Sen. Blake Announces New State Investments in Lackawanna, Luzerne Counties Totaling $1.5M

SCRANTON, Sept. 10, 2014 – Sen. John Blake today said the commonwealth is investing more than $1.5 million in four Lackawanna and Luzerne county communities with the help of new state grants.

“These new investments will deliver better roads in Scott Township, safer pedestrian and bicycle paths in Scranton, and the next steps in a police regionalization effort in Dupont,” Sen. Blake said.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority awarded the latest round of grants, and they come from Pennsylvania’s local share gaming, or LSA, program, CFA’s Multimodal Transportation Fund and the state’s Small Water and Sewer Program.

Heritage Valley Partners Inc. received the largest of the grants, $700,000. The money from the Multimodal Transportation Fund will help to pay for a $1.8 million renovation of pedestrian and bicycle safety paths in Scranton. A deteriorating retaining wall along a pedestrian corridor will also be replaced.

“The Lackawanna Heritage Valley trail system has been delivering quality of life and economic impact returns year over year. The announcement of additional state funds for public safety improvements and trail upgrades in the City of Scranton will continue to enhance and sustain those returns for local families as well as draw more visitors to the city,” Blake said.

Scott Township is receiving a $300,000 Multimodal Transportation Fund grant to help pay for the repair of Discovery Drive and Sam’s Road. The total project is expected to cost $464,640.

A sidewalk and culvert repair project will also take place in Dupont Borough with the award of a $282,000 local share gaming grant. The borough will also receive $100,000 from LSA to help pay for its police regionalization effort.

Finally, Spring Brook Township Sewer Authority will receive $125,000 to help pay for the replacement of an aeration system. The grant is coming from the state’s Small Water and Sewer System Program.

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Sen. Blake Says New PA Budget Undermines PA’s Credibility With Business Community

HARRISBURG, July 1, 2014 – The $29.1 billion Pennsylvania budget that Republicans and the Corbett administration pushed through the legislature late Monday night could compromise the commonwealth’s credibility in the business community and place Pennsylvanians in greater fiscal peril, state Sen. John Blake said today.

Because the 2014-’15 spending plan has been balanced using unreliable assumptions about future state revenues and one time transfers, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said that state lawmakers may have to completely rewrite the state budget in the first quarter of 2015.

“This budget relies on nearly $2 billion in one-time budget transfers that will virtually assure a $2 billion structural deficit heading into the next fiscal year,” Blake said after a thorough review of the spending plan adopted on a mostly party-line vote. “There were better choices that we could have made, and we could have crafted a much better fiscal plan for the citizens and the business community of this commonwealth.”

Two obvious choices that would have advanced a better spending plan, he said, were Pennsylvania’s entry into the federal government’s expanded Medicaid program and a modest severance tax on Marcellus Shale drillers.

“Simply expanding Medicaid would deliver $400 million in savings to the state General Fund and create 35,000 jobs in healthcare and human services while insuring 500,000 Pennsylvanians who now go through their day without the security of affordable health care coverage,” Blake said. “A modest 3 percent Marcellus Shale tax would have netted Pennsylvania $350 million in this fiscal year and enabled recurring revenues to avert future broad-based tax increases.”

Sen. Blake said a great concern of his is the new budget’s negative impact on state programs designed to help manufacturers and small businesses.

“The budget decimates the commonwealth’s capacity to leverage funds for community and economic development. The $200 million transfer from the Machinery & Equipment Loan Fund, or MELF, and the Small Business First program, or SBF, at the Department of Community and Economic Development will totally incapacitate those programs,” Blake said.

“The MELF transfer is particularly egregious because that economic development funding capacity has been building up for years. The MELF program recently offered a more favorable interest rate to Pennsylvania businesses to foster investment and growth through the purchase of new machinery and equipment. The promise of those funds now disappears as a 35-year endowment has been wiped out to balance this year’s budget,” the senator said.

Blake noted that these decisions underscore the fact that the Corbett administration sees no role for the state in fostering economic development and it further explains why we’ve dropped from 8th to 48th in the nation in job growth over the past four years.

“The credibility of the commonwealth with its business community will be severely compromised in that tens of millions of loan commitments currently pending but not closed may be reneged by the commonwealth due to the diversion of these funds as one-time transfers to balance the budget,” Blake said.

“The Small Business First fund is a life-blood program for small businesses and it is a program that is administered in Northeastern PA by the NEPA Alliance in strong coordination with the region’s lending community,” Blake said. “The $100 million transfer out of SBF will virtually end small business lending through that program.”

Finally, and importantly, Blake criticized the final budget plan because it transfers nearly $100 million in new gaming revenues that were meant to provide property tax relief to balance the budget.

“With the extraordinary pressures on property owners, and particularly our seniors, in meeting school property taxes, this one time transfer is particularly harmful,” Sen. Blake said.

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Property Tax/Rent Rebate Deadline Extended, Says Sen. Blake

SCRANTON, June 12, 2014 – State Sen. John Blake today said the commonwealth has extended the deadline to apply for property tax or rent rebates.

Applicants now have until Dec. 31 to submit their free requests for the money, which is designed for eligible Pennsylvanians who are at least 65 years old; are widows and widowers who are at least 50 years old; or have disabilities and are 18 years old and older.

“More than 465,000 people have already applied for this helpful return of a portion of the property taxes or rent they paid during 2013,” Sen. Blake said. “I am encouraging anyone in the 22nd Senatorial District who thinks they might be eligible for the property tax/rent rebate program, or has not yet applied, to use this extra time and submit their application.”

The annual income limit for people to receive a property tax or rent rebate is $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters. Half of Social Security income is excluded from consideration.

Rebates range from $250 to $650. Some eligible homeowners could receive up to $975.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program is one of five programs supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery. Since the program’s beginning in 1971, older adults and adults with disabilities have received $4.8 billion in rebates. The rebate program also receives funding from slots gaming.

Call Blake’s district office at 570-207-2881 to request an application or ask questions, or visit the Department of Revenue’s website, www.revenue.state.pa.us, to download an application.

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Lackawanna Co. Communities Getting $ 1M+ for Recycling Programs, Blake Says

HARRISBURG, May 7, 2014 – Six communities in Lackawanna County will receive a total of $ 1.05 million from the commonwealth to start or expand recycling programs, state Sen. John Blake said today.

“From Olyphant to Mayfield, more Lackawanna County residents will be better able to participate in the greening of Pennsylvania with the award of these grants from the Department of Environmental Protection,” Sen. Blake said today.

“Many people now have to take their consumer waste to recycling centers, but many of these grants will help communities begin curbside recycling programs. This means your municipality will come to you to collect your glass, aluminum and plastic,” he said.

Pennsylvania’s Municipal Waste, Planning Recycling and Waste Reduction Act directs Act 101 grant funding to be used by municipalities to develop and implement recycling programs.

Projects can range from the operation of compost facilities and web-based recycling programs to the creation of additional recycling capacity and the development of educational materials to encourage more people to keep recyclable goods from going into the trash.

“My thanks to the commonwealth for including six Lackawanna County communities in this 54th round of Act 101 grants,” Blake said. “I commend the municipalities and the local government officials who worked to earn the state funding awards. Their sustainability efforts extend the useful life of landfills and support economic activity that protects the environment.”

Act 101 mandates recycling in municipalities with more than 10,000 residents. Municipalities with 5,000 to 10,000 people and have a population density greater than 300 people per square mile must also recycle.

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The following communities, programs and award amounts were included in this announcement:

Archbald Borough, Curbside Collection, $225,883

Dickson City Borough, Curbside & Educational Programs, $247,433

Mayfield Borough, Curbside & Educational Programs, $13,445

Moosic Borough, Curbside Collection, $250,000

Moscow Borough, Curbside & Drop-Off Recycling, $189,759

Olyphant Borough, Leaf Waste Processing, Collection, $125,878

Senate Approves Blake’s Bill for County Option to Allow DA’s to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

HARRISBURG, May 6, 2014 – The Pennsylvania Senate today approved Sen. John Blake’s legislation giving certain classifications of counties the option to not include their district attorneys on their prison boards.

Counties of the 6th (45,000 to 89,999 residents), 7th (20,000 to 49,999) and 8th (less than 20,000) classes now have the option to keep their district attorneys from serving on the prison boards, which helps them avoid the perception of a conflict of interest and resulting legal bills.

Blake’s Senate Bill 705 would give counties of the 3rd (210,000 to 499,999 residents), 4th (145,000 to 209,999) and 5th (90,000 to 144,999) that same option.

“District attorneys must occasionally prosecute inmates, guards or employees of a prison on whose board they serve,” Blake said. “My bill would help counties – like Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe – avoid expensive legal challenges that may happen due to this perceived conflict of interest.

“Instead of being mandatory, SB 705 would make it optional for a district attorney to serve on the county prison board. This will alleviate any potential liability that a DA would face in association with an incident at their county lockup,” he said.

Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola said he was pleased with the Senate’s action today, and appreciated Sen. Blake’s commitment to easing this problem.

“I have been saying for years that a conflict of interest exists for DAs to sit on prison boards,” Jarbola said. “The conflict exists on a couple of fronts: 1) How do our respective DA offices prosecute prison employees who commit crimes at the jail; and, 2) My office puts people in prison for committing crimes and now, as a board member, I supervise them. To me the conflict is inherently obvious. I thank Sen. Blake for his help in this matter.”

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association has also supported Blake’s SB 705, noting the optional element for counties to opt out of Title 61 (Prisons and Parole).

Pennsylvania counties of the 3rd class include Berks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Northampton, Westmoreland, and York.

Counties of the 4th class include Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Centre, Fayette, Franklin, Monroe, Schuylkill, and Washington.

The commonwealth’s 5th class counties count Adams, Blair, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mercer, and Northumberland.

Senate Bill 705 moves to the House for its consideration.

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