Heading into a new year, it’s worth laying out a few facts that might help guide state policymakers into making better decisions about supporting environmental and natural resource programs in Pennsylvania. These facts have one thing in common-- they are facts, stubborn as they may be-- and if these realities are accepted like they should be-- environmental and natural resource programs will no longer be thought of as “extras” to be cut at will.
The Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting applications for stormwater best management practices to reduce nutrients and sediments to streams and rivers within urbanized areas in 10 counties in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. (formal notice) The 10 counties are: Blair, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming and York.
Did you know Philadelphia has an international reputation as a city where green design and innovation are thriving? Earlier in December, the Philadelphia Water Department led a group of business leaders and engineers from Beijing, China on a tour of green stormwater infrastructure sites across Philadelphia.
It may not be a surprise to anyone that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is again facing a budget shortfall. What does this mean? It is very simple – Harrisburg spends more money than it brings in.
Unfortunately, for some, the solution is to raise taxes, rather than control spending and focus on efficiencies.
Most people know that I am a private sector business owner. In the private sector business world, business owners learn to manage and control costs first and only raise prices as a last resort.
It is very clear to me that Harrisburg does not understand the concept of managing and controlling costs.
In no uncertain terms, I want to be very clear – I will not vote for any tax increases until Harrisburg begins to manage and control costs.
As I have continued to say since day one when I arrived in Harrisburg in April 2014 – Harrisburg doesn’t have a revenue problem, Harrisburg has a spending problem.
Take for example the issue of property taxes, which voters sent me to Harrisburg to address. We were very close to passing legislation in the Senate at the end of 2015, but a tie vote of 24-24 was broken by a negative vote cast by Lt. Governor Mike Stack.
The Lieutenant Governor recently wrote his own op-ed regarding property taxes, in which he stated he is proud of his vote. And while he acknowledges we need to do something to reduce (not eliminate) property taxes, his main focus is keeping businesses on the hook for 25 percent of all property taxes.
The Lieutenant Governor claims you, the taxpayer, would bear more of a tax burden if we did away with the property tax because these businesses would no longer be footing one-fourth of the bill for our expensive education system.
Why are we expecting businesses to carry the burden in the first place?
Yes, it is a community effort to educate our students who will ultimately be employees, leaders, and for some, business owners. But who is really paying those property taxes that businesses are paying?
You, the customer and their employees. You are paying through higher prices to cover costs. And higher costs mean less money to pay workers. It is a vicious cycle that we have the power to break.
I know I continue repeating the same message, but it is time that Harrisburg comes to its senses and digs in its heels and says enough is enough with excessive spending. Rather than fear the loss of property taxes from businesses, how about we look at controlling spending and managing costs within Pennsylvania’s education system?
Pennsylvania ranks 10th nationally for per student spending, averaging $15,560 – $3,400 above the national average. Of that, $5,580 is state funding while $8,743 is from local sources – your property taxes.
In fact, the $5,580 is on point with the national average for state spending, but costs controlled by the teachers’ union – salaries, benefits, and pensions, combined with unfunded state mandates, result in an ever-increasing dependency on property taxes.
To break the cycle and ultimately eliminate property taxes, we need to get control of those costs rather than focus on whether or not businesses are helping to foot the outrageous bill.
Of course, education funding and property taxes are only one piece of the state spending puzzle.
As we head into the New Year and a new legislative session, the topic of the 2017-2018 state budget is already on the minds of many in the Capitol.
This past October, state departments presented their budget requests to the Office of the Budget, which has reviewed the proposals.
In February, Gov. Wolf will present his Executive Budget to the legislature, and the Senate Appropriations Committee will convene budget hearings with each department for three weeks beginning on February 21st.
According to a recent Independent Fiscal Office report, we could end the current fiscal year with a $500 million shortfall, which could escalate to $1.7 billion in the upcoming 2017-2018 budget.
If I was to predict what we will see from the Governor’s budget proposal, I would venture to guess his budget will increase spending while raising taxes. I would rather be proven wrong on both points for everyone’s sake.
Heading into the new legislative session and the budget process, I will remain steadfast in my efforts to rein in spending and manage our government operations to prevent tax increases. I will also continue advocating for the elimination of property taxes.
Senate Bill 76 will be reintroduced, and I am again, a co-prime sponsor of the bill, which has support from members on both sides of the aisle. Combined with the fact that the November election increased the majority to 34 Senate Republicans, we won’t need the Lieutenant Governor to cast a tie-breaking vote this year.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) Thursday announced the Majority and Minority Chairs for each of the 22 Senate Standing Committees for the 2017-2018 legislative session. Eleven of the chairs are new to their committees.
Republicans have 11 new Committee Chairs and Democrats have six.
“I am pleased to announce today the Chairs of each of the 22 Senate Standing Committees,” said Sen. Scarnati. “The Senate Republican Caucus is comprised of members with extensive knowledge of various issue areas, many of whom will provide committee direction this session. I am confident these Committee Chairs will ensure that legislation receives close examination before advancing to the full Senate.”
“Our Senate Democratic committee chairs have the breadth and depth of experience, expertise and institutional knowledge necessary to address issues important to and affecting Pennsylvanians and their families,” said Sen. Costa. “We recognize the challenges in front of us in the upcoming session and look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate and the House on policy issues and legislation that will move Pennsylvania forward.”
Senate Standing Committee Chair Assignments:
-- Aging & Youth –
Majority: Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Crawford)
Minority: Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia)
-- Agriculture & Rural Affairs –
Majority: Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver)
Minority: Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks)
-- Appropriations –
Majority: Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh)
Minority: Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia)
-- Banking & Insurance –
Majority: Sen. Don White (R-Indiana)
Minority: Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) NEW
-- Communications & Technology –
Majority: Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) NEW
Minority: Sen. Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia) NEW
-- Community, Economic & Recreational Development –
Majority: Sen. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) NEW
Minority: Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) NEW
-- Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure –
Majority: Sen. Robert Tomlinson (R-Bucks)
Minority: Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh)
-- Education –
Majority: Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) NEW
Minority: Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester)
-- Environmental Resources & Energy –
Majority: Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming)
Minority: Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne)
-- Finance –
Majority: Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) NEW
Minority: Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna)
-- Game & Fisheries –
Majority: Sen. Pat Stefano (R-Fayette) NEW
Minority: Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny)
-- Intergovernmental Operations –
Majority: Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) NEW
Minority: Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) NEW