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Budget Hearings Highlight Flawed Fiscal Priorities

Budget Priorities
Video: Sen. Blake discusses Democratic budget priorities

Following three weeks of Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearings, one thing is clear – the 2012-2013 state budget, as proposed by the Governor, will harm our educational system, our social safety net and our economy.

While the enormity of the proposed budget cuts is glaring enough on paper, it is not until I hear from the people behind the numbers that I begin to realize the true consequences of the policy and budget decisions of this Administration.  I have had dozens of entreaties from human service providers that have revealed the breadth and depth of the cuts proposed and the changes in policy that serve to undermine the financial viability of several, critically important non-profit organizations that serve people in need in our region.  I have also heard from public school directors on the challenges the Governor’s budget imposes on our schools.

There is an imbalance in the focus and the attention of the Corbett Administration – it is a focus skewed to the narrow interests of business and away from the public interests of working class people in Pennsylvania. 

The Governor’s budget, if enacted as proposed, will force more teacher layoffs; larger class sizes in our public schools; higher local property taxes on fixed income homeowners; and it is certain to result in higher tuition costs at virtually all institutions of higher education in this Commonwealth – pushing the dream of a college diploma further into the distance for too many young Pennsylvanians and their families who will be unable to afford it.

We cannot continue to burden our students, our working families and Pennsylvanians in need with the full weight of responsibility to balance our state budget.  There is a fairer way to meet our responsibilities and to better serve the public interest.


Marcellus Shale Law Sells PA Short

Video
Video of Sen. Blake's floor remarks on House Bill 1950

In February Governor Corbett signed into law an inadequate and ill-advised Marcellus Shale impact fee law that, even under the best of circumstances, will generate far less revenue than every other natural gas producing state in the nation.  The impact fee, which translates to an approximate 1.5% levy on the industry, in no way addresses the volume of natural gas actually being extracted from the state.  It only addresses the number of wells drilled and, because the levy ceases in 15 years, it ignores the productivity of those wells over the long term.  The national average of severance taxes levied in all other gas producing states is approximately 5%. 

The limited fee levied under this law; the provisions of the law that supersede local zoning and that empower the state’s Public Utility Commission to serve as an arbiter of local zoning ordinances in favor of a singular industry; and the fact that the fee can only be levied at the discretion of county officials, all serve to reveal the flawed content of the law.  While several environmental protection standards were improved through the legislative process, even they fell short of the best practices that could have been achieved. 

In Lackawanna County we have few drilling sites but our roads; our water quality; our housing costs; our natural environment and our quality of life all stand to be affected by natural gas drilling operations taking place in adjacent counties.  It is unfortunate for this Commonwealth that the majority party in the legislature and the Corbett Administration lacked the courage, the political will and the vision to enact an appropriate severance tax to guarantee that economic, community development, social, cultural and environmental protection benefits be fairly supported by the growth of this industry and properly shared by all of our citizens.  The Corbett Administration has decried state government’s role in picking winners and losers -- but Act 13 of 2011 does just that and, under its provisions, too many Pennsylvanians lose.

Voter ID
Video of Sen. Blake's floor remarks on House Bill 934

Voter ID Bill is an Insult to many
PA Voters and Election Workers

The right to vote is the most fundamental right of our democracy.  People have died fighting for this right.  The Republican majority in Harrisburg has decided to make this right more difficult to exercise for our seniors, veterans, college students and persons with disabilities.

House Bill 934, which passed the Senate by a 26-23 vote, requires all voters to present photo identification or some other ID from a very narrow list of other accepted forms of identification each time they vote.

Not only is this bill costly – it is estimated to cost our taxpayers between $4.5 million and $11 million in the first year and nearly $2.5 million per year going forward – but it is unnecessary because it attempts to solve a voter fraud problem that simply does not exist in Pennsylvania.  A U.S. Department of Justice statistic has shown that, since 2008, more than 20 million votes were cast in Pennsylvania and there were only four convictions of voter fraud.  This is an expensive solution to a problem that does not exist and it not only insults dedicated voters and county election workers but it imposes upon some of our citizens added inconvenience and personal costs wholly unnecessary to achieve what can only be described as a very marginal enhancement to the validity and the integrity of our current voting and election systems.

When self-interested, partisan politics infect our debates and the public policies of our governance, voters lose faith.  This bill hammers another nail in the coffin of voter enthusiasm. Our citizens deserve better.

Please consult my website for information on acceptable forms of ID, applying for a free form of acceptable ID, and absentee forms.

Loss of adultBasic Still Stings

adultBasicVideo: Sen. Blake calls for restoration of adultBasic

It has been one year since the Corbett Administration ended the state’s adultBasic health care program.  This was a program that helped provide a quality, affordable health care option for working Pennsylvanians and their families.

More than 40,000 people lost their health insurance coverage when the program ended and tens of thousands more on the waiting list witnessed the demise of another option that could have secured for them some dignity and protection.  We had an opportunity to do the right thing and to lend a helping hand to hard-working Pennsylvanians simply hoping to stay healthy and avoid financial ruin but the Corbett Administration closed their eyes to these working class citizens.

We are elected to serve the citizens of Pennsylvania and to improve their quality of life.  This decision – and too many others like it – offer no meaningful improvement in the quality of life for working class citizens and, regrettably, they mark clearly the priorities of the Corbett Administration.

Texting While Driving Ban

Texting BanPennsylvania’s ban on texting while driving went into effect on March 8th.

This is another step to making our roads safer by offering a significant deterrence to distracted driving.  The new law bans texting as well as the sending of instant messages and e-mail while driving in Pennsylvania.

Anyone convicted of texting while driving under the new ban will face a fine of $50 for each infraction.  Texting while driving is considered a primary offense so a police officer can pull a driver over if the officer sees a driver texting behind the wheel.

If a driver is, however, selecting or entering a phone number or a name for the purpose of making a phone call, they will not be found in violation the texting ban.  Drivers are permitted – and indeed ought to consider – safely pulling off to the side of the road where they can put their vehicle into ‘park’ and use their phone to text.

More information can be found on Pennsylvania’s texting while driving ban at http://www.drivesafepa.org/.   

Legislative Breakfast Focuses on Local Impact of Budget Cuts

On February 17th, I was honored to host more than 70 local government officials and school administrators from the 22nd District for my second annual legislative breakfast at the Greenwood Hose Company on Birney Avenue in Moosic.

This was a great opportunity to hear from those I represent on the issues of importance to them and to allow me an opportunity to discuss the local impacts of the education and human service cuts proposed by the Corbett Administration in the 2012-13 budget presented in February.

Legislative BreakfastI share with local officials similar concerns – as well as similar aspirations for the future of Pennsylvania for the citizens and communities of my district.  I hold my annual legislative breakfast at this time of year so I can be fully informed on the true impacts of the Governor’s proposed budget on families, schools and communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  As I learned in last year’s budget debate, there continues to be a disconnect between the Governor’s words and his public remarks and the true impacts of the numbers presented in his budget on the lives of the people I represent.  Decision makers on the front lines in our local communities and in our schools not only inform the questions I raise to members of the Governor’s cabinet during Senate Appropriation hearings but they inform the larger public policy debates we conduct in Harrisburg.  I am honored to serve the people of the 22nd District and proud to engage local officials in thoughtful dialogue on the issues that matter most to improving the quality of life in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
 
For video from my legislative breakfast, click here.

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For updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me on the Internet through my website or on Facebook. Facebook

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