Blake Discusses State Budget, Legislative Priorities at Annual Legislative Breakfast

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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Blake: Budget Streamlines Government, Invests in Education, Economic Development

HARRISBURG, February 7, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Governor Wolf’s proposed $32.3 billion state budget:

“Governor Wolf, since the start of his administration, has been demanding efficiency, better performance and savings in the operations of state government. That work certainly has paid some dividends and it will continue to drive, perhaps more than anything else, this year’s budget process.”

“The Governor’s proposed 2017-18 has a number of important initiatives that I support, and have supported since taking office in 2011, to streamline state government and invest in areas most important to the citizens of Pennsylvania. This budget proposal uses state revenues more effectively to fund what the people of Pennsylvania want and deserve – an increase in state support for basic education, special education and Pre-K; adequate funding to serve the needs of our seniors and persons with disabilities; state investment to assure proper treatment and healing for those caught in the tragedy of the opioid epidemic; and it continues the role of state government in workforce development and investment in infrastructure to leverage private investment to ensure vitality in our cities and our communities.”

“The Governor has again called for a severance tax on the natural gas industry to better compensate Pennsylvanians for the volume of natural gas extracted from our state. I have supported a responsible, reasonable severance tax since coming to Harrisburg. Additionally, Governor Wolf has proposed combined reporting for Pennsylvania businesses – which reflects a bill I have previously introduced in past legislative sessions and will reintroduce shortly. Moving to a system of combined reporting – as at least 24 other states have done – would advance tax fairness by effectively closing the so-called “Delaware Loophole” and ensuring we stop legal tax avoidance by large, multi-national and multi-state corporations.”

“I commend the Governor and his team for taking an aggressive tact in balancing this year’s budget while sending a positive message to capital markets that we will have a sustainable plan to meet our future obligations to the citizens of this state.”

“As a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team and the Appropriations Committee, I look forward to debating the specifics of this budget and to our continued work on reforming property taxes and state pension systems which I believe will be important issues in the coming budget debate.”

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Blake: Finalized Budget Delivers Significant Education Funding Locally

HARRISBURG, July 13, 2016 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today applauded the bipartisan work to finalize and pass the $31.5 billion 2016-17 state budget and all of the accompanying revenue bills needed to balance the budget.

“It was critically important that the legislature and the Wolf administration work together on this budget to avoid a repeat of the pain inflicted by last year’s budget impasse on our schools, our human service providers and our nonprofit community,” Blake said. “This is a responsible spending plan that makes significant state investment in all levels of education and begins to replenish state programs and services that had fallen victim to drastic cuts under the prior administration.”

The 2016-17 state budget, which includes an additional $200 million in basic education funding and an additional $4.3 million for Lackawanna County schools alone, became law at midnight Monday without the signature of Governor Tom Wolf. The budget also includes increases in essential early childhood education, special education, rape crisis services, domestic violence assistance, county child welfare assistance and support for state veteran’s homes and The Commonwealth Medical College.

“Not unlike many other K-12 public schools across the Commonwealth, our districts locally were in grave danger of closing their doors during last year’s impasse so the additional $4.3 million investment in Lackawanna County schools will relieve significant financial stress on our districts and also on our local taxpayers,” Blake continued.

Blake, a founding member of the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission (PMCEC), also noted the significant $798,000 investment under the Base Realignment and Closure line item at the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

“Tobyhanna Army Depot is the largest industrial employer and arguably the largest economic driver in northeastern Pennsylvania – with annual economic impact of $3 billion,” Blake added. “The investment in this year’s budget will ensure that we can continue to work to protect and enhance the military value of our defense installations at Tobyhanna and across Pennsylvania.”

The revenue bill, as well as other bills necessary to implement the budget, were sent to the Governor this afternoon after a report from a joint Senate and House Conference Committee and legislative approval in both chambers of the General Assembly.

“While I find the revenue package inequitable in the distribution of the burden – that is, it is more burdensome on working class and lower income Pennsylvanians than it is on business or higher income consumers – it does balance this year’s budget and importantly, 60% of the package is recurring revenue, which will assure a better fiscal climate moving into the next fiscal year while sending a signal to capital markets that we are serious about getting our fiscal house in order,” Blake said.

Another impactful provision included in legislation on the way to the Governor’s desk is a stipulation that expands eligibility for the state’s Community Reinvestment Improvement Zone (CRIZ), a powerful community revitalization tool for Pennsylvania cities. Under the new provision the City of Scranton will be eligible to apply to DCED and compete for a CRIZ designation.

“Since taking office, I have introduced legislation and fought to include the City of Scranton in the CRIZ program”, Blake said. “We are already experiencing a renaissance in downtown Scranton and if we are successful in securing a CRIZ designation we can accelerate the pace of economic growth and revitalization in the City.”

Another important provision added to the Education Code is language that grants the Scranton School District the option to switch from a gross receipts tax – known as the business privilege and mercantile tax — to a payroll tax in a revenue-neutral manner.

“The reforms to the Act 47 program that we passed in 2014 allowed distressed municipalities to seek court approval to switch from a gross receipts tax to a payroll tax in a revenue-neutral manner. Taxes on gross receipts are regressive and punitive to the business community – small businesses, in particular,” Blake explained. “This new provision grants the Scranton School District the option to make the same revenue-neutral switch to a more progressive tax.”

Blake noted, however, that it is only an option and there are no immediate plans to consider a switch at this time.

“The state is simply offering the Mayor and City Council – as well as the Scranton School District – additional local tax policy options,” Blake continued. “Considerable local research and data collection will be necessary before considering any changes.”

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Blake Urges Governor to Release Funding to Schools, Hospitals, Agriculture Industry

HARRISBURG, March 23, 2016 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf urging him to blue-line veto the latest version of the Republican-crafted state budget to relieve financial stress on the public education, health care delivery and agriculture industries.

Blake, who serves as Democratic Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, stated that the budget included in House Bill 1801 was not a negotiated settlement between the General Assembly and the governor’s office and remains unbalanced by nearly $290 million. Additionally, Blake noted that the budget awaiting executive action includes $238 million less than a budget bill he opposed in December.

“I have had extensive conversations with my local school districts and realize the difficulty they face financially with an incomplete state budget,” Blake said. “The release of emergency funding through a blue-line veto to remove the short term crisis in our schools, our agricultural community and in our health care delivery system would be prudent and responsible.”

In December, Governor Wolf signed Act 10A which line-item vetoed $6.8 billion from the Republican passed budget but enabled partial funding to be released to schools, human service providers and other essential programs and services funded by the state.

“It is my hope that the governor understands the significant financial distress that our prolonged budget impasse has inflicted across the Commonwealth, particularly to our school districts, and again, uses his executive authority to responsibly release emergency funding to ensure that no Pennsylvania school will have to close,” Blake added. “I remain confident that we can put partisan differences aside in Harrisburg and seriously negotiate a two-year budget solution that will provide predictability and prosperity for our schools and our Commonwealth.

Click here to read Senator Blake’s letter to Governor Wolf.

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Blake Discusses State Budget, Education Funding and Pension Reform at Annual Legislative Breakfast

SCRANTON, February 12, 2016 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today hosted nearly 100 local and municipal officials at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Scranton for his sixth annual legislative breakfast.

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, Senator Blake spent much of the time describing the stark realities facing the Commonwealth.

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“We have to be more responsible about our fiscal and budgetary obligations as a legislature,” Blake said. “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.”

LegislativeBreakfast1On Tuesday, 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,” Blake said. “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 pivot to the 2016-17 budget negotiation.”

IMG_6883Blake 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 not a perfect plan. It would, however, have enabled a responsible, balanced budget that included the largest education funding increase in Pennsylvania history; tens of millions of dollars to restore past cuts to human services and economic development programs; and it would have eliminated the structural deficit we are faced with in this and the next fiscal year,” Blake said.

Another issue discussed at the legislative breakfast was property tax relief.

“Any discussion about taxes to address our structural deficit has to include a discussion about property tax relief,” Blake added.

There are numerous proposals circulating the Capitol on property tax relief including a proposal by the Senate Democratic Caucus. This 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.

Blake, who serves as the Democratic Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that the Senate will return to Harrisburg later this month for a full slate of budget hearings on the governor’s 2016-17 budget proposal and, hopefully, to deal with the budget crisis that continues to threaten our schools and our hospitals as a result of the work undone on the 2015-16 state budget.

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