Subscribe to enewsletter.  

Fair Education Funding Forum Scheduled for Monday at Lackawanna College

On Monday, November 4 at 6:00 p.m., I will be hosting a Fair Funding Forum on public education at the Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College. The event, which will be an opportunity for families in our region to hear about the disparities in public education funding across the Commonwealth, will feature a presentation by the Public Interest Law Center focusing on several school districts in my Senate District.

I understand the challenges faced by our schools which are struggling to ensure they are providing a quality educational experience to our children. Adequately funding public education is an urgent imperative. The failure of the state to fund at least half of the cost of providing public education has forced local school boards to rely too heavily on local school property taxes.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that the Commonwealth provide a “thorough and efficient” public education to our children. The current imbalance between the state and local share of funding public education is unsustainable and must be corrected.

This forum is an opportunity for local families, school board members, administrators, teachers and students to better understand the challenges faced by our school districts and the steps we need to take in Harrisburg to change the status quo in public school funding.

The event is free and open to the public. The Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College is located at 501 Vine St. in Scranton.

Approval of Ballot Measure Critical to Scranton and Scranton School District

As residents of Scranton prepare to vote on a ballot question regarding a transition to a Payroll Preparation Tax and the elimination of the Business Privilege/Mercantile Tax, I thought it important to explain this issue and inform taxpayers as to why this is a positive change for the City and for the School District.

At the request of City and School District leaders, I successfully legislated into state law the option for the City of Scranton and the Scranton School District to switch to a Payroll Preparation Tax (PPT) while eliminating the gross receipts Business Privilege/Mercantile Tax (BPT). PA law states that if the governing bodies of the City and the School District opt to make this change in local tax policy the transition must be “revenue neutral”. This means that the amount of taxes collected under the new PPT must be exactly the same as the previous year’s collections of the BPT.

Currently, the City of Scranton and Scranton School District levy a BPT on the gross amount of business revenues collected. This tax is paid by all businesses except those which are exempt from it, including financial services and manufacturing. Conversely, the Payroll Preparation Tax would be levied on all for-profit employers and imposed as a flat percentage of gross payrolls. While state law requires this tax policy change to be revenue neutral in year one, PPT collections will, as they have in the City of Pittsburgh, continue to grow organically as wages, payrolls and businesses grow.

Most importantly, this tax change is not an additional financial burden on residential taxpayers in Scranton. This is a revenue neutral alteration in tax law that would encourage additional small business development; enable a more predictable and efficient collection of taxes; and expand the tax base to businesses that are currently exempt from the BPT.

This change in tax policy has resulted in incredible business growth, job growth and higher tax revenue for the City of Pittsburgh. From 2011, when the City of Pittsburgh finally phased out entirely its BPT, annual revenues from the PPT have increased every year since. The tax change fueled more small business development and job growth while enhancing the economic vitality of that City.

It is important to note that Pittsburgh’s switch to a PPT did not achieve revenue neutrality in year one of the transition because they set the PPT tax rate too low.

Learning from Pittsburgh, I was able to successfully legislate into state law language which permits the City of Scranton and the School District to adjust their rate once if the collections in year one are lower and do not achieve revenue neutrality with the prior year’s collections of the BPT.   The City and the School District have reliable data to ensure a proper setting of the PPT rate but even so, they are permitted by law to adjust it to ensure no loss in revenue.

Currently the City’s annual budget is approximately $125 million and the School District’s annual budget is approximately $168 million. The total amount of Business Privilege taxes collected annually by both taxing authorities is approximately $8 million, which is but a fraction of total revenues and expenses. But the BPT, levied on gross receipts, is a detested tax; it is regressive; and it is exceedingly difficult to collect. A PPT on the other hand, paid by all for-profit employers in the City, is much more efficient, predictable and progressive. Pittsburgh’s experience is clear evidence of that.

The City of Scranton is in the midst of a downtown renaissance. There is excitement, activity and small business growth on every corner of our downtown business district. We have been under the cloud of Act 47 financially distressed status since 1992 and now we are finally on the brink of exiting. The approval of this ballot measure is a key part of the City’s recovery plan and it is important to the future financial health of both the City and the School District.

As your state Senator I have one simple obligation: to improve the quality of life for all the people I represent. I advanced legislation in Harrisburg to give the City and the School District this option so they could protect the City’s taxpayers from unsustainable and untenable property tax increases. I support the referendum to allow the Scranton School Board to make this tax policy change to a PPT because I believe it to be in the best interest of the taxpayers we represent in common.

Around the District

Glad to stand with Senator Art Haywood and my Senate Democratic colleagues to discuss the findings contained in his thorough report on poverty in our communities across the Commonwealth. This detailed report will help us legislate better solutions that can help families emerge from poverty. Click here to review Sen. Haywood's report

I had a great discussion with State Rep. Russ Diamond and members of the Pennsylvania News Media Association about open records, transparency and the value of accurate news coverage as part of the 95th Annual PNA Convention held at the Hilton Scranton & Conference Center recently.

   

It was a pleasure to join Rep. Kyle Mullins, Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce president Bob Durkin, Scranton Mayor Wayne Evans and the Leadership Lackawanna Executive Program recently at the Scranton Cultural Center to discuss our roles in government.

I recently welcomed a group of students from Keystone College’s Tourism and Hospitality Management Program to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate. We had a great discussion about the legislative process and some of the history of the Capitol Building.

   

PA Department of Human Services Now Accepting LIHEAP Applications

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) has accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  The program helps low-income families pay their heating bills.  Eligible PA residents can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website (www.compass.state.pa.us).  You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website.

Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. 

After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive.  Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account.  Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat.  For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.

Third Annual "Talk to Your State Senator" Video Competition Now Open

Agriculture remains the #1 industry in Pennsylvania and here in NEPA we have a very rich heritage of farming.

However, statistics today show that for every four farmers in Pennsylvania over the age of 65, there is only one farmer under the age of 35. Pennsylvania's 59,000 farm families manage more than 7.7 million acres of farmland and generate more than $7.5 billion annually; yet many farm families are struggling to make ends meet.

The third annual “Talk To Your State Senator” statewide video competition challenges middle and high school students to explore creative new ways to support farmers in communities throughout the commonwealth and encourage future farmers.

The contest, which is sponsored by the Senate of Pennsylvania and Rutter’s, is open to Pennsylvania students in grades 6 through 12, including all public school, private school and home school students. Participants are encouraged to submit video entries of no longer than three minutes that promote the future of farming in Pennsylvania.

A total of $10,000 in prizes will be awarded through the PA 529 college savings program administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Treasury. Contest entries must be submitted by January 31, 2020.

For more information on the contest and how to apply, click here.

Facebook Stay Connected

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

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.

 
 
Sen. Blake discusses Poverty Listening Tour stop in Scranton