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Elder Vogel Jr.
With the beginning of the New Year, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some highlights from a successful 2019 and what we hope to accomplish in 2020 with this year-end review.
To kick-off the year, the Senate held the Appropriations Committee Hearings tasked with talking to each State Department and about the proposed Budget from Governor Wolf. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee it is an honor to take part in this process.
This year we focused heavily on agricultural development and school safety measures to protect Pennsylvania’s students. With a focus on agricultural initiatives, the beginning of the year was very exciting to me in my position as the Senate Ag Committee Chair. Considering our agriculture-heavy 47th district and my personal background in farming, 2019 was a significant year for Pennsylvania’s largest industry.
My bill to add to this agriculture initiative was the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit.
This legislation provides a personal income tax credit for landowners who lease or sell their land, buildings, and equipment to beginning farmers. The number one concern faced by new farmers is finding affordable farmland. This tax credit helps bridge the gap to help make farms sustainable for the future.
As a result of this program, landowners receive a one-time personal income tax credit for the sale of property or a multi-year tax credit for the lease of property. The legislation requires all leases be enforced through written agreements and that the sale of property be for fair market value in order to qualify for the tax credit. The bill was supported by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the National Young Farmer Coalition.
For every four farmers in Pennsylvania over the age of 65, there is only one farmer under the age of 35. Of the 7.7 million acres of farmland across Pennsylvania, 41 percent is managed by a farmer 55 years of age or older and 11 percent of that land is expected to transfer in the next five years.
Those statistics highlight the challenges that new farmers face when looking to start a farm of their own. None of our neighboring states offer a similar tax credit program. This legislation has shown the agriculture community that Pennsylvania is open for business. For more information on the Tax Credit, please click here.
While we accomplished this historic commitment to the agricultural industry, we also worked on other vital issues such as providing assurance that our schools remain safe. I was proud to support and promote the array of new tools that have been made available to identify threats and improve school security.
School safety resources available to school districts include:
To ensure that security is a priority in every school district, the state now requires each district to appoint a safety and security coordinator. Schools must also conduct drills of their response to a school shooter that engage local police within their plan.
As the year continued, we moved onto the biggest discussion of every year, the budget. The Senate approved a budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20 that reaffirms Pennsylvania’s strong commitment to farming families. Video
I was extremely pleased by this budget and with the passage of the Farming First legislative package. Robust state funding makes a real difference in ensuring that agriculture remains at the top of our state economy. Beyond that, the new money this year will help promote innovation in the industry and ensure the health of our livestock. These are great investments that will pay significant dividends.
Final revenues for Fiscal Year 2018-19, which ended on June 30, are anticipated to be $865 million over projections, with an ending balance of about $300 million. With about a $33 billion dollar budget that provided an additional $225 million to improve education for every student across the state, regardless of zip code and further ensure a workforce ready for the 21st century. This includes $100 million for Basic Education Funding, $20 million for Special Education, $30 million for Pre-K Counts, $10 million for Head Start, $40 million for PAsmart to develop 21st century skills (Career and Technical Education), $10 million for additional Career and Technical Education, and $15 million for PASSHE.
The budget continues Senate Republicans’ ongoing efforts to protect Pennsylvania’s students and school staff by restoring the Governor’s $15 million cut to the Safe Schools program administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (back to $60 million) and increases the Safe School initiative under the Department of Education by $1 million to a total of $11 million. We hope to continue these practices into the 2020-2021 budget talks this upcoming year.
After the budget was passed, I wanted to focus on issues facing my district and the Commonwealth. I decided to turn my attention to election reform with specific goals in mind. These goals were keeping our election fair and promoting voter accessibility while also lessening the burden on our county governments to pay for expensive voting machines.
With the decertification of state voting machines the counties were faced with the expensive task of replacing them. Replacing all voting machines could have cost counties, and local taxpayers, a total of $125 million or more. Without state support, counties would have needed to raise taxes on local taxpayers to create the funds for the new machines.
Thankfully, legislative leaders were able to provide $90 million to support the purchase of new machines across the state. This provision ensures the county Boards of Elections are not forced to pick up this prohibitive cost on their own, while still boosting election security.
Another goal of this legislation was to keep our election process fair and promote voter accessibility so everyone had the opportunity to vote. With this in mind the following was created:
These changes will promote a stronger system in which every voter will have the opportunity to vote.
Goals for 2020
As we move forward through 2020, I want to express my goals for the coming year. At the top of this list is my Telemedicine legislation, Senate Bill 857, which recently passed the Senate and was amended by the House. With the on-going discussion over this important legislation, I am adamant to get it done in the 2019-2020 session because it will create greater accessibility to healthcare and drive down costs for everyone in the Commonwealth.
I also plan to continue, with my fellow Senators, the fight against the state’s arbitrary emissions testing law. Having a district that shares borders with Ohio & West Virginia – two states with no emissions testing – provides unique perspective to the practice. Additionally, two of the three counties in our very own district (Butler & Lawrence) do not require emissions testing. This presents a unique case where half of the constituents I represent must pay more and find time to visit a local shop in order to remain legal on the road.
These are just two goals for the upcoming year, but they will be of the utmost importance to me and many others moving forward.
I am excited for what the New Year will bring and I am honored to serve the people of the district and Commonwealth of PA for another year.
Please contact me to provide input on any state-related matter, or to receive help in dealing with a state agency.
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