|Senator Fontana spent time in the morning of March 31st visiting with the kids at the Sto-Rox Pre-K Counts program. After reading to the kids, he took time to answer some great questions and talked to the group about the importance of learning and enjoying school. Thanks to all the kids and to the staff for the invitation and the warm welcome!
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 $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.
Business in Our Sites Program
The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) announced last week that the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) opened the Business in Our Sites Program on April 1st. This program provides loans for the acquisition and development of key sites for future use by businesses. The program is a vital catalyst for economic development in the state, providing Pennsylvania with an arsenal of ready-to-go sites for development opportunities.
The CFA will be accepting applications through July 31st. For more information about the Business in Our Sites Program and other CFA programs, please visit www.newpa.com/cfa.
Deadline to Apply for LIHEAP Extended to May 1
Last week it was announced by Governor Wolf that the Department of Human Services (DHS) would be accepting applications for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) through May 1st. The previous deadline to submit an application was April 3rd. The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can 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.
Yellow Dot Program
Pennsylvania’s Yellow Dot Program was created to assist citizens in the “golden hour” of emergency care following a traffic accident when they may not be able to communicate their needs themselves. Placing a yellow dot in your vehicle’s rear window alerts first responders to check your glove compartment for vital information to ensure you receive the medical attention you need. This program is a cooperative effort among PennDOT, PA Department of Health, PA Department of Aging, PA State Police, and PA Turnpike Commission, first responders and local law enforcement.
Participants complete a personal information form which includes the participant’s name, contact information, emergency contact information, medical history and medications, allergies, and the participant’s physicians’ contact information. A photo showing only the participant’s head and shoulders is then taped on the spot allocated in the booklet. The completed information booklet with the attached photo is then placed into the vehicle’s dashboard glove compartment.
The yellow dot decal, provided in the program kit, is placed in the lower left corner of the vehicle’s rear window. This decal alerts first responders that vital information can be found in the vehicle.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s Yellow Dot Program or to request a program kit be sent to you, please visit www.YellowDot.pa.gov.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
The month of April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The crime of sexual assault can make anyone a victim, from children, teens, adults, and the elderly. While sexual crimes are widespread and occur throughout all communities, there are ways to help prevent these crimes. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center recommends the following:
- Be a role model to those around you for positive, respectful behavior.
- If you’re a parent, talk with your own children about personal boundaries and healthy relationships.
- If you see inappropriate behavior or signs of assault, speak up! Some signs of assault can include sudden behavior or mood changes, lower grades, and social withdrawal.
For more information about preventing sexual assault, please visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at https://rainn.org/.
Did You Know…
Did you know that approximately 293,066 cases of sexual assault occur each year in the United States, or one assault every 107 seconds?
Free Tax Help
Just Harvest, a partner with the United Way of Allegheny County's Money in Your Pocket Coalition, provides free, IRS-certified income tax preparation for low-income households at five Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Sites in Allegheny County. The program ends on April 15th but Just Harvest still has many appointment openings at three sites including its Hill District and South Side locations. Just Harvest’s Hill District site is located at 2305 Bedford Avenue and their South Side site is located at 16 Terminal Way. Appointments can be made at the Hill District location on Wednesdays from 2 – 8 p.m. or Saturdays from 9 -5 p.m. while appointments at the South Side location are available Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Families with income less than $40,000 or individuals with $20,000 or less of income are eligible for this free tax preparation service. Walk-ins are not permitted so anyone interested in receiving tax help must call either 2-1-1 or 1-888-553-5778 to schedule an appointment.
Great American Cleanup
This year’s Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania began March 1st and runs through May 31st. This project is an annual effort organized by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful with the goal of keeping our communities clean and green, and improving the overall quality of life for everyone.
If you are interested in volunteering, please visit www.gacofpa.org where you can find a listing of cleanup events, resources for organizing a cleanup, and other information. These events can include cleaning up litter and trash along roadsides, streams, parks, forests and in neighborhoods, the planting of bulbs and trees and removing graffiti. Anyone interested in registering a cleanup event can do so at www.gacofpa.org. All registered events being held through May 31st are eligible for free work gloves, safety vests, and trash bags while supplies last, courtesy of PennDOT, PA Department of Environmental Protection and Glad Products Company.
Once again this year, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful is also offering the Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania Video Contest, where event organizers can submit a video of their cleanup event and win a cash prize as well as having their video posted online. More information on the Video Contest can also be found at www.gacofpa.org. The deadline to submit a video is May 22nd.
The Pirates opened the 2015 Major League Baseball season yesterday in Cincinnati. When the team played their first opener in 1887, they were not known as the Pirates, rather they were known as the Pittsburgh Alleghenies and a member of the National League. Three years later, after a season that saw them lose 113 games, the Alleghenies signed away star player, Lou Bierbauer, from the Philadelphia Athletics. Philadelphia management was so enraged by this signing which they claimed was illegal, that they called the move “piratical.” That term stuck and by December of 1891, the Pittsburgh club changed their name from the Alleghenies to the Pirates. Let’s Go Bucs!
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