Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Legislative Session Week of March 2, 2015

Senate to Review Governor’s FY 2015-16 Budget

Beginning with Governor Tom Wolf’s budget address on Tuesday, the Senate begins the extensive process leading to the finalization of a state budget for the 2015-16 Fiscal Year, which runs from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016.

During a joint session of the General Assembly, the Governor unveiled his $33.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2015-16, which includes a $4.7 billion (16.1 percent) increase in state spending. It also includes tax increases totaling $4.7 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. Detailed information about the budget is available at: https://www.pasenategop.com/state-budget/.

“The new taxes and new spending in Governor Wolf’s budget are staggering, the biggest in history. Under his plan, working Pennsylvanians would have more money taken out of their paychecks and pay more for their basic necessities. His tax increases total $4.7 billion for the upcoming fiscal year – an increase of 16.1 percent from Fiscal Year 2014-15.  His proposal would raise taxes by $12 billion over the next two fiscal years – about $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Pennsylvania. Families will pay 20 percent more in personal income taxes and 10 percent more in sales and use taxes under the Wolf plan. For small business the Wolf tax increases will be onerous. For mid- and lower-income individuals they are exceedingly regressive.

“I do not believe that massive tax increases will help make Pennsylvania a stronger state.  I am extremely disappointed that Governor Wolf is also proposing an onerous extraction tax on the Marcellus Shale industry. Pennsylvania already has a special tax on the natural gas industry, it’s called the impact fee. This tax raised more than $800 million and has brought much needed money to all of our local governments to deal with impacts of the industry and environmental programs. The severance tax proposed by Governor Wolf would just send more money to Harrisburg.  In the long run, the Governor’s tax would slow that industry and have a serious impact on jobs and the economy of numerous western Pennsylvania communities.

“While I strongly support reducing the Corporate Net Income Tax, it cannot be at the expense of the hardworking middle class through the historic sales and income tax increases.  Raising taxes is not a ‘big idea.’ It’s a small idea, one which puts our businesses and citizens at risk for failure. In fact, Governor Wolf’s 10 percent sales tax increase is especially troubling since it would put small businesses in western Pennsylvania at a further disadvantage to those in neighboring states with lower tax rates, such as Ohio (5.75 percent). Our citizens and Pennsylvania employers need real reforms and relief, not increased burdens.”

Certainly, Senate Republicans will be taking a hard look at the Governor’s proposal. The process will get underway as the Senate Appropriations Committee, which I serve on as a member, holds three weeks of budget hearings beginning on March 16.  The hearings provide an opportunity for the Appropriations Committee to hear Administration officials detail their plans for the upcoming fiscal year. Live coverage of the hearings will be available online at www.pasenategop.com.

Senate Committees Hold Hearing Highlighting Natural Gas Impact Fee

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the Senate Local Government Committee held a joint public hearing on Tuesday to discuss the benefits of the Act 13 Impact Fee on Pennsylvania communities.

The public hearing featured testimony from counties, townships, conservation districts and economic development organizations throughout the state. Act 13 of 2012 imposed an unconventional gas well fee which has provided more than $630 million to local and county governments to compensate for impacts of the industry, in addition to more than $2 billion companies have paid in state taxes.

Click here for video of the hearing.

Honoring the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

I am pleased to report that the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 42 on Tuesday. I introduced this Resolution to designate March 31, 2015, as “Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Day” and congratulate Pennsylvania Farm Bureau members for their significant contributions to our Commonwealth and its agricultural industry.

Established in 1950, The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, formerly the Pennsylvania Farmers’ Association, has been devoted to providing farmers a means of joining together to secure a bright future for agriculture and rural communities.  The Farm Bureau has played a substantial role in the development and implementation of legislation that helps build the economic strength of agriculture and agribusiness in the Commonwealth.

The Farm Bureau continues to work diligently to foster the understanding and support for agriculture among all sectors in Pennsylvania and remains a strong voice for farm families at all levels.

Click here to watch my remarks on the floor of the Senate about Farm Bureau Day.

Bill Sets Penalties for False Claim of Veteran Status

The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday intended to protect the integrity of the “veteran” driver’s license designation process. Under Senate Bill 42 those who falsely claim to be a veteran on their Pennsylvania driver’s license application would be subject to a summary offense with a $300 fine and possible imprisonment of between 30 and 90 days for those who fail to pay the fine. A state law enacted in 2012 allows veterans to self-certify their status subject to verification by state military officials.

On Monday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 130, a measure banning the practice of allowing persons sentenced to community service to purchase gift cards in lieu of performing the service.

Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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