Blake: Budget Invests in Education, Supports Working Class

HARRISBURG, February 6, 2018 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed $32.987 billion state budget:

“I applaud Governor Wolf for his continued dedication and investment in the areas most important to the residents of Pennsylvania – education, job creation and public health. This budget proposal includes a significant $100 million increase in basic education funding as well as an increase in state support for special education and pre-K funding; strengthens our workforce development and job training initiatives; and continues to support Pennsylvania families struggling with opioid addiction.

“The Governor’s 2018-19 state budget proposal seeks a much-needed increase in our state minimum wage so we can come in line with all states surrounding us. Importantly, the proposed 2018-19 state budget avoids any broad-based tax increases on those same working families – there are no personal income tax or sales tax increases — but it does include a responsible severance tax on the Marcellus shale industry. We were finally able to pass bipartisan severance tax legislation out of the Senate last year so I remain hopeful that we can again reach a consensus that will compensate Pennsylvanians for the volume of natural gas extracted from our soil.   The industry needs to be at the table and we need to get this right this year.”

“This budget proposal also prioritizes initiatives that support workforce development and job training – issues that have been among my top priorities since taking office in 2011. The budget includes $12 million to continue our successful Manufacturing PA initiative as well as a $5 million increase for the PA First program, which focuses on job creation and workforce development. I have introduced Senate Bill 714 which would create a state-level council dedicated to career readiness that would improve transition from K-12 to postsecondary to the workforce.  These initiatives ensure that programs are aligned with the current or anticipated needs of business and industry in Pennsylvania. We need to continue close the skills gap and educate, prepare and train a 21st century workforce so Pennsylvania remains competitive and we sustain our economic vitality.”

“I also support the Governor’s continued support for persons with intellectual disabilities and their families.  His budget proposal includes a $50 million increase to support these families and the workers who serve them.”

“As a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure we enact a state budget that reflects the priorities of all Pennsylvanians by June 30.”

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Sen. Blake Releases Statement on Senate Passage of Revenue Bills

HARRISBURG, July 27, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Senate passage of a package of bills needed to balance the 2017-18 state budget.

“The Pennsylvania State Senate again demonstrated that, through bipartisan communication, negotiation and compromise, work can get done and difficult decisions can be made in Harrisburg to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.  The revenue package adopted with bipartisan support today is not a perfect fix to all of our fiscal challenges, but it begins to legislate the long-term, reliable revenue solutions to the problems created by years of budgetary gimmicks and one-time transfers.”

“We have a constitutional responsibility to balance the state budget.   We also needed to avoid a credit-rating downgrade by Wall Street rating agencies as it would of cost taxpayers millions of dollars in debt service payments.   I voted for the spending plan we sent to the Governor’s desk on June 30th.   I had a responsibility to vote on the legislation necessary to effectuate that budget and meet our constitutional obligation.   Since taking office, I have fought for a responsible severance tax to assure that all Pennsylvania residents are adequately compensated for the volume of natural gas extracted from our state.  I am very proud that we were finally able to muster sufficient bipartisan support in the Senate for a reasonable severance tax that will raise over $100 million in the current fiscal year in addition to the $200 million impact fee.”

“While we are optimistic that the Senate plan passed today is the best solution-set possible with support from the Governor, the Senate and the House Democratic caucus in Harrisburg, it is still no guarantee that the House Republican majority will step up to the plate.  We did our job in the Senate.   We were able to accomplish a lot of good things in the budget bill passed in June including an additional $150 million for Basic Education, Special Education and Pre-K; adequate funding to serve families and individuals dealing with intellectual disabilities; funding for County Human Services and probation and parole services as well as funding for our Regional Cancer Institute and Heritage Parks programs.  We were also able to secure, in addition to the base appropriation, an additional $500,000 for the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.  The House voted in an overwhelming majority to support the state’s spending bill for this year.  Now it is imperative the they follow the lead of the Senate and return to session to vote for bills to effectuate that budget, including the bill that assures the revenue necessary to fund it.”

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Sen. Blake: Responsible Budget Invests in Education and Human Services

HARRISBURG, June 30, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Senate passage of a $31.96 billion state budget for the 2017-18 Fiscal Year. 

“I was glad to vote for a responsible 2017-2018 state budget today.  The budget reflected in the amended HB 218 recognizes the fiscal constraint the Commonwealth continues to face and represents a less than 1 percent increase in spending over our previous fiscal year.”  

“This budget retains necessary investments in public education – and in particular, in early childhood education – and in essential services to persons with intellectual disabilities as suggested by Governor Wolf in his executive budget in February.  Further, this budget restored deep cuts which had been proposed in a prior House version of the budget and protected the continuing – and critically important – missions of our Departments of Agriculture; Conservation and Natural Resources; and Community and Economic Development.  

“Also very important were restorations to support our County human service programs, probation and parole programs as well as our public health nurses.  In addition I was pleased to see proper state support for our Heritage Parks Program; our Regional Cancer Institute; and the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.  Finally, I was glad to see restoration of the Institutional Assistance Grants program which supports students seeking higher education in Northeastern PA and support for our Military Community Enhancement Commission which works to protect jobs at Tobyhanna Army Depot and other defense-related installations throughout the state.”

“Our work is not done, however, as we must still take up the necessary work of ensuring a constitutionally-required balance in this budget.  To effectuate this 2017-2018 budget we must return to Harrisburg next week to conclude our debate and legislate a remedy on the Local Share gaming issue which was subject to a recent Supreme Court ruling.  Further we must conclude our various legislative code bills including the Administrative, Welfare, Fiscal and School Codes and ensure sufficient revenue will meet the agreed-to budget of nearly $32 billion dollars.  Upon the expected approval by the House of Representatives, Governor Wolf will have ten days to act on this budget.  Between then and now the General Assembly must provide him the additional legislation necessary to inform his action.”

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Sen. Blake, Rep. Flynn Announce Financial Watch Status Designation for Scranton SD

SCRANTON, June 23, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) and State Rep. Marty Flynn today announced that the Scranton School District has been designated in Financial Watch Status by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

The legislators were joined at a news conference in Scranton earlier today by Scranton School District Superintendent Dr. Alexis Kirijan, Scranton School Board President Bob Sheridan and Chief Financial Officer Gregg Sunday to discuss the implications of the designation and the actions PDE will likely undertake as a result of the designation.

“The entire purpose of the Financial Watch Status is for PDE to provide additional technical assistance and guidance to the district so the school board and the administration can better navigate difficult financial circumstances,” Blake said. “This designation will allow Scranton School District to make the best decisions to protect the interests not only of teachers and students, but for all citizens of the City of Scranton.”

Blake noted that the Financial Watch Status designation announced today is a standard procedure under PDE’s Early Warning System. Reports of financial data by the Scranton School District and other indicators necessitate this action by PDE under current statutes and regulations.

PDE sent a letter on Friday to Scranton School District to inform administrators of the designation and outlining the criteria which necessitated this PDE action. The Financial Watch Status designation is the third level of PDE’s Early Warning System.

Through the designation of Financial Watch Status, PDE will provide technical assistance to Scranton School District to help address its financial challenges. It will also conduct an independent review of the financial condition of Scranton School District.

“I am confident that through the direction of the PDE advisors and the Scranton School District leadership – together with the support of Senator Blake, myself and our elected and appointed partners – the best interests of our students, teachers, support staff and taxpayers will be served as we move forward,” Flynn added.

Blake said that in other circumstances, such as last year in the City of Erie where the school district was put under Financial Watch Status, additional state support for the district was awarded in an attempt to relieve fiscal distress.

Click here to read a copy of the letter that was sent earlier today to Scranton School District.

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Sen. Blake: New Pension Reform Law Only Starts Correction

HARRISBURG, June 12, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding the state pension systems reform contained in Senate Bill 1 that was signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf this afternoon.

“I commend my colleagues in the legislature and Governor Wolf for the bipartisan work done to facilitate a five-party agreement for significant pension reform.  Senate Bill 1 starts the correction of our broken pension systems and begins to shift risk off of taxpayers by introducing the public sector equivalent of a 401k for future employee benefits, but it does not go far enough.”

 

“Senate Bill 1 does not affect existing employees or those already receiving a state pension and it does not add to our unfunded liability.  There are, however, reform proposals that could have had much greater, immediate and long-term impact than the $1.4 billion savings over 30 years projected for Senate Bill 1.  There are also near-term costs associated with the implementation of Senate Bill 1 and none of the projected savings will begin to be realized for another 20 years.”

“As the Democratic Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I remain disappointed that many other good ideas which could have had a much more substantive impact on our Commonwealth’s finances – both with respect to our General Fund deficit and our daunting unfunded pension liabilities – were not adequately considered in the debate on this particular bill.  This pension reform is only the start of the correction.  We cannot consider our work concluded unless and until we seriously begin to address the $70 billion in unfunded liability and find ways to provide relief to our school districts whose budgets continue to be overwhelmed by these legacy costs.”

Video of Senator Blake’s floor remarks on Senate Bill 1 are available at the following link:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riWNBPZPj_E

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