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.


Potential Impact of Medicaid Expansion is Focus of Blake’s Senate Roundtable Discussion

SCRANTON, May 23, 2013 – As Gov. Tom Corbett continues to mull the decision to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today brought together legislators, health care professionals, advocates and experts to discuss the potential impact of Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.

Under the Affordable Care Act, expanding Medicaid would make all adults between the ages of 19-64 with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) eligible for the program. This expansion would cover vulnerable persons as well as healthy, able-bodied individuals.   A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 gave states the option to decide whether to opt in or out of expanding their individual Medicaid program.

The discussion, held at the request of Sen. John Blake, focused on the possible economic, budgetary and healthcare impacts of expanding Medicaid.

“With Medicaid expansion, Pennsylvania could provide health care insurance to 650,000 people currently without such insurance,” said Blake. “The state would also benefit from $4 billion in federal investment and we’d see the creation of 41,000 jobs in the health care and human service industry.

“Much has been said about Medicaid expansion in the past 6 months, and much more needs to be said so everyone understands the impacts moving forward.  The people of Northeastern Pennsylvania need to hear the facts. It was good to hear what the experts had to say about what we believe is an issue that should have been decided by the Corbett administration a long time ago, as so many other states have done so for the benefit of their citizens.”

“Expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania would have a major impact on the quality of health care, our economy and our state’s finances,” Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chair, Lisa Boscola said.  “I hope we can separate out some of the hysteria and inflamed rhetoric and arrive at a logical and reasoned position on whether Medicaid expansion is good or bad for our state.

“We have a great panel with extensive and varied understanding of the pros and cons of expanding.  Hopefully, today’s discussion will give us a better grasp of what expansion would mean to our healthcare system, hospitals, and low income workers who cannot afford the rising costs of health insurance, as well as what expansion will mean to our job market, economy and our state’s finances.”

Dr. Carter Price of the RAND Corporation provided an in-depth look at their study regarding the positive economic impact of Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.

As other studies have confirmed, Price said Pennsylvania will pay nothing with Medicaid expansion during the first three years of the program, 5 percent from 2017 to 2020, and 10 percent after that.

“The 10 percent cost is a much better deal than Pennsylvania gets for current (Medicaid) enrollees. The state is now responsible for about 45 percent of the cost for enrollees,” Price said.

Price said his RAND Corporation study found that the estimated impact of Medicaid expansion greatly exceeds the estimated costs, and result in a significant return to Pennsylvanians. According to the study, over seven years, Medicaid expansion would increase the gross domestic product of the state by at least $3.2 billion annually, or by more than $23 billion through 2020.

One of the panelists, Regional Hospital of Scranton CEO M. Brooks Turkel, said Medicaid expansion has to happen.

“We applaud those who are trying to make changes in a very conservative, considerate fashion. However, it is fully obvious to us that Medicaid expansion is a logical way to improve care in our community and to reduce the cost of care in our community,” Turkel said.

The roundtable panel also included:

  • Robert Steigmeyer, president & CEO, Geisinger – Community Medical Center
  • Gary Drapek, executive Director, United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties
  • Alex J. Hazzouri, CEO, The Advocacy Alliance
  • Jim Willshier, director of Policy & Partnership, Pennsylvania Assoc. of Community Health Centers (PACHC)
  • Mary Lucille Czyzyk, executive director, Scranton Primary Center
  • Wasique Mirza, MD FAPC, chief medical officer, Scranton Primary Center
  • Linda Thomas Hemak, MD, president & CEO, Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education
  • Mike Hanley, Executive Director, United Neighborhood Centers of NE PA


Blake Tells Conference on Aging Legislature Needs to Do More for Seniors

SCRANTON, April 11, 2013 – State Sen. John Blake today said it is important that the Corbett administration and members of the General Assembly adopt the mission of an annual conference on aging and provide more – and better – services for Pennsylvania’s senior citizen population.

The 2013 Northeastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference on Aging is a daylong event at the Patrick & Margaret DeNaples Center at the University of Scranton. This is the conference’s third consecutive year and it is co-hosted by The Commonwealth Medical College.

“It is my hope that as we continue to move forward out of these challenging economic times, Pennsylvania will be able to provide the essential services and care not only to our seniors but to the members of their families who are often the key providers of that care,” Blake told conferees during the lunchtime session.

“These are supposed to be the golden years for our senior citizens and we can only hope that the many policy decisions taken by our state and federal lawmakers afford our senior citizens an opportunity to enjoy these years,” he said.

The University of Scranton and The Commonwealth Medical College say the conference “promotes the view that healthy aging results from an integrated approach to caring for the elderly.”

“The four guiding principles of education, integration, collaboration, and dissemination personify our core purpose to direct the necessary resources to enable elders and their families to live fulfilling lives with dignity and secure in the knowledge that our academic and professional institutions are committed to innovation and service to promote healthy aging,” the conference’s mission statement says.

As Pennsylvania moves into the federal Affordable Care Act and considers Medicaid expansion, Blake said it’s extremely important for lawmakers to pay attention to detail when it comes to adopting regulations and laws that affect senior citizens.

Nearly 2 million people 65 years old and older live in Pennsylvania and the commonwealth is fourth in the United States for residents who are 85 years old or older (300,000 people). Seventeen percent of the residents living in Blake’s 22nd Senatorial District are at least 65 years old.

By 2030, Blake said it is estimated that the number of Pennsylvanians older than 60 will increase to 3.6 million.

Pennsylvania’s growing elderly population, coupled with dramatically increasing health care costs, make it more important for lawmakers to get it right.

“In Pennsylvania, a senior or their family can expect to pay $99,280 per year for a private room in a nursing home. The national average for a private room is only $81,031 per year,” Blake said. “That is an unbearable cost for most families but most of the time there is simply no choice.

Blake reiterated the need for Gov. Corbett to approve Medicaid expansion. Citing statistics from a recent RAND study, the senator said Pennsylvania’s participation in the federal program would add as much as $2.5 billion in annual payments to the state. It would also spark up to $3.6 billion in economic activity.


# # #

Sen. Blake to Address Annual Conference on Aging at U. of Scranton

SCRANTON – State Sen. John Blake will address the third annual Northeastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference on Aging on Thursday, April 11, at the University of Scranton.

Blake is scheduled to speak at 12:30 p.m. at the Patrick & Margaret DeNaples Center. The conference is being hosted by the university and The Commonwealth Medical College.

Media coverage is encouraged.

WHAT:          Sen. John Blake to address 2013 Northeastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference

WHEN:          12:30 p.m., Thursday, April 11

WHERE:       Patrick & Margaret DeNaples Center , University of Scranton, 800 Linden St., Scranton