It’s put up or shut up time for the Governor

Article posted on September 30, 2015

Today marks three full months without a budget. The Governor and Democrats have stated recently that the votes are in place to pass his massive tax increases if only the Republican leadership would put his proposal up for a floor vote. Of course, his budget was voted on previously in the House, but he claimed that it was a trick, that it came up too quickly and that the Democrat members (all of them), couldn’t vote for it for one reason or another. Last week, the Democrat Whip in the House said the votes were there to pass the proposal, even claiming that 20 Republicans would join the D’s for this vote. This has been a stumbling block/excuse for the Governor for a while now. Despite the obvious Republican majorities and no indication that any Republican would support his tax plan, he insists that his proposals are viable and should be passed. Well, it was announced today that his tax proposal would be scheduled for a vote next Wednesday in the House, and if it passes, it will be scheduled in the Senate the following week. He has the opportunity to provide the language he wants in the bill and is free to lobby members of both parties over the next week for their vote. It’s put up or shut up time for the Governor.

-John

Key Facts and Timeline on the State Budget

Article posted on September 30, 2015

There has been much discussion about the state budget.  As State Legislators representing our respective districts, we felt it appropriate to offer a few key facts and a timeline of what has transpired.

On March 3, Governor Tom Wolf presented his budget to a joint session of the House and Senate.  It was a budget that raised personal income and sales taxes and increased the scope of the sales tax to record levels.  It was a $12 billion tax increase on the backs of Pennsylvania citizens.  The tax increase would be $4.5 billion more this year, which is a 17% increase over last year, and another $7.5 billion increase next year.  To put this in perspective, the collective total increase from the governors of the remaining 49 states, was $2.1 billion for this fiscal year.

On June 1, the House voted on a list of tax proposals contained in the Governor’s budget.  (Constitutionally, all revenue bills must originate in the House.)  The vote was 193 – 0 against the proposal.  Not one Democrat or Republican voted for the Governor’s massive tax increase.

On June 30, an on-time budget, passed by the House and Senate, was placed on the Governor’s desk.  It addressed our needs, spent within our means, and did so WITHOUT RAISING TAXES.  Accompanying the budget was a pension reform bill and a liquor privatization bill.  The Governor immediately vetoed the ENTIRE budget and the pension and liquor reform bills.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, governors are allowed to “blue line” items in the budget they do not agree with and sign into law the remainder of the state budget.  274 of the 401 budget line items had funding that was proposed by the Governor and agreed to by the House and Senate. Governor Wolf, by vetoing the ENTIRE budget, was the first governor in over 40 years to do so.

Leaders from the House and Senate worked throughout the summer with the Governor to discuss details and get the entire budget approved—without success.

On Aug. 19, the leaders of the House and Senate offered the Governor $400 million more to meet his request for education funding, but needed liquor privatization and pension reform to start our state on the path to fiscal responsibility.  He refused this offer.

On Aug. 25, the House cast votes to override the Governor’s veto on non-controversial items such as: school lunch programs, school bus transportation, rape crisis, domestic violence programs, pre-school programs, etc.  This vote needed a two-thirds majority to pass.  Not one Democrat voted in favor of this effort to help social service agencies, school districts and local governments.

More recently, the Senate introduced SB 1000 that would provide emergency funding to human services agencies, drug treatment programs, schools, PHEAA loan programs, libraries, and more.  It was passed along party lines in the Senate 30 – 19 and in the House 117 – 83.  On September 29, the Governor vetoed this effort to address the critical needs of Pennsylvanians.  This veto continues the impasse and portends more harm for our children, the elderly and those less fortunate.

Mr. Wolf has clearly adopted a policy of holding all education and social services funding, and much else, as hostages for his desire to get his way, in full, and without compromise.  Simply put, he has shown no interest in bargaining in good faith.  His callous behavior is unnecessary, unacceptable, and unbefitting the citizens of the commonwealth.

As your local legislators, we urge the Governor to reconsider his dismissal of emergency funding needed by so many Pennsylvanians and ask that he come to the budget table with realistic funding requests that will help all Pennsylvanians prosper, not just his special interest supporters.

–Representative Judy Ward
–Representative John D McGinnis
–Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr.

 

There’s no sign of that so far

Article posted on September 29, 2015

The Governor wasted no time vetoing the emergency funding bills this afternoon. He followed his vetoes with a tweet that he’s ready to “fight,”
then followed that with a letter to every legislator saying that he has “made significant overtures” on pension and liquor reform and went on to say that he has met legislative leaders “more than half way.” He also portrayed not voting for a tax increase as taking “the easy way out.” This kind of disingenuous rhetoric is why there has been no movement on the budget. “Halfway” is a dishonest description, and when you consider the unrealistic positions he’s taken, halfway doesn’t even get you into the same ballpark. With the days needed to put bills through the legislative process and given the session schedule and where we are right now, November looks like the earliest we could have something done. But that’s provided he’s willing to compromise, and there’s no sign of that so far.

-John

Remember them the next time you sit down for a good meal

Article posted on September 28, 2015

There were, a record, 3 budget meetings today. As of this afternoon, nothing new to report, maybe tonight something will break. My schedule changed this evening and permitted me to attend the Cumberland County Farm Bureau’s Annual Dinner. It’s always interesting to hear about the issues facing today’s farmers. And although many of the issues from county to county are the same, they impact farmers differently depending on where they are, the environmental conditions around their farm, and what kind of farming they do. Some of the issues can be addressed in a reasonable time frame, others take years or may never be resolved to their satisfaction, but the farmers don’t give up very easily; that’s how they’ve persevered for generations. Remember them the next time you sit down for a good meal.

-John

That’s a big difference

Article posted on September 27, 2015

Most of the stories today concerning government were about John Boehner’s resignation. There were surprisingly few on state issues. The Pope also took up a lot of ink. So, the House and Senate both go into session tomorrow. There is expected to be some discussion on shifting school property taxes to increased sales and income taxes. Of course, the Governor’s plan is more than a shift; it’s another mechanism for increasing revenue. I looked at the numbers for two area school districts, and in both, the residents in those districts would pay twice as much in sales and income tax increases as they received in property tax relief. The plans that the legislature has been working on are a dollar for dollar replacement. That’s a big difference.

-John

They deserve our appreciation

Article posted on September 26, 2015

I had a couple of places to visit this morning after my men’s fellowship. I went to the “Out of the Darkness Community Walk” at Mansion Park. They publicized that the event was “to honor our loved ones, raise awareness, stop stigma, and prevent suicide.” Many of the people there suffered from the loss of a loved one and it was emotional for them. I spoke with a father whose daughter committed suicide five years ago. They did everything they could have done for their beautiful and talented high school student, but they still lost her. This event hopefully helped with the healing process for many and educated others. I also visited the celebration at the Huntingdon County Fair Grounds for the 100th Anniversary of the PA Forest Fire Wardens. They had a presentation by Penn State students on cutting wood with an axe or a two-man saw, and climbing a pole. These were the skills required by early fire wardens before chain saws were available. I ended the day at the Southern Alleghenies EMS Council’s Annual Awards Dinner. These folks are arguably the least recognized emergency workers, but deserve a lot of credit for what they do each day. The stories tonight of delivering babies and keeping people alive after major trauma or cardiac arrest, was impressive. They deserve our appreciation.

-John

Just ask the business community

Article posted on September 25, 2015

The September Keystone Business Climate Survey results were revealing. The Pennsylvania business owners and CEO’s who participate in the survey have been closely following the Governor’s budget proposal and do not like what they see. 82% are negative on the Governor’s job performance; only 12% say he’s doing a good job. 81% say his tax policies would harm PA’s business climate; 64% say it would significantly harm it. It was the second lowest rating from the business community in the 20 year history of the survey. For anyone who thinks that since the Governor has business experience, he’s pro-business, just ask the business community.

-John

Why can’t the Governor?

Article posted on September 24, 2015

The House passed the emergency funding bills today. They are expected to be on the Governor’s desk by Monday and he is still talking about vetoing them. As we see more stories about the effects of the lack of funding coming into local budgets, the Governor is apparently still refusing to change his position. I looked over the projections of when school districts will be in cash flow difficulty. In the 30th Senatorial District, one will be in trouble by October, others can hang on until November or longer. I’ve spoken with local officials who are becoming very concerned about programs for seniors, abused women, and children. The papers around the state, generally very supportive of Democrats, are coming out in support of the emergency funding. Their predominant view is that the entities suffering are not responsible for this problem and should not be harmed. If the liberal editorial boards can support it, why can’t the Governor?

-John

Senator Eichelberger Urges Governor Wolf to Sign Emergency Funding Plan

Article posted on September 24, 2015

HOLLIDAYSBURG (September 24, 2015) – Following the state House’s approval today of the emergency budget funding that originated in the Senate, Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr. (R-Blair) issued the following statements:

“I join Senate leadership in urging Governor Wolf to swiftly sign this emergency funding plan into law.”

“It’s imperative that the state send immediate help to the social service providers, local governments, schools, and other agencies that are suffering because the governor vetoed, in its entirety, the responsible and balanced budget sent to him more than 12 weeks ago. He had the option then to allow taxpayer money to keep flowing to community organizations while he and the legislature worked on finding common ground on some of the more divisive issues. Instead, he chose to hold the people of Pennsylvania hostage with his unwillingness to compromise.”

“Since Governor Wolf single-handedly created this stoppage, he needs to listen to the people he is hurting and sign this emergency funding plan before causing any more harm to the citizens of this Commonwealth.”

Please contact Patrick Schurr, Executive Assistant, at 814-695-8386 or email pschurr@pasen.gov for additional information.

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There are some problems we just can’t fix

Article posted on September 23, 2015

My staff has been extra busy with constituent work lately. Some I help with, some they handle and report to me about. I sometimes get a ‘heads up’ when they know a constituent isn’t happy with an answer and may see me about it directly. Yesterday, for example, I heard that a couple of farmers weren’t satisfied with a position a state agency took on a request from them and asked our office to look into it. After several calls and various arguments made on behalf of the constituents, the agency stood by its original position. Sure enough, the two farmers were waiting for me at the Huntingdon County Farm Bureau dinner last evening. They weren’t upset with me, but they didn’t like what we had to tell them. I often say that I can’t waive a magic wand and fix whatever is broken. More often than not, we do help people. But, just because we call a state agency, or local government, or school, and ask for something to happen, doesn’t mean they’ll do it. Sometimes the entity can’t do what we ask because of a law or regulation; sometimes they simply choose not to. In any event, we try to help, and usually are successful, but there are some problems we just can’t fix.

-John