AFIG program will be presented, along with a demonstration of the online grant submittal process and related forms.
If you are interested in attending, please contact Geoff Bristow at 814-322-6681 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Case of an Accident
As more people are on the roads during the summer, the PA State Police and PA Insurance Department want to remind motorists what to do in the event of a traffic accident. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners recently released a free mobile app for iPhones and Android smartphones with directions on what to do after a crash. The app, WreckCheck, allows consumers to create their own accident report for their insurance company and drivers can email their completed reports to themselves and insurance agents. Click here to watch a video about WreckCheck.
It is recommended that after an accident, drivers should move their vehicles off the road, if possible, and stay in a safe location at the scene until police arrive. Also, state law requires drivers to report any crash to police that involves injury or enough damage that at least one of the vehicles must be towed. Drivers should have their license, registration and insurance information ready to give to police upon arrival at the crash scene.
Centennial Dormont Day
Dormont Borough is celebrating its 100th Dormont Day on July 4th. The annual event, held in conjunction with Independence Day, will take place in the Dormont Pool parking lot from 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Many activities will be available for all ages such as train rides, pony rides, inflatable jumps, bingo, face painting, crafts, foot and swimming races, contests, and game booths. Entertainment throughout the day will include several music acts including Johnny Angel and the Halos and the day will conclude with a fireworks display at 9:30. For more information on the day’s activities or to sign-up to volunteer at the event, please visit www.dday4th.org.
Information on the GED Exam
Many employers today require job applicants to have received, at minimum, a high school diploma or to have passed the General Educational Development (GED) test. The GED test provides an opportunity for individuals that did not graduate high school to secure employment or enter a post-secondary educational institution to continue their education. The current GED test is composed of five parts and a GED learner can bank passage from one or more parts of the exam until all five parts are completed.
Beginning January 2, 2014, a new GED test will go into effect and any work done on the current GED exam will expire at the end of 2013. For anyone who may be in the process of completing the GED exam and who started the process between 2002 and today, they must finish taking the exam this year. If the GED exam is not completed in 2013, anyone who has started the exam will have to begin all over on the new exam in 2014.
To find information on where GED exams are offered, please visit www.gedtestingservice.com. You may also visit the PA Adult Education Resources website at www.paadultedresources.org to find a program near you that offers adult education services.
Did You Know…
Did you know in 2011 approximately 631,000 Americans completed the GED test?
Older Adults Serving as Tutors
OASIS Pittsburgh will be hosting free training sessions for adults aged 50 and over who are interested in serving as tutors for students enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools. These training sessions will be held on August 20th and August 27th from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at Macy’s Department Store in downtown Pittsburgh. All materials, books, and supplies will be provided by OASIS.
OASIS is a non-profit organization, founded in 1982, that is active in 40 cities across the country in promoting successful aging by providing opportunities for adults aged 50 and over to pursue vibrant, healthy, productive and meaningful lives. Their Intergenerational Tutoring Program trains older adults on tutoring children and provides older adults the chance to help students learn. The program is operated in partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council.
For more information on how to become an OASIS tutor, please call John D. Spehar, Pittsburgh OASIS Tutoring Coordinator at 412-232-2021 or email him at email@example.com.
Brookline Business Feature
This week’s featured Brookline business is Vinnie's Pretzel Shoppe. Located at 754 Brookline Boulevard, Vinnie’s offers customers a variety of oven-fresh pretzels and pretzel sandwiches. Vinnie’s is open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. all year and on Sundays during football season. For more information on Vinnie’s Pretzel Shoppe, please call 412- 343-2333 or visit them at www.vinniespretzelshoppe.com. Please continue to support local merchants during the Brookline Boulevard Streetscape Project and remember:
Brookline is open for business!
America’s Smartest City
Movoto blog, a national real estate company, recently released a study that ranked America’s smartest cities. The city of Pittsburgh topped their list due in large part to the presence of a large number of fine colleges and universities. To read more about the listing of America’s smartest cities and to view other rankings, please visit www.movoto.com/blog.
The nation’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, is the only U.S. President to have been born on July 4th. President Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont and served as President of the United States from 1923-1929.
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