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2017-18 Budget Proposal Unveiled
Last week, the Governor came before a joint session of the House and Senate to outline his proposal for the fiscal year 2017-18 state budget. I’m pleased to report that this was his first budget proposal that did not initially propose massive increases to broad-based taxes such as the income and sales tax to finance substantial increases in spending. This is a significantly improved starting-point for budget negotiations and I thank the Governor for listening to the citizens of Pennsylvania that have overwhelmingly asked for fiscal restraint and responsible budgeting from their state government.
I still have concerns about this budget, not the least of which is the fact that the Governor continues to ignore our ever-increasing public pension debt, by far the largest cost-driver in this and future budgets. As the Senate Chairman of Agriculture, I will be delving deeper into the Agriculture budget and the proposed 24% cuts. Specifically, we need to learn more about the lease-back proposal of the Pennsylvania Farm Show complex and the elimination of funding for the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks as we inspect this budget proposal from top to bottom and uphold our duty to deliver a responsible and efficient spending plan for the coming year.
Resolution Designating FFA Week in PA Introduced
Last week, I introduced a Senate Resolution 27, designating February 18 – 25 as FFA Week in Pennsylvania.
FFA was created in 1928 as the Future Farmers of America and has grown to represent nearly a half-million students engaged in a wide range of agricultural activities and interests. Over 12,000 students are members of the Pennsylvania FFA Association, many from this area.
Performance Based Budget Legislation Approved
On Monday, February 6, I voted for and the Senate approved legislation to streamline and justify state government spending as appropriated by the annual budget.
Senate Bill 181 would require all departments and agencies to justify budget requests beginning at the first dollar, rather than using the previous year’s appropriation as a baseline minimum for requests. Additionally, the legislation would create an independent board to review performance-based budget plans of state agencies and their implementation.
This legislation, if properly enacted, has the potential to save significant amounts of taxpayer dollars annually appropriated to programs and agencies that have long-outlasted their own usefulness. Click here for more information about Senate Bill 181.
Real ID Hearing
Last week, I participated in a public hearing of the Senate Communications and Technology Committee to discuss how to best get Pennsylvania into compliance with the requirements of the REAL ID Act, federal legislation mandating specific standards for state-issued ID cards. The hearing was a great opportunity for the Legislature and public to hear from a wide range of authorities about our existing compliance issues, criticisms of the federal law, and the implications of non-compliance for Pennsylvania residents.
At the conclusion of the hearing, I voted for and the committee approved Senate Bill 133, legislation taking the first step towards compliance by repealing the REAL ID Nonparticipation Act.
Revenue Report Released
The Senate Appropriations Committee just released its Monthly Revenue Report for the month of January. Included within the report is vital budgetary information that will guide me and my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee as we debate the content of the 2017-18 budget.
In addition, this month’s report includes a special section devoted to Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program, a decades-old program that has preserved thousands of acres of farmland in Beaver, Lawrence, and Butler Counties.
Property Tax/Rent Rebates Now Available
Applications are now available for the Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program and I encourage qualified individuals to file as soon as possible. The maximum standard rebate is $650.
The program is open to state residents age 65 or older; widows and widowers age 50 or older; and, 100 percent disabled people 18 or older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, with half of Social Security income excluded.
The deadline for filing an application is July 1 and applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis after that date.
Applications and assistance are available at no cost at all of my district offices: 488 Adams St. Rochester, PA 15074; 1905 W. State St. New Castle, PA 16101; 310 E. Grandview Ave. Zelienople, PA 16063 (Thursdays only).
Local residents should be aware that there is no charge to file a state Property Tax/Rent Rebate form and there is no need to pay anyone to fill out or file these forms.
Income Tax Assistance
Residents of all three counties of the 47th Senate District with low-to-moderate income for tax year 2016 could be eligible for free income tax preparation assistance this tax season.
Beaver County residents looking for basic income tax assistance may utilize AARP TaxAide volunteers from February 1 to April 15, 2017. Volunteers will be available at the following sites:
New Life Presbyterian Church, 2795 Patterson Dr., Aliquippa. Walk-In, Tuesdays, 10:00 AM-2:00 PM
Circle of Friends, Linmore & Wayne St., Baden. Appointment Only. Call (724) 869-4224.
Beaver Memorial Library, 100 College Ave., Beaver. Appointment Only. Call (724) 508-3388.
Center Twp. Fire Hall #1, 3385 Brodhead Rd., Aliquippa. Appointment Only. Call (724) 508-3401.
Pathway Church. 239 Braun Rd., Beaver Falls. Appointment Only. Call (724) 506-8186.
Butler County and Lawrence County residents are encouraged to contact their local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs to schedule an appointment. Butler County VITA: (724) 431-3767; Lawrence County VITA: (724) 658-7258.
Conservation Partnerships Grant Application Period Open
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is now accepting applications for grants under the 2017 Community Conservation Partnerships Program (C2P2).
The C2P2 program has funded thousands of projects that have helped plan, acquire, and develop parks, recreation facilities, and trails as well as conserve watersheds throughout the Commonwealth. Most grants require at least a 50% match. For more information, please contact your regional advisor.
The application period for C2P2 grants is open until April 12. Click here for more information and to apply.
Recycling Bin Grants Available
Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful (KAB) recently announced applications are now being accepted for the 2017 Dr. Pepper Snapple/Keep America Beautiful Park Recycling Bin Grants. The deadline for applications is February 24.
The grant program is open to all government agencies that own or manage local, regional or state parks. Nonprofit organizations and KAB affiliates are also eligible to apply on behalf of government agencies.
In addition to offering recycling bins, the grant program will also make additional funds available to affiliates or other grant recipients who commit to conducting a set of litter indexes in conjunction with the grant.
Local Transportation Projects Ramping Up
Two long-awaited transportation projects for our region are making progress towards completion.
The Freedom Road Improvement Project (pictured above) was recently in the news for the significant amount of tree clearing taking place near Crows Run. Stream relocation and earth-moving operations are soon to follow as this project connecting Cranberry Township and the Beaver Valley gets into gear in the coming months.
I’m also happy to report that the replacement of the 100+ year old Koppel Bridge has begun. The new bridge will run parallel to the existing bridge and is expected to be completed sometime in late 2018. Lane restrictions will be in place on the existing span from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for the foreseeable future.
American Conservative Union Recognition
I'm very proud to announce that I've been recognized by the American Conservative Union for a Conservative Achievement Voting Record in 2016.
I take great pride in consistently voting to defend our Constitutional Rights and limit the size and scope of state government. Click here for more information.
Heating Assistance Available
Reminder: The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is accepting applications for heating assistance until March 31. LIHEAP offers assistance in the form of a cash grant sent directly to the utility company, or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat. For more information, click here.
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Senate Box 203047