|Senator Fontana was proud to attend a press conference hosted by the Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services (BVRS) of Pittsburgh as they provided a sneak peak at the Uptown building that will become their new facility. This is an exciting time for the ongoing economic revitalization of the Uptown neighborhood with the addition of BVRS. This 87,000 square foot building will include training classrooms, low vision exam rooms, and residential units in support of BVRS’ mission of changing the lives of persons with vision loss and who have other disabilities by fostering independence and individual choice. Congratulations to the Erika Arbogast and the staff and board of directors at BVRS and to the Uptown neighborhood!
Reader Survey on Property Tax Reform
Pennsylvania’s current system of funding public education is in great need of reform. As you know, the issue of rising property taxes has a direct correlation to public school funding. Increasing school property taxes have been at the forefront of concern for Pennsylvanians for at least four decades.
As far back as the early 1970’s, the Pennsylvania Lottery was created to provide property tax rebates to lower-income seniors. Since its inception, older Pennsylvanians and adults with disabilities have received around $5.8 billion in property tax and rent rebates from the Lottery. More recently, Act 71 of 2004 was passed to legalize slot machine gaming and earmark those revenues for property tax relief. In 2014 alone, $779 million was available for property tax relief statewide from this pot of money, with the average homeowner seeing about $187 in property tax relief, capped at $641 for families residing in areas with higher poverty levels and taxes.
But there is still much work to do. To that end, there have been proposals in the General Assembly targeted at providing property tax relief, as well as Governor Wolf’s most recent plan aimed at reform.
A part of Governor Wolf’s budget proposal includes a $3.8 billion school property tax reduction resulting in homeowners’ property taxes being cut in half equaling about $1,000 in relief. Nearly 30 percent of senior households — 270,000 in total — would have their school property taxes eliminated altogether under the governor’s plan. In addition, renters who have a household income of $50,000 or less would receive a rent rebate capped at capped at $500.
Easing school property taxes under the governor’s plan would be achieved in part by raising the Personal Income Tax from 3.07 percent to 3.70 percent on July 15 and the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.6 percent in 2016. The sales tax would also be extended to 45 additional categories of products or services that are currently exempt.
Furthermore, Governor Wolf also proposes lowering a cap on unreserved fund balances for school districts seeking to raise property taxes. School districts currently are not allowed to increase property taxes if they have unassigned fund balances beyond the range of 8 percent to 12 percent of their total budgets. The governor’s plan would reduce that cap to 4 percent.
Another proposal that will be reintroduced from last session (formerly Senate Bill 76 and House Bill 76) known as the Property Tax Independence Act would eliminate school property taxes altogether by increasing the state's personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.34 percent; increasing the state's sales and use tax from 6 percent to 7 percent (8 percent in Allegheny County) and by expanding the sales tax base to cover more goods and services similar to the Governor’s plan.
Senate Bill 76 would limit increases in school budgets to the rate of inflation. While it would stop school boards from raising taxes at will, it would allow them to impose an earned income tax or personal income tax for major projects that would be subject to a no-exception taxpayer referendum.
Understanding that these ambitious proposals require an overhaul of our current school funding system, I would appreciate hearing the opinions of our subscribers on how to best approach this matter. Please take a few moments to complete the following survey on property tax reform issues. The survey will run over the next several weeks and I will consider the results as we deliberate this issue in the coming months. Thank you for your insight and for your direct participation in state government matters.
Click here to take survey.
In early February, Governor Wolf announced that he will be withdrawing the application for the “low risk” Healthy PA health care package of the previous administration from further federal consideration and instead start transitioning participating individuals to a full Medicaid expansion.
Under Healthy PA, the state’s Medicaid program was streamlined from 14 different benefit packages to three separate benefit packages: a low-risk plan, a high-risk plan and a private care option (PCO) plan, with the last plan designed to provide insurance to a population made newly eligible by the expansion of the Medicaid program’s income eligibility guidelines (individuals ages 19 to 64 with incomes up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level or $16,243 for an individual), as allowed for by the Affordable Care Act.
The transferring of individuals from the various Healthy PA plans to a Medicaid expansion will begin soon. As part of the Medicaid expansion, current Medical Assistance recipients will get a new Adult benefit package and will be receiving notices in the mail from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) and HealthChoices Managed Care Organizations regarding the transition. The new benefit package will begin on April 27th. To learn more about Medicaid expansion, please visit www.HealthChoicesPA.com. The site allows individuals to apply for coverage, answers frequently asked questions, and provides eligibility information.
All Senate offices will be closed on Friday, April 3rd in observance of Good Friday. My offices will re-open on Monday, April 6th as scheduled.
LIHEAP Closes Friday
I want to remind everyone that the Department of Human Services (DHS) is accepting applications for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) through April 3rd. The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can also pick up an application in my district offices, or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to one of the Allegheny County Assistance Offices.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits for this season are as follows:
After your application is received, you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel dealer and are credited to your account. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
I want to remind everyone that in recent weeks, I have expanded my locations by adding mobile offices in the Strip District and on Pittsburgh’s Northside. Below is an updated listing of my office locations and hours:
932 Brookline Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone – 412-344-2551
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Beechview (satellite office)
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone – 412-343-2080
Tuesdays, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Kenmawr Plaza, 500 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp., PA 15136
Phone – 412-331-1208
Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Strip District (mobile office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
|Northside (mobile office)
Carnegie Library – Allegheny branch
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Adult Trout Stocking Schedules
The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) has announced that 2015 adult trout stocking schedules are now available online. Anglers can easily search the trout stocking schedules for locations and dates of interest by visiting the PFBC’s website, www.fishandboat.com, and clicking on the link for 2015 Trout Stocking Schedules. On the site, simply enter start and end dates from the calendars at the top of the page to generate a schedule. The search results will provide each body of water within a county that is scheduled for stocking, the section of water, date, species of trout, meeting place and time, hatchery stocking the section, regulations that apply, and the latitude and longitude numbers.
The 2015 trout season opens statewide on April 18th, with a Mentored Youth Fishing Day scheduled for April 11th. The Mentored Youth Fishing Day provides adults with a special day to fish with children, ages 16 and under, in advance of opening day. For more information about the Mentored Youth Fishing Day please click here.
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) is holding a series of one-on-one resume assistance sessions at neighborhood branch locations this spring. CLP’s Job and Career Education Center at the Main Library in Oakland is a terrific resource for job seekers. These sessions at CLP branches are an effort to bring some of these services into neighborhoods to reach more people needing help with resumes.
If you or anyone you know needs assistance with developing a strong resume, I encourage you to schedule an appointment. Please bring a copy of your resume to receive feedback from a qualified volunteer. Appointments are available the first and third week of each month at the following locations:
CLP – Brookline
708 Brookline Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
CLP – East Liberty
130 S. Whitfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
CLP – Squirrel Hill
5801 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
CLP – Main
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
412-622-3133 (additional dates available at this location)
CLP – Downtown & Business
612 Smithfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
CLP – Hill District
2177 Centre Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
CLP – Woods Run
1201 Woods Run Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Did You Know…
Did you know the average time spent by a recruiter looking at a resume is between five and seven seconds?
Congratulations to Fabrizio Gerbino, a local artist based in Stowe Township, who has had several new paintings debut at the Galerie Werner in Shadyside through May 31st. Fabrizio is a multidisciplinary artist and his work has exhibited nationally and internationally. Recently, Fabrizio was featured in a story that ran in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. You can click here to read more about Fabrizio’s story and the motivation for his works of art. For more information please visit www.fabriziogerbino.com or www.galeriewerner.net or call 412-771-0931.
Pittsburgh’s Cultural District is situated in a 14-square block in downtown Pittsburgh that hosts nearly 2,300 performances each year, attracting more than two million patrons. The Cultural District is home to over 90 retail shops, 50 dining establishments, seven world-class theaters, eight public parks and art installations and a dozen art galleries.
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