2016 Legislative Priorities
With a new year upon us and the return of the Senate to the final half of the current two-year legislative session this week, it’s time to develop policy priorities for 2016. While the unfortunate, lingering budget situation will remain at the forefront of debate, I have an ambitious legislative agenda of my own that I will also be working to promote.
Expanding Film Tax Credit Program
As you know, I have been an advocate of the film tax credit program since its inception. This valuable program has helped support an estimated 24,200 jobs in Pennsylvania and injected nearly $2 billion into Pennsylvania’s economy since its creation in 2007. In an effort to maximize the potential of this proven tax credit program, I have introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at enhancing the program in an effort to demonstrate to the film and television industry that Pennsylvania is committed to ensuring that this industry has a place here and that we also want to compete nationally to encourage the development and maintenance of industry infrastructure such as studios, which would foster industry-related businesses to move here or start from the ground up. My proposals recognize that the continued success of the film industry in our state requires a consistent, long-term commitment to funding the Film Production Tax Credit incentive program, which again provides and supports family-sustaining jobs and strengthens our economy.
Increasing Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program
With the change in the economic situation over the last several years, tax credit programs have become a more attractive resource for organizations and businesses looking to perform community-based improvement programs. Another bill I have introduced addresses another very successful and necessary tax credit program. The Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program (NAP) was created in 1967 to encourage businesses to invest in projects which improved distressed areas. The overall goal of NAP is to help improve the lives of low-income people in distressed neighborhoods through the creation of an effective partnership between community-based organizations and the business and corporate community. Included under the NAP umbrella are five sub-parts including the Special Priorities Program (SPP), Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), Charitable Food Program (CFP), and the Enterprise Zone Program (EZP). Because NAP continually serves as a resource for non-profits, businesses and neighborhoods alike and with so much interest and need for this program with continually strained resources, a modest increase in the funding allocation as prescribed in my legislation would make more money available to DCED to distribute to the various programs that fall under NAP thereby strengthening some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods and increasing the quality of life for all of us.
Because 2016 is a major election year, it is always a good time to review our voting system and reevaluate how to make it more accessible and effective. One way that I believe would help encourage more eligible to participate in the sacred privilege of voting is to implement a system that would allow for early voting in Pennsylvania. Early voting allows voters to visit a designated election site and cast a vote in person without offering a reason for why the voter is unable to vote on Election Day. Legislation that I have authored would allow for early voting to take place on a number of days over a course of several weeks before Election Day, including a set amount of hours on Saturday during the early voting period. I believe this change will give Pennsylvania an advantage to be a key player when it comes to deciding potential Presidential candidates, but perhaps most importantly, it would give individuals who work several jobs or who travel often the ability to cast their vote during a time that better meets their needs.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
With regard to increasing public safety, I have introduced a package of bills that would require carbon monoxide detectors in dependent care facilities, college and university dorms, hotels and other lodging establishments, primary and secondary schools and child care facilities if the facility uses a fossil fuel-burning heater or appliance or has an attached garage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for approximately 15,000 emergency room visits and nearly 500 deaths annually in our nation. Because carbon monoxide deaths are entirely preventable, there is no reason why these facilities housing large numbers of the population should not have this alert system to warn individuals and possibly avoid unnecessary illnesses or deaths. Averaging around $20 a detector, this is a small price tag to put on an individual life.
Senior Property Tax Freeze
A new proposal that I am currently working on would address the issue of property tax reform for senior citizens. My deliberation on the issue has been arduous and thorough knowing how the local property tax system in Pennsylvania is deeply flawed and inequitable. It is not uniform in its affects on local taxpayers throughout the state. This uneven and somewhat arbitrary tax system at the local level is punitive mostly on poorer, fixed-income, aging homeowners who want to stay in their homes as long as they can reasonably afford to do so. I certainly acknowledge this crisis, most especially for many of our senior citizens, which is why I am currently writing a plan that would provide a property tax freeze for senior citizens. My legislation will establish a rebate program for single-family residential homeowners aged 66 years and older with an income of under $66,000 who have lived in their home for 10 years or longer. I am currently working with the Department of Revenue to determine the funding need for the program and the most responsible way to fund it through Lottery Fund monies and other avenues. The need to address the property tax debacle for older Pennsylvanians is urgent and I intend to make this one of my most important legislative priorities this year.
As I mentioned previously and as you are well aware, the current budget situation in our state is unfortunate and unprecedented. The reality that we are now operating under what some would call an incomplete spending plan coupled with the fact that the budget proposal for the coming fiscal year is scheduled to be unveiled in just a few short weeks, leads us into unchartered territory in how budget frameworks are negotiated. For months following the first gubernatorial veto last July, I continuously called for negotiators from all four legislative caucuses and the Governor’s office to meet all day, every day until an agreed to deal was reached. Without getting into the weeds on what happened last month when an agreement was abandoned, I think it is imperative that nothing like we experienced last year and the residual affects continuing into this year, ever happens again. That is why I am currently writing legislation that would require the designated negotiating teams from all five parties to meet daily and for a pre-determined number of hours if a complete budget agreement has not been reached and in place as of July 5th of each year. The General Assembly has a constitutional requirement to pass a balanced budget by June 30th each year and I firmly believe that we need to get back to respecting that requirement and working in a cooperative manner to do so while ensuring that each represented party at the table keep their word toward those agreements. Failure to do so recently has led to the need for a plan such as mine to force each group to take the situation more seriously and realize the need for urgency.
Completing the FAFSA
As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to encourage high school seniors and their families to prepare for completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible. The FAFSA is the federal form that all college-bound high school seniors must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance, including the Pennsylvania State Grant, the Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs, Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), various scholarships, some school-based aid, and federal student loans for the 2016-17 academic year. Students who are eligible for awards can reduce their family’s out-of-pocket expenses and make the cost of a higher education more manageable.
The FAFSA became available on January 1 and now is the time to get a jump on the application process by preparing, before sitting down to complete the FAFSA application. Students and families are able to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and will need the following information when beginning the application process:
- Social Security Numbers
- Student’s driver’s license
- Alien registration number, if not a U.S. citizen
- W-2 forms
- Records of untaxed income received, including workers’ compensation, child support, payments to tax-deferred pension and savings plans, etc.
- Federal income tax return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
- Current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds and other investments
It is better to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 as schools’ financial aid deadlines vary. Once again in 2016, PHEAA will host FAFSA Completion Sessions across Pennsylvania where PHEAA, in partnership with PASFAA (Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), provides free assistance to families needing help in completing the FAFSA. You can click here to view a listing of scheduled FAFSA Completion Sessions. PHEAA will continue to update this list as more sessions are added in the coming weeks.
I also want to encourage students and families to only complete the FAFSA on the FAFSA.gov website and to avoid any dot com sites, which often charge a fee for what can be accomplished for free.
Did You Know…
Did you know during the 2014-15 academic year, the Pennsylvania State Grant Program made 174,856 total awards and the PA-TIP Program during the same year assisted over 1,600 recipients with more than $5.2 million in net grants?
Veterans Encouraged to Connect with DMVA
The Pennsylvania Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA) is encouraging Pennsylvania veterans to connect with them via their new online Pennsylvania Veterans Registry at www.register.dmva.pa.gov for assistance with obtaining veterans benefits and services.
The Pennsylvania Veterans Registry is an online application that allows veterans to connect with DMVA to request information related to valuable state benefits, programs and services offered by the agency. The registry features responsive design technology to make it accessible on mobile devices and computers. A registrant’s information will be shared with the veteran’s county director for veterans affairs and other relevant Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agencies in order to facilitate local connections that aid in providing service to veterans.
Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans Benefit Program
The Pennsylvania Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA) is accepting applications for the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans Benefit Program. The application deadline has been extended through Aug 31, 2018. The program pays $75 per month for qualifying, active-duty service members, up to a $525 maximum. For personnel whose death was related to illness or injury received in the line of duty in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm, there is an additional $5,000 available to the surviving family. Service members who were declared prisoners of war may also be eligible for an additional $5,000.
To be eligible for the program, the service member must have:
- Served with the U.S. Armed Forces, a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces or the Pennsylvania National Guard.
- Served on active duty in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations during the period from Aug. 2, 1990 until Aug. 31, 1991, and received the Southwest Asia Service Medal.
- Been a legal resident of Pennsylvania at the time of active duty service.
- Been discharged from active duty under honorable conditions, if not currently on active duty.
Individuals who received a bonus or similar compensation from any other state are not eligible for the Pennsylvania program. For more detailed information on how to apply, please visit www.persiangulfbonus.pa.gov.
Volunteers Needed for Snow Angels Program
Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh are seeking volunteers to help the elderly and residents with disabilities stay safe this winter through the Allegheny Snow Angels Program. This program helps minimize the hardships of winter by pairing volunteers with elderly residents or residents with disabilities to assist with snow removal, keeping sidewalks and walkways safer for everyone.
Snow Angels was launched in 2011 by the City of Pittsburgh’s servePGH initiative, which successfully matched hundreds of volunteers to shovel more than 50,000 square feet of city sidewalks. In 2013, the program was adopted by Family Services of Western PA, giving volunteers the opportunity to make an even larger, county-wide impact. Snow Angels is administered by Family Services of Western PA in partnership with the United Way's Open Your Heart to a Senior volunteer initiative, North Hills Community Outreach, and Pittsburgh's 311 Response Center.
Volunteer opportunities are open to anyone living in Allegheny County, and are great for families and high school students. Volunteers are asked to help at least one resident for the entire 2015-16 winter season and shovels and salt are available by request. To register as a volunteer with the program please call 412-863-5939, 3-1-1, or visit http://alleghenysnowangels.org.
TreeVitalize Accepting Applications
TreeVitalize Pittsburgh is accepting applications from City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Allegheny County municipalities interested in receiving trees to be planted in fall 2016. TreeVitalize Pittsburgh supports street, park and riverfront tree plantings by supplying trees and services for locations throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Every Pittsburgh neighborhood is eligible to participate in the program and many County municipalities are eligible as well.
Any community or municipality interested in learning more about the program and application process should contact Jeffrey Bergman, TreeVitalize director, at 412-586-2396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 100th annual Pennsylvania Farm Show took place last week in Harrisburg’s Farm Show Complex and Expo Center. The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the largest indoor agricultural event in America that features 6,000 animals, 13,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits.
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
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm