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Below is a recap of this week’s legislative activity. The week was highlighted by Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address on Tuesday.
I have begun meeting with the Governor’s Cabinet nominees in preparation for their confirmations by the Senate, and on Wednesday I attended a press conference held by Rep. John McGinnis to present his proposal for pension reform. You can listen to my Q&A with him here.
Scott R. Wagner
In this Edition:
I joined fellow York County lawmakers Monday for a rally to kick off a renewed effort to allow counties to raise revenue for local tourism.
Legislation is being introduced that will give 54 counties, including York County, the option to raise the hotel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. The revenue will boost county tourism and economic development initiatives.
Tourism increases business in the hotel, restaurant, retail and other sectors, using revenue from visitors to help ease the tax burden on county residents. York County, which has a 3 percent tax, does not have the resources to compete for tourists with neighboring Lancaster, Adams and Dauphin counties, which each have 5 percent taxes.
If York County chose to increase its hotel tax, it would generate more than $1 million for tourism development. I sponsored a proposal in the previous legislative session, and I’ll work again this session to give our county the ability to promote tourism and the economic development it brings.
During a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday, the Governor unveiled his $33.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2015-16, which includes a $4.7 billion (16.1 percent) increase in state spending. It also includes tax increases totaling $4.7 billion for the upcoming fiscal year (equal to $1,000 from each person, including children, in Pennsylvania).
Considering we are facing a $2 billion deficit and $50 billion in unfunded liabilities between our two public pension systems, we need to be focused on reducing spending, not increasing it. While I am still reviewing all of the specifics, I am certainly concerned for the working middle-class that the Governor continued to tout in his budget address as being helped by his proposal.
The budget process will now get underway as my colleagues and I on the Senate Appropriations Committee hold three weeks of budget hearings beginning on March 16. The hearings provide an opportunity for the committee to hear from Administration officials regarding the details of their plans for the upcoming fiscal year.
You can watch the hearings at www.pasenategop.com.
Senate Democrats called for the bill to be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, but that motion failed 19-29. They claim there is a fiscal impact to the Commonwealth, and therefore, the bill must be reviewed by the Committee, yet all along they have been claiming the cost to taxpayers for automatic payroll deductions is nominal.
Senator Eichelberger then proposed an amendment to essentially limit the scope to just political contributions, but it failed to garner the necessary votes when several south east Republicans, including Senator John Rafferty and Senator Dominic Pileggi, voted with the Democrats. The vote was 24-24, and Lieutenant Governor/Senate President Mike Stack cast the deciding vote with his fellow Democrats.
At this point the bill is still before the full Senate for consideration, and I will continue to push for passage of both SB 500 and SB 501.
The Senate on Tuesday voted to establish a select committee on “Purely Public Charities.”
Under Senate Resolution 28, the bipartisan panel will conduct statewide hearings and work with non-profits, elected officials, tax experts, public safety organizations and other stakeholders to determine whether additional legislation is needed and make recommendations relating to legislation on the treatment of purely public charities in Pennsylvania.
With Act 55 of 1997, the General Assembly used its constitutional power to provide clear and uniform standards in statute to define which purely public charities may claim a tax exemption. A 2012 state Supreme Court decision struck down the provisions and reinstated standards established by the courts as the means to determine the definition of a charity. The decision has created uncertainty and the potential for increased litigation.
The Senate recently approved a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the General Assembly’s power to determine the criteria for whether an institution is a purely public charity. Both pieces of legislation are now before the House for consideration.
The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday intended to protect the integrity of the “veteran” driver’s license designation process.
Under Senate Bill 42 those who falsely claim to be a veteran on their Pennsylvania driver’s license application would be subject to a summary offense with a $300 fine and possible imprisonment of between 30 and 90 days for those who fail to pay the fine. A state law enacted in 2012 allows veterans to self-certify their status, subject to verification by state military officials. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
Senate Bill 43 also addresses what is termed as “Stolen Valor,” where someone falsely claims to be part of the military or to have received military honors that they did not actually attain. This legislation was brought to my attention by a constituent whose son raises money for veterans and unfortunately, was lied to by one of his recipients. I am hopeful this bill will be brought up for a vote in the spring when we return after budget hearings, seeing as it is on the calendar awaiting final passage.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved Senate Resolution 28 to establish a select committee on “Purely Public Charities.” As noted above, the full Senate went on to adopt this resolution.
Other committee action:
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the Senate Local Government Committee held a joint public hearing on Tuesday to discuss the benefits of the Act 13 Impact Fee on Pennsylvania communities.
The public hearing featured testimony from counties, townships, conservation districts and economic development organizations throughout the state. Act 13 of 2012 imposed an unconventional gas well fee, which has provided more than $630 million to local and county governments, including those like York County that do not have drilling in their areas. This is in addition to more than $2 billion companies have paid in state taxes.
Under Act 13, if a severance tax were to be imposed, the impact fee would be eliminated.
Click here for video of the hearing and written testimony.
April 13th - The Senate returns to voting session.