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We’re into budget season in Harrisburg.  It marks some of the most important work we do as legislators as we put together the annual state spending plan that affects the lives of all Pennsylvanians.  I am working hard – with clear attention to the needs and concerns of the people of the 22nd District – while advancing the budget priorities and the job creation initiatives of our Senate Democratic caucus.

Whether calling for the expansion of Medicaid – which would invest hundreds of millions of federal dollars in our health care delivery system and create tens of thousands of jobs across Pennsylvania – or for the modernization (but not for the outright sale) of our state liquor control system so we can improve efficiency, customer service, and customer satisfaction; or for state assistance to foster economic growth and financial viability in our small cities; or for the necessary and proper state investments in infrastructure, public education and workforce development; we are on a united front to ensure a better future for the commonwealth.

Think spring -- and think job creation!

All best wishes.

Budget Priorities & You

Regrettably, Pennsylvania’s economy continues to lag other states and the national economy in key economic indicators and the promise of robust economic recovery has been stifled under the Corbett administration.  Sales tax receipts and other tax revenues were significantly lower than estimated for the month of March – evidence of poor consumer confidence and high unemployment.  This means that a previously projected budget surplus has all but evaporated and that will complicate the state budget process between now and the end of June.

Despite the bad economic news – and, indeed, in response to it – I was proud to join many from our Senate Democratic Caucus on April 17 to convey our message on what needs to done in this budget cycle to set Pennsylvania on a stronger path to prosperity and job growth.  We have put forth clear, proven solutions that can help Pennsylvania match other states that are outperforming us in business expansion and job growth – including neighboring states like New York and Ohio.

Budget RemarksIn a nutshell, these are the things that must be included in the 2013-‘14 state spending plan:  strategic investments in transportation and other infrastructure that can incentivize private investment and create jobs; adequate and proper funding for education and workforce development; improvement of our business tax climate while closing irresponsible and unfair tax loopholes; modernizing our liquor control system; investing in information technology to improve state services and establish more efficient, reliable state agency operations; repairing the social safety net that protects the dignity and the quality of life for our aging citizens and persons with disabilities; rededication of resources to our housing sector and homeownership programs; and finally, a strategic and comprehensive statewide commitment to our veterans, to child welfare, crime prevention and public safety.

With our eye on the bottom line, we believe there are good ways to save $750 million annually while more effectively leveraging state funds to create thousands of jobs for Pennsylvanians.
If you’d like to hear what I said in the press conference announcing our budget priorities, click here:

Medicaid Expansion…Still Waiting

HealthcareI was hoping I could share the good news that Gov. Corbett had acted to include Pennsylvania in the growing list of states to accept our federal government’s offer to pay for an expanded Medicaid program, but we’re still waiting.

There is a powerful and growing consensus in support of the expansion of PA’s Medicaid program.  Consider the numbers and it’s a no-brainer. There’s something for everyone.

The Rand Corporation did a study that said Pennsylvania’s participation in the program would mean an additional $2.5 billion from the federal government. And, between 2014 and 2020, the state’s “cumulative inflow” of federal funds under Medicaid expansion would be $16.5 billion higher than if the state declines the invitation to participate.


Dollars aside, Rand found that 350,000 additional Pennsylvanians would finally be able to have health care insurance, reducing the staggering costs our hospitals – and, indeed, all taxpayers bear – for uncompensated or unfunded care.   Further, the Rand study confirms that Medicaid expansion will sustain more than 35,000 jobs. The enrollment of 350,000 more Pennsylvanians in Medicaid will drop the state’s uninsured rate from 12.7 percent to 8.1 percent. By 2016, it would dramatically fall to 4.8 percent.

The time is now for Gov. Corbett to move and to do what is right. Call, email, tweet, Facebook or write to him to tell him that you want federal tax dollars paid by Pennsylvanians to come back to this state to help our people.

Gov. Corbett’s Office of Public Liaison: 717-787-5825

Blake Legislation

Our return to session at the start of the 2013 calendar year marked the start of the two-year legislative cycle. You can access the co-sponsorship memos that outline all of my current legislative initiatives here.

In this edition of News & Views from the 22nd District, I wanted to draw attention to some of my legislative proposals.

Senate Bill 456 – You may remember this legislation as Senate Bill 1600; it is now Senate Bill 456 for this session. The proposal, sent to the Senate Finance Committee on April 1 of this year, would create the “Innovate in Pennsylvania” program and would establish a predictable source of funding for early-stage venture capital projects. If approved, $140 million would be available to leverage significant private investment in promising start-up companies that will be the job creators of the future.

According to the National Venture Capital Association, Pennsylvania slid to 10th for overall venture capital investment in 2011. Pennsylvania’s share of total U.S. Venture Capital Investment has dropped from 3.30 percent in 2005 to 1.83 percent in 2010. We are losing ground and competitive advantage in fostering future job growth.  My proposal, which is revenue neutral to the state’s General Fund, has widespread bi-partisan and bi-cameral support and can restore PA to its proper, preeminent role as a top three location for business start ups across several industries including advanced manufacturing, life sciences and information technology.

Senate Bill 457 – I reintroduced this bill to bring our state-related universities – Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln – into parity with our PA State System of Higher Education schools as subject to the commonwealth’s open records or Right to Know law.  Pennsylvania, Alaska and Delaware are the only three states in the nation that explicitly exempt such universities from open records provisions.  Collectively, these institutions receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state taxpayer support.  My bill would not tamper with key, necessary and legal open records exemptions already embedded in the current Right to Know law and, as such, should not impose undue hardship or compromise the schools’ interests or concerns on donors, private research, human resource or other sensitive matters.  

SB 457 has been in the Senate State Government Committee since April 1.

Senate Bill 458 – The weight of local taxes – especially property taxes – can be too much for too many people – and particularly for fixed-income seniors trying to remain in their own homes. This bill, which is a modified version of the measure I introduced last session, would reduce the local reliance on property taxes by diversifying local sources of tax revenue and lessen the prospect for significant property tax increases in many of our counties and municipalities.

Counties would have the option of increasing the sales, use and occupancy tax by 1 percent – just as the County of Allegheny and the City of Philadelphia have done.  Incremental sales tax revenue generated as a result of any increase would be dedicated to property tax reduction and shared with municipalities within said counties according to a specific revenue-sharing formula.

Too many of our counties and municipalities are in serious fiscal distress and they are too reliant on property taxes to meet the rising costs of providing basic services to their citizens. We do a disservice to local taxpayers by failing to change the current, obsolete constraints on local governments that prevent them from diversifying local revenue streams and expanding the tax base.  

SB 458 is before the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate Bill 21 – Child abuse exists, in part, because people don’t know how or if they should report suspected cases. I hope to change that with Senate Bill 21.

Current law requires a person to report suspected child abuse if they, in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, come into contact with children. The law identifies 24 professions as mandatory reporters, but stipulates that the list is not limited to these professions. That’s rather vague and confusing.

SB 21 would clearly outline the reporting process for mandatory reporters and any person making a report of child abuse. It would also allow mandatory reporters to direct an employee to make an immediate report by telephone, define what should be included in a written report, and provide limited exemption for certain reporting by sexual assault counselors at rape crisis centers so as to not deter victims of sexual abuse from approaching these centers for assistance.

The Jerry Sandusky saga made it all too clear how current law is inadequate.  Without proper improvement in our laws our children remain in danger.

SB 21 is with the Senate Aging and Youth Committee.

Delaware Loophole – Look for further updates from me on this. I plan to re-introduce legislation soon to prohibit companies from setting up “shell” operations at a post office box in the State of Delaware to avoid taxes on PA-based operations and sales. As long as sophisticated corporations can legally practice tax avoidance, other classifications of taxpayers carry a disproportionate burden of funding the state’s $28.4 billion budget.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-profit, non-partisan tax policy research organization based in Washington, D.C., 23 states have enacted laws dealing with “combined reporting,” which effectively treats a parent and its subsidiaries as one corporation for state tax purposes.

Combined reporting eliminates most of the tax benefits of shifting profits into Delaware or Nevada by adding them back to the profits of the corporation that is taxable in the state and then taxing a share of the combined profit. My plan transitions to combined reporting in a manner that is not punitive to Pennsylvania corporations while, at the same time, reduces our Corporate Net Income tax from its onerous 9.99 percent to 6.99 percent in six years. 

Learn More Here

Area Code Requirement

I’ll remind you later this year, but I feel this matter sufficiently important to tell you that, for those of us in the current 570 area code we will all soon have to include the “570” when we make a local telephone call. The change is expected to take place Sept. 21, 2013, and it is happening to accommodate a new area code for the region: 272.

Consumers who get a new phone number starting Oct. 21 will get the 272 area code. Your number and 570 area code will remain the same.

To make a long-distance call, you’ll have to dial “1” plus the area code and number, as I know most of you are already doing on your cell phones.

This is another example of how technology and the limits of legacy systems force change upon us.  Let me know if you have any problems or concerns with the new area code requirement.

Stay Connected

For updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me on the Internet through my website or on Facebook. Facebook