SCRANTON, February 24, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake today hosted over 100 local and municipal officials at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Scranton for his seventh annual legislative breakfast.
The wide-ranging discussion focused mostly on the $32.3 billion state budget proposed by Governor Tom Wolf earlier this month and how budget priorities and decisions will affect school districts and municipalities across northeastern Pennsylvania.
“The budget proposed by Governor Wolf is a function of dealing with both the fiscal and political realities facing the Commonwealth and represents a very strong starting position for our ongoing budget negotiations,” Blake said. “The Governor’s budget rightly proposes an increase in funding for all of our local school districts still feeling the pinch from the four years of insufficient funding under the previous administration. It is imperative that we continue working to increase the state’s share of funding a quality, public education.”
The Governor’s proposal includes new revenue from a new severance tax on natural gas extraction and proposes combined reporting for Pennsylvania businesses – both initiatives that have been supported by Senator Blake since taking office in 2011. Blake currently has legislation that would gradually reduce Pennsylvania’s Corporate Net Income Tax and provide for a phased closing of the so-called Delaware Loophole by implementing mandatory combined reporting.
Blake also discussed the Governor’s proposed $25 per capita fee for 2.5 million Pennsylvanians who live in municipalities receiving full-time state police coverage. In the 22nd Senatorial District, seven municipalities rely solely on the Pennsylvania State Police for police coverage and would be subject to the fee.
“Due to budget pressures over the last handful of years, we have been forced to pull money from the Motor License fund – money supposed to be used to improve our roads and bridges – to pay for state police coverage,” Blake said. “There is a lot of contention on this issue, and I am a cosponsor of an alternative solution that would provide for a direct dollar-for-dollar exchange in relation to the actual cost of providing police coverage. We need to reduce reliance on the Motor License Fund while ensuring adequate support for our PA State Police to ensure public safety throughout the state.”
Blake noted that significant property tax reform was not discussed in the Governor’s budget address but it should be an important issue in our negotiations for a final state budget. Blake recently joined his colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus to call for a special session of the General Assembly to address property tax reform or elimination.
“Property taxes are a significant burden for a large number of Pennsylvania families and something needs to be done – but in any solution, we need to ensure that we can continue to adequately and predictably fund our public education system,” Blake added. “The tax shift under certain property tax elimination proposals would be near $14 billion dollars – and would also let casinos, retailers and businesses off the hook. We need to be sure that any tax shift does not disproportionately burden working class Pennsylvanians.”
Looking ahead, Blake is hopeful that he can get final passage of his Senate Bill 234, the Property Assessed Clean Energy bill, which would establish a financing mechanism that enables low-cost, long-term funding for energy efficiency and water conservation upgrades at commercial or industrial properties.
“The PACE bill presents a win-win situation – it is market-driven and does not cost the taxpayers a dime,” Blake said. “Currently, 33 states authorize PACE financing for clean energy and energy efficiency projects and we are hopeful – that with nearly 25 cosponsors – our bill can reach the governor’s desk this session.”
Blake, who serves on the Senate Democratic Caucus leadership team in the role of Caucus Administrator of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that he hopes to reach a bipartisan agreement on a balanced state budget, pension reform and property tax reform.
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