SCRANTON, February 12, 2016 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today hosted nearly 100 local and municipal officials at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Scranton for his sixth annual legislative breakfast.
In the wake of the governor’s 2016-17 budget address coupled with the fiscal uncertainties created by the over $6 billion in line-item vetoes from the 2015-16 state budget, Senator Blake spent much of the time describing the stark realities facing the Commonwealth.[divider top=”0″]
“We have to be more responsible about our fiscal and budgetary obligations as a legislature,” Blake said. “The underfunded, incomplete budget that we are currently operating under is not only $6 billion short of the needs of our schools, hospitals and citizens – but according to some estimates, nearly $500 million out of balance.”
On Tuesday, Governor Tom Wolf proposed a $33.288 billion state budget for 2016-17 which was built on the assumption that the bipartisan agreement negotiated in December will ultimately be enacted. The agreement which was not enacted in the House after it passed the Senate by a 43-7 vote would have included a nearly $500 million increase in public education funding; elimination of our structural budget deficit; $78 million in new funding for higher education; and fully funded pension and debt obligations.
“The governor’s 2016-17 budget is focused on two things: education funding and addressing the Commonwealth’s budget deficit. These are certainly priorities for Pennsylvania, but we also must find a consensus and an end to the sharp political division within the Capitol,” Blake said. “When the governor signed the budget and blue-line vetoed $6 billion – we lost a lot of leverage towards getting the 2015-16 bipartisan agreement enacted and it is my belief that it is time for us to address the remaining appropriation for 2015-16 so we can pivot to the 2016-17 budget negotiation.”
“The pension reform plan that passed in the Senate was not a perfect plan. It would, however, have enabled a responsible, balanced budget that included the largest education funding increase in Pennsylvania history; tens of millions of dollars to restore past cuts to human services and economic development programs; and it would have eliminated the structural deficit we are faced with in this and the next fiscal year,” Blake said.
Another issue discussed at the legislative breakfast was property tax relief.
“Any discussion about taxes to address our structural deficit has to include a discussion about property tax relief,” Blake added.
There are numerous proposals circulating the Capitol on property tax relief including a proposal by the Senate Democratic Caucus. This plan would provide significant property tax relief through rebates to homeowners of up to $1,990 annually as well as $500 rebates to renters earning less than $50,000 annually. The plan would eliminate school property taxes for 2 million homeowners across the state and significantly reduce the local property tax burden for an additional 1.2 million homeowners.
Blake, who serves as the Democratic Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that the Senate will return to Harrisburg later this month for a full slate of budget hearings on the governor’s 2016-17 budget proposal and, hopefully, to deal with the budget crisis that continues to threaten our schools and our hospitals as a result of the work undone on the 2015-16 state budget.
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