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22 News & Views from State Senator John Blake

Resolution to Protect Operations of 55th Brigade in Scranton Passes Senate

Senator Blake discusses Scranton 55th Brigade
Senator Blake discusses the importance of protecting the operations of the 55th ABCT in Scranton.

A concurrent state Senate Resolution urging the United States Army to reverse its decision to deactivate the 55th Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) in Scranton unanimously passed the state Senate on June 22.

Senate Resolution 149 also urges the United States Congress to take all necessary action to prohibit any force structure changes; to prohibit any transfer of AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard to active duty; and to maintain the PA Army National Guard at 350,200 soldiers until the National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA) has reported its findings to the U.S. Army.

The continued operation of the 55th Armored Brigade is critically important not only to our state and national security, but to the economic strength of Scranton and Northeastern Pennsylvania. There are more than 3,500 Pennsylvanians who capably and selflessly serve our country as members of the 55th Brigade. These fine men and women deserve unwavering support and we cannot stand by while the Army moves to deactivate this proud and decorated unit.

The geographic presence of the 55th ABCT is important not only in response to the Army’s requests for mobilization, but it is absolutely vital in order to remain agile in response to state and federal emergencies in PA and in our surrounding states.  Further, the National Guard is a tremendous economic value to the Army.  A drilling Guardsman or Woman costs approximately 15% of the cost of Active Duty Soldiers and – even when mobilized by the Army under Title 10 terms and conditions – the National Guard imposes costs at 80 to 95 percent of the cost of Active Duty Soldiers with no loss in quality, reliability or capability.

Several Regiments within the 55th ABCT trace their origin to the Revolutionary War and are among the oldest in Pennsylvania.  These Regiments, including the 109th Infantry, the 109th Field Artillery; the 103rd Armored; and the 104th Cavalry have been decorated for meritorious service in every theater of engagement since, including for recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I commend the efforts of U.S. Senator Bob Casey as well as Congressman Matt Cartwright on this matter and thank all of my colleagues in the Pennsylvania state Senate, particularly, Senator Lisa Baker, Senator John Wozniak, and Senator John Yudichak, for their support of this resolution and the 55th ABCT.

Bipartisan Coalition Calls for Significant Redistricting ReformSenator Blake

I recently stood with a bipartisan group of legislators from the Pennsylvania State Senate and State House of Representatives to announce the establishment of a redistricting work group that will work to reform the way legislative and Congressional districts are drawn.

I have consistently held the position – as a candidate for office and now as a Senator – that legislators should not have a direct hand in drawing their own legislative districts – we should not be choosing our electorate. The formation of a bipartisan work group is an important first step toward eliminating gerrymandering in Pennsylvania politics and creating a more fair and transparent redistricting process prior to the 2020 census.

Earlier this year, I introduced Senate Bill 662 which proposes to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to remove legislators from direct approval or rejection of any redistricting plans. My proposal would task a Legislative Redistricting Commission, composed of eight legislative appointments and a neutral chairperson, with concurrently completing state and federal redistricting within one plan. As a proposed constitutional amendment, the legislation would need to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions.

Our current system of drawing legislative districts is corrosive to representative democracy in many ways. It posits political influence within party leadership and within legislative caucuses while diffusing or marginalizing the voice of the people in important public policy debates. It also stifles the prospect for balanced government and compromise as legislators end up beholden only to like-minded citizens and not to a diversity of opinion to which they can be held accountable.  Our current redistricting process has produced gridlock in Washington DC and it produces an inevitable and growing disaffection among voters.

Student Ambassador Program Closes with Legislative Competition

2015 Student AmbassadorsI recently hosted 15 high school seniors from 10 local school districts for a legislative competition as the final chapter of this year’s Student Ambassador Program.

The Student Ambassador Program provides a great opportunity for local high school seniors to gain a better understanding of local, state and federal government operations. Our program gives high school seniors from each high school in the 22nd Senate District an opportunity to represent their school in a number of meetings, tours and government networking events designed to help participants gain a better understanding of all levels of government and to develop critical thinking and leadership skills with an emphasis on public service. The student ambassadors also benefit from invaluable field experience in our public sector through our five-month program.

As we saw with the very thoughtful and professional presentations offered by our graduating seniors, the future of our region, our state and our country will be in good hands as these students of today become leaders of tomorrow. For the presentation, the student ambassadors were tasked with putting themselves in the shoes of a state senator and proposing a new law of interest to them regarding transportation, education, emergency preparedness, environmental protection or human services. Each presentation was scored by the four judges on the substance of the proposal as well as on the strength of the argument. 

The students scoring the highest in this year’s competition were Matthew Klucher from Abington Heights School District; Brian Swatt from Lakeland School District; Alexander Fried from Abington Heights School District; and Cassandra Semyon from Riverside School District.

Students interested in participating in my Student Ambassador Program next year can begin applying in September.  All information related to the application can be obtained at local school districts. Student ambassadors are nominated and recommended for participation in the program through an interview process with their school administrators, teachers or guidance counselors.

Around the District

North Pocono Students
Congratulations to the bright students of North Pocono Middle School for winning the Philadelphia Zoo UNLESS Contest for their efforts to increase the recycling operations at their school!
Senator Blake on Comcast Newsmakers
It was a pleasure to discuss the important connection between education and economic development with Jill Horner on a recent episode of Comcast Newsmakers.
   
Seniors Got Talent
I enjoyed serving as a guest judge at the United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA's 3rd annual Seniors Got Talent Show which raised over $7,000 for local older adult programs!
Memorial Day
It was an honor to spend this Memorial Day with the members of Eynon VFW Post 7963. Our community came together to remember and to honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s finest and bravest.
   

Over $3.7 Million in LSA Grants Awarded to 22nd District Projects

ScrantonCommunities across the Commonwealth and particularly here in our region continue to see great benefits from the returns generated by our gaming industry.  Annual Local Share grants have been vitally important to the success of community improvement and economic development projects. It was recently announced that 19 projects in Lackawanna County and four Monroe County projects in my 22nd Senate District have received over $3.7 million in grants through the Monroe County Local Share Account (LSA).

As state general fund budget allocations for economic development projects have dropped over the past four years, level funding from gaming funds has made a considerable impact on several important projects of merit in my Senate District

Among the most recent approvals, one of the larger grants is $225,000 which will be used to continue the renovation of the historic Leonard Theater on Adams Avenue in downtown Scranton. The grant will be used for the design and construction of an elevator and associated construction work to provide accessibility to the theater for persons with disabilities.

A constant priority is to work with the County and the City to continue the development and revitalization of downtown Scranton. I believe that once renovations are completed, the Leonard Theater has potential to generate significant returns via increased tourism as well as through value-adding arts, cultural and business service activities in the City.

Two multi-purpose community centers were also awarded funding through the LSA program. The Boys & Girls Club of Northeast Pennsylvania will receive $190,500 for exterior and ground renovations including the installation of energy efficient windows, a security system, exterior lighting and the resurfacing of the basketball court area at their facility located on Ash Street in Scranton. Additionally, the Carbondale City YMCA will receive $125,000 to make renovations to the lower level and offer affordable office space to local organizations that specialize in cancer rehabilitation, mental health and senior services.

For a full list of the projects that received LSA funding in my district, click here.

Pennsylvania CareerLink Lackawanna County Hosting Job Fair on June 30Job Fair

On Tuesday, June 30, Pennsylvania CareerLink Lackawanna County will host a job fair with over a dozen local companies looking to hire Lackawanna County residents. The program will begin at 9:30 a.m. with a keynote speaker and a panel discussion on finding a job in the business, finance and technology fields.

And from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., representatives from Lockheed Martin, New Horizons, TMG Health, Benco Dental, Bank of America and many other great local employers will participate in the job/education fair. The event will take place at the CareerLink facility at 135 Franklin Ave. in Scranton.

If you are looking for a job or thinking about changing your career path, update your resume and mark your calendar for the Pennsylvania CareerLink Lackawanna Job Fair!

For more information on Pennsylvania CareerLink Lackawanna or the upcoming job fair, click here.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Deadline Extended to December 31

Property Tax/Rent Rebate ProgramThe Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has recently extended the application deadline for the 2014 Property Tax/Rent Rebate program to December 31, 2015. If you have already applied for this great program, the Department of Revenue will begin distributing rebate checks beginning July 1st.

If you did not receive an application, or did not apply last year and wish to apply this year, applications can be obtained from my district office and my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and over; widows and widowers age 50 and over; and people with disabilities age 18 and over.  Homeowners with a maximum yearly income of $35,000 and renters with a maximum yearly income of $15,000 are eligible for a rebate.  Keep in mind that half of Social Security income is excluded.

For more information and eligibility requirements for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program, click here.

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Offices to Serve You

 

District Office
Oppenheim Building
409 Lackawanna Ave., Ste. 210
Scranton, PA 18503
Phone: (570) 207-2881
Fax: (570) 207-2897
Toll free: 1-877-346-5721
Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Harrisburg Office
Room 17 East Wing
The State Capitol
Senate Box 203022
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3022
Phone: (717) 787-6481
Fax: (717) 783-5198
Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.