Glimpse of Upcoming Budget Forecast
A couple of weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Budget Secretary held a mid-year budget briefing of the current state of affairs for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Unfortunately, revenue collections have been lagging and are about $261.8 million below estimate. If the commonwealth stays on this course, our state faces a projected $603 million shortfall.
Hopes are that the economy picks up during the month of December to close out the first half of the fiscal year and Pennsylvania’s forecast perks up come time for the January report. Understanding the challenges of the upcoming budget, the General Assembly needs to continue to look at the state’s expenditures and figure out ways in which we can generate revenue to close that gap.
All Senate offices will be closed this Friday, Dec. 30 in observance of the New Year holiday. My offices will re-open as scheduled on Monday, Jan 2. I wish everyone a very safe and happy New Year!
Medical Marijuana Update
Last week the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that applications for medical marijuana growers/processors and dispensaries will be available beginning Jan. 17, 2017. Permit applications will be accepted from Feb. 20, 2017 – March 20, 2017.
According to Department of Health Secretary, Dr. Karen Murphy, in Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program’s first phase, there will be up to 12 permits issued for growers/processors across six medical marijuana regions, and up to 27 permits issued for dispensaries. The decision for which counties will be issued permits in this first phase was determined by using the department’s medical data as well as comments from more than 5,000 panelists and nearly 900 potential growers/processors and dispensary applicants.
Applications will be available on the department’s website at www.health.pa.gov. Also, additional information on Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program is available on the site, by clicking on the “PA Medical Marijuana” hyperlink on the home page or by clicking here. This page is a one-stop shop for the new law and has special sections specifically for patients and caregivers, physicians, growers/processors, dispensaries, and laboratories. Specific questions about the Medical Marijuana Program can also be emailed to RA-DHMedMarijuana@pa.gov.
Elimination of Registration Stickers
Effective Saturday, Dec. 31, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) will no longer issue vehicle registration stickers. Act 89 of 2013 provided for the elimination of vehicle registration stickers after a Penn State research study concluded that eliminating the registration sticker would have no impact on vehicle registration compliance.
Customers are still required to maintain current vehicle registration and must present a registration card to law enforcement when asked. A valid registration card is also still required when having a safety and/or emissions inspection completed.
You can read more about the elimination of registration stickers by clicking here.
Did You Know…
Did you know the elimination of the registration sticker will realize a cost savings to taxpayers of $1.1 million per year and it is estimated an additional $2 million in mailing costs will be saved?
With winter upon us, snow covered roads and icy conditions can present challenges to motorists. Using 2,200 trucks, plows and salt-spreaders, PennDOT maintains nearly 40,000 miles of roads and over 25,000 bridges statewide. Motorists can help to ensure their own safety and the safety of winter maintenance workers by observing a few simple rules when encountering snow removal equipment:
- Maintain at least six car lengths to avoid collisions and damage from flying anti-skid materials and salt.
- Remember that crews are working to make the highways as safe as possible for drivers and exercise patience.
- Motorists should move to the left side of their lane and turn their lights on when approaching a snowplow from the rear. This will help the snowplow driver see you in side and rearview mirrors.
- Snowplows travel slower and often must stop or even backup so reduce your speed. Stay alert and do not pass a snowplow until it has reached a clear area.
- Avoid traveling alongside of snowplows as they can suddenly shift after hitting snowdrifts or slush. The average snowplow weighs 50,000 pounds compared to the average car’s 3,000 pounds.
To learn more about safe driving in winter weather, including what to include in emergency travel kits, winter driving tips, and information on 511PA, please visit www.JustDrivePA.com.
I want to remind everyone that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. 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 the Allegheny County Assistance Office, 5947 Penn Avenue, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on the 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 provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
Managing Heating Bills
As the weather turns colder, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania is offering simple tips to help keep your home safe, affordable, and warm this winter.
- Change or clean furnace filters to maximize air flow efficiency.
- Eliminate drafts with weather stripping and caulking around doors and windows.
- Do not store flammable materials near your natural gas furnace, water heater or stove.
- Make sure your furnace is inspected and operating properly.
- Never use stoves, ovens, or outdoor grills as a source of indoor heat.
- Protect your water pipes in outside walls – run water, even at a trickle, to help prevent your pipes from freezing.
- Check your carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors to ensure they are operating according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
For more information on Columbia Gas payment plans, rebates and assistance programs, please visit them online at www.columbiagaspa.com.
Benefits of 529 College Savings Plans
As the year winds down, I want to make you aware of some of the benefits of opening or contributing to a Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program Account before Dec. 31. The PA 529 College Savings Program offers two distinct plans, the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP) and the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP). Contributing to a 529 College Savings Account before the end of the year can help reduce your 2016 PA state taxable income while assisting a loved one pay for college.
Families who contribute before the end of this year can take advantage of Pennsylvania’s income tax deduction. Contributions up to $14,000 per beneficiary can be deducted from PA taxable income and married couples filing jointly can deduct up to $28,000 per beneficiary, provided each spouse has taxable income of at least the amount deducted. Additionally, earnings in a PA 529 plan are not subject to yearly taxes as they grow, and when used for qualified higher education expenses, earnings are tax-exempt when withdrawn.
The PA 529 GSP is designed to help savings grow to meet the future cost of education. When used for qualified higher education expenses, PA 529 GSP contributions grow at the rate of tuition inflation, subject to fees and premiums. For example, if you save enough for a semester at one of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education universities today, you will have enough for a semester there in the future, no matter when or how much tuition has gone up in the meantime. Anyone interested in opening a PA 529 GSP can do so by visiting www.PA529.com. Use enrollment code DEAL529 when prompted to save the $50 enrollment fee.
Pennsylvania also offers a second option, the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP), in which returns are based on financial market performance. The PA 529 IP features low fees and more than a dozen conservative and aggressive investment options from The Vanguard Group, one of the nation’s largest financial services companies. There is no enrollment fee for the PA 529 IP.
To learn more about the PA 529 College Savings Program, or to open or contribute to a PA 529 GSP or PA 529 IP please visit www.PA529.com or call 1-800-440-4000. Also, please visit www.PA529.com/contest to learn more about a contest where the PA 529 College Savings Program is giving away $529 for college.
New Port Authority Fare Policy
I want to remind everyone that beginning January 1, the Port Authority will begin a new fare policy, eliminating its two-zone fare system and installing a single-zone system in which riders will pay $2.50 with a ConnectCard. The Port Authority has made these changes after hearing from nearly 8,000 riders over the past 18 months who are seeking a transit system that is more accessible and affordable.
Starting January 1, riders paying with cash will pay $2.75. Transfers for riders paying with a ConnectCard will remain $1. There will be no transfers for riders paying with cash; riders paying with cash will need to pay an additional $2.75 for their connecting trip.
The Port Authority is eliminating the downtown free bus zone. All riders on routes will pay their fare as they board the bus. With the exception of those who require special accommodations, riders will exit from the back doors.
To read more about these changes please visit http://simple.portauthority.org/.
First Night Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is once again producing First Night Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve. This year’s celebration marks the 23rd anniversary of First Night Pittsburgh and the 14th as a production of the Cultural Trust. As the largest single-day celebration in the region, First Night offers more than 100 events at indoor and outdoor locations within the 14-block Cultural District. This family-friendly event provides the city the opportunity to ring in the New Year with a bang while celebrating Pittsburgh’s many rich cultural assets.
First Night Pittsburgh kicks off at 6 p.m. on Dec. 31 with a children’s fireworks show and concludes with the countdown to midnight, and the raising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball at midnight, with tons of fun in between. This year, The Nigel Hall Band will perform as the headline act during First Night.
To view the many activities taking place during First Night and for a full schedule of events, shows and entertainment and information on how to purchase all-access buttons please visit www.firstnightpgh.org.
Christmas Tree Recycling Program
Allegheny County is once again offering its annual Christmas Tree Recycling Program this holiday season. Residents of Allegheny County can drop off their Christmas trees through Monday, Jan. 16 at all nine regional parks during regular hours of operation, dawn to dusk.
All lights, decorations, tinsel and stands must be removed from trees prior to dropping them off. The trees will be mulched and used in county parks. The following are the drop-off locations:
Deer Lakes Park
Harrison Hills Park
Hartwood Acres Park
Round Hill Park
Settlers Cabin Park
White Oak Park
|parking lot by the wave pool
parking lot by the Veterans 2 Shelter
parking lot at the intersection of Chipmunk & Cottontail Drive
parking lot at the mansion
parking lot at the swimming pool
parking lot past spray park, between Meadow & Alfalfa Shelters
parking lot by the wave pool
parking lot at the wave pool
parking lot by the Poplar 1 Shelter
The earliest recorded new year’s festivities date back more than 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox in March heralded the start of a new year. In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar instituted the Julian calendar which began a new year on January 1.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
|Northside (Mobile Office)
Carnegie Library |
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212