July 31, 2014

House GOP: Pension Reform, Philadelphia School Funding To Be Voted In Fall, Session Postponed Until Sept. 15

Asking Gov. Tom Corbett to advance the School District of Philadelphia education funding, Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) Thursday announced the public pension reform and a bill dealing primarily with the Philadelphia school district will be voted in September.
"We were prepared to come into session next week to vote once again for the enabling legislation for the Philadelphia schools," Rep. Smith said. "We worked hard to reach consensus on the additional public policy questions presented in the Senate-passed version of House Bill 1177 (Lucas-R- Crawford), namely expansion in hotel taxes and the city redevelopment program.
"We are working with the Senate and governor to ensure Philadelphia has the resources it needs to keep the schools open. As we work out details of the legislation, we have requested the governor advance the Philadelphia School District funds necessary to ensure schools open on time in the city."
The hotel tax increases and City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) expansions require a more in-depth policy discussion, including House committees and the entire House, Rep. Smith said. The issues have not been vetted sufficiently in the House to get just an up-or-down vote.
"After conversations with Republican and Democratic House leadership teams, we will plan on taking up legislation dealing with education in Philadelphia when we return in September," Rep. Turzai said. "We are focused on quality education for the children of Philadelphia which includes some new, dedicated funding and the charter application and appeal process reform. We are also focused on needed public pension reform, which for Philadelphia, skyrockets up to $193 million next year."
According to school district officials, the enabling legislation would generate $1.6 million per week, meaning, if the cigarette tax had passed the General Assembly, been signed by the governor and fully implemented by July 1, 2014, $20.8 million would be collected for the School District of Philadelphia by the end of September. The district's budget totals $2.8 billion, of which nearly 45 percent are state funds.
Advancing the state dollars is nothing new. In fact, the governor transferred $400 million in payments to the School District of Philadelphia earlier than scheduled from the Department of Education in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Both Rep. Smith and Rep. Turzai noted that last year, the General Assembly acted to lift the expiration of the 1 percent Sales and Use Tax for Philadelphia to dedicate up to $120 million of proceeds to the school district. Philadelphia City Council refused to enact the needed enabling legislation for almost a year.
Democratic Reaction
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) made this statement regarding the cancellation of next week's House voting session:
"House Democrats were and are prepared to come back and finish the work needed to ensure that the Philadelphia schools will open on time. All of Pennsylvania's children need their education to continue without interruption.
"This additional delay in authorizing a higher cigarette tax just for the city of Philadelphia is a huge disappointment because it could disrupt the school year of more than 200,000 children, as well as the work schedules of their parents and other caregivers.
"Gov. Corbett needs to work with state and city leaders to ensure that the state's largest school district opens on time and stays open for the full school year. He appoints most of the commission that oversees Philadelphia public schools and he is ultimately responsible for what happens there.
"House Democrats remain ready to be part of fixing this problem, and we want that to happen. But it requires leadership from the governor and the majority in the legislature."

House Cancells Session Next Week

The House announced the August 4, 5 and 6 voting session next week has been cancelled.  No other schedule was announced at this time.  The House and Senate are now scheduled to return September 15.

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July 30, 2014

Liquor Control Board Lowers License Fee For Tavern Gaming Licenses

The Liquor Control Board Wednesday unanimously voted to lower the license fee of a Tavern Gaming License from $2,000 to $500.
The move resulted from a recent legislative change that allowed the PLCB to drop the license fee to a minimum of $500. The new fee structure applies to all new Tavern Gaming License applicants and to three applicants who have yet to pay the license fee.
“The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board understands the legislative intent to increase the number of Tavern Gaming Licenses issued. More licenses means more revenue for the Commonwealth,” said PLCB Chairman Joseph E. “Skip” Brion. “The Board is happy to lower the license fee in an effort to encourage more tavern owners to apply.”
Here’s how the Tavern Gaming License process works: An applicant submits an application packet along with $2,000. This nonrefundable application fee will not change. One thousand dollars remains with the PLCB for processing and $1,000 goes to the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission for a background investigation. After a successful background investigation is complete, the application goes before the PLCB.
If the PLCB approves the application, the licensee must pay a fee to receive the license. This is the license fee that was changed Wednesday. By statute, the license fee goes directly to the Commonwealth’s General Fund. It does not go to the PLCB.
“We have heard what the legislators have said regarding their desire to make the Tavern Gaming License process more affordable for applicants. It is their belief that, by lowering the license fee, the commonwealth will get more tavern owners to apply for tavern gaming licenses. That’s why we took this step today,” said Board Member Robert Marcus.
As of July 30, there have been 21 Tavern Gaming Licenses issued. Three applicants were approved by the PLCB and will receive their licenses once they pay the new, lower license fee. Two other applications are being processed and investigated.
“The PLCB remains willing to work with the Legislature to streamline and improve the Tavern Gaming License application process,” said Board Member Tim Holden.
For more information, visit the PLCB Tavern Gaming and the Department of Revenue’s Small Games of Chance webpages.

Wednesday NewsClips

House Will Now Be In Voting Session Aug. 4, 5, 6
Poll: Corbett Loses By Less: A New York Times/CBS News poll Tuesday shows Gov. Tom Corbett losing to Democrat Tom Wolf 33 to 42 percent, the narrowest gap since the May Primary.
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July 28, 2014

Scarnati: Senate Works Toward Pension Reform

The Senate has recently passed bi-partisan legislation to begin reforming Pennsylvania’s pension system by moving members of the General Assembly and other statewide elected officials to a defined contribution plan, according to Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson).
Sem/ Scarnati explained that last month the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 922 (Brubaker-R-Lancaster), which takes an important first step to move all elected officials, including members of the General Assembly, out of a defined benefit public pension plan to remove this financial burden from taxpayers.
“Reforming public pension benefits is an important goal that Senate Republicans have been engaged in throughout the current legislative session,” Sen. Scarnati said.  “Leading by example is what Pennsylvania residents expect and deserve from their elected officials.”
The amended version of Senate Bill 922, which was approved in a historic vote by the full Senate, would remove members of the Senate and House as well as the judiciary from the current defined benefit pension plan. The bill would create a defined contribution plan similar to a 401(k) plan for legislators, the Governor, the Attorney General, the Auditor General, and Treasurer upon re-election, as well as the judiciary upon retention.
“Recently the governor has been traveling across our Commonwealth to speak with Pennsylvania residents about the need for pension reform,” Sen. Scarnati stated. “I appreciate that the governor shares our concern for the long-term sustainability of our Commonwealth’s pension systems, and look forward to sitting down with him to proactively work as a team to solve this problem.”
Sen. Scarnati noted that Members of the Senate decided to change their own pensions first, before asking others to make changes to their plans.  If changes are to be made to the retirement system for state employees, then those that vote for those changes should be held to the same standard.
“This issue did not arise overnight and requires that we work together to enact responsible pension reform in a strategic manner,” Sen. Scarnati said.  “I am very pleased to work with my colleagues in the Senate to take the first steps to address the long-term sustainability of the state’s public employee pension systems.”
Senate Bill 922 is currently before the House Finance Committee.

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July 25, 2014

July 28 PA Environment Digest Now Available

July 28 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

Audit: Rapid Shale Gas Development Outpaced DEP’s Ability To Oversee Drilling
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale Tuesday said an audit shows the meteoric growth of the shale gas industry since 2003 caught the Department of Environmental Protection unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints.

DEP: Auditor General Report Focuses On Recordkeeping, Water Kept Safe
The Auditor General's Office Tuesday released the Special Audit of DEP's Performance in Monitoring Potential Impact to Water Quality from Shale Gas Development for the period 2009 through 2012, finding no instances where DEP failed to protect public health, safety or the environment with respect to unconventional gas drilling activities.

Post-Gazette: 209 Water Supplies Damaged By Drilling Since Late 2007
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported information from the Department of Environmental Protection Tuesday which shows 209 water supplies were affected by drilling since the end of 2007.

2014 Ohio River Watershed Celebration Sept. 18 At North Park, Allegheny County
The 2014 Ohio River Watershed Celebration will be held on September 18 at North Park, Allegheny County.  This year’s theme is-- Connected Through Our Streams, The Pine Creek Experience.

Paddle Without Pollution Wins National Green Paddle For Conservation Award
Paddle Without Pollution in Pittsburgh Tuesday announced it is the 2014 recipient of the prestigious ACA Green Paddle for Waterway Conservation Award.

PennVEST Invests $81.5 Million In Water Infrastructure Projects In 11 Counties
Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday announced the investment of $81.5 million in 14 non-point source, drinking water and wastewater projects across 11 counties through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority.

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July 24, 2014

Gov. Corbett To Hold Jobs 1st Summit Aug. 25-26 In Pittsburgh

Gov. Corbett will host a Jobs 1st Summit in Pittsburgh on August 25-26 to discuss how the Commonwealth can align education, training, and technology resources to better connect employees with employer needs.
The Summit will encourage conversations and connections between leaders and innovators and examine opportunities to integrate technology, creativity and leadership into workforce development so that we strengthen what is already the best workforce in the nation.
For a detailed agenda and registration information, visit the JOBS 1st Summit website.

Thursday NewsClips

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