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22 News & Views from State Senator John Blake

Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings Underway in Harrisburg

DCED Budget Hearing Video

Video of my line of questioning to Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin at a recent Senate Apporpriations Committee Budget Hearing in Harrisburg.

Last week we started the process of the Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearings on the 2016-17 state budget. It is important to note that, as we continue to operate on a significantly underfunded budget in the current fiscal year, the governor's 2016-17 budget proposal is built on the assumption that the compromise budget agreement reached near the end of 2015 will ultimately be enacted. This assumption makes conversations at our current budget hearings more difficult as we are debating state budget circumstances not from where we actually are, but from where we hope to be once we conclude the final, undone elements of the current budget year.  

As the Democratic Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, these hearings offer a prime opportunity to pose questions and hear testimony from leaders of every state agency and state department that receives funding in our budget. It is an important discussion because we are able to hear what level of funding would be effective to accomplish the mission of all state agencies and commissions and to continue to provide an appropriate level of service to the citizens of Pennsylvania.

We have discussed critically important state funding issues thus far with Budget Secretary Randy Albright and the department secretaries of a number of state departments, including PennDOT, DCED and DEP – the latter of which are struggling with the prolonged impasse and still reeling from the deep budget cuts of the previous four years.  I continue to focus my efforts and to vigorously pursue agreement to ensure that, as our budget hearings conclude next week, we can return to session and reach a swift compromise on the final, unfinished elements of the 2015-16 state budget.  Then we can pivot quickly to conclude all budget negotiations for the 2016-17 fiscal year well before the June 30th deadline.

For a full schedule of remaining budget hearings, click here. Senate Committee hearings are streamed live on www.pasenate.com.

Nearly 100 Local Officials Attend Annual Legislative Breakfast Discussion

Legislative Breakfast Remarks

Video of my presentation given to a large contingent of our local and elected officials at my sixth annual legislative breakfast.

It was a great pleasure to host nearly 100 local and municipal officials – as well as our third year class of Student Ambassadors – who joined me at the Hilton Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Scranton for my sixth annual legislative breakfast. The legislative breakfast affords me an important opportunity to discuss the proposed state budget and any other pressing state issues of local interest.

This year, 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, I spent much of the time describing the stark realities facing the Commonwealth.

We have to be more responsible about our fiscal and budgetary obligations as a legislature. 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.

In February, 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. 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 shift our focus to the 2016-17 budget negotiation.

I also discussed the numerous state pension reform proposals that were proposed in the past year and which were a part of the 2015-16 budget compromise reached in December. The pension reform plan that passed in the Senate was certainly not a perfect plan. It would, however, have enabled a responsible, balanced budget that included the largest education funding increase in Pennsylvania’s history; tens of millions of dollars to restore past cuts to human services and economic development programs; and it would have, as part of a comprehensive budget agreement, eliminated the structural deficit we are dealing with in this and the next fiscal year.

Another issue discussed at the legislative breakfast was property tax relief – which I believe must be included in any discussion about taxes to address our structural deficit. There are numerous proposals circulating the Capitol on property tax relief including a proposal by the Senate Democratic Caucus. Our 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.

Click here to learn more about the PA Home Rebate Plan.

Best Wishes to Gov. Wolf in his Fight Against Treatable Cancer Diagnosis

Sen. Blake & Gov. Wolf

My family and I would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to Governor Tom Wolf as he embarks on his battle with prostate cancer.  Like so many others across the Commonwealth, I have family members who have waged their own courageous fights against cancer and with strength, compassion and support they were able to defeat it.  I am confident that Governor Wolf has the same strength and support that will allow him to win this battle.  

The Pennsylvania Prostate Cancer Coalition projects that 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and nearly 12,000 Pennsylvanians will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. Prostate cancer, when caught early, is curable.

I would like to echo the call made by Governor Wolf to encourage everyone in Pennsylvania to make sure they schedule regular checkups with their doctors and be aware of screening guidelines so early detection and treatment can be possible. Get well soon, Governor.

Click here to read Governor Wolf’s statement

Around the District

Reading to Mid Valley students

Thank you to Mid Valley School District, Mrs. Minter and her wonderful First Grade Class for allowing me to come into the classroom to read a book and to discuss my role as a state Senator as part of their annual Groundhog Job Shadow Day

Budget Adress Reaction

Video of my reaction to the Governor's 2016-17 budget proposal that was unveiled earlier this month in Harrisburg.

   
Guest Chaplain

I was honored to introduce Reverend Father Carmen G. Bolock from St. Mary’s Polish National Church in Duryea as the Guest Chaplain in the Senate. It was a pleasure to spend time with Rev. Bolock and his wife Patricia.

Farm Show Cooking Competition

USMC veteran Kevin Smith from Peckville recently participated as a sous chef in the Army vs. Navy Cook-Off as part of the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. Congratulations Kevin on a job well done.

   

2016 Student Ambassadors2016 Student Ambassador Program

I have really enjoyed working with our 2016 Student Ambassadors over the past several weeks in and around the Scranton area. My Student Ambassador Program, now in our third year, offers high school seniors chosen by their respective districts an opportunity to learn about the many different roles and functions of our local, county, state and federal government. We also give the students an insider view of my work in the Pennsylvania State Senate and challenge them to do some critical thinking on public policy and public service.

We have had the pleasure to introduce the students to ‪Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright at City Hall and the students witnessed the great work of Lackawanna County President Judge Michael Barrasse at "Treatment Court" in the Lackawanna County Courthouse. The students also had an opportunity to tour the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple and The Lackawanna Historical Society. Thank you to Lackawanna College and to the University of Scranton for hosting our 2016 Student Ambassadors. I look forward to working with these fine young men and women over the next three months.

To view more pictures from this year's Student Ambassador Program, click here.

2015 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Applications Now Available

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is currently accepting applications for the 2015 Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. If you received a rebate last year, you should receive an application in the mail. If you have not received an application, or did not apply last year and wish to apply this year, the applications can be obtained from my district office and my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application. Applications are also available online.

The Pennsylvania 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 of up to $650.

The deadline to apply to the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program is June 30.

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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.