Monthly Archives: August 2016

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Gov. Tom Wolf continues to reiterate his opposition to a controversial abortion bill and promised, once again, to veto it.

“If this legislation reaches my desk, I will veto it,” he said. “This is a bad bill for Pennsylvania and we cannot afford to allow it to go forward.”

It’s the same warning he issued three weeks ago when the House passed the legislation — imploring the Senate to “reject” House Bill 1948 and everything it does “to set women back.”

However, Republicans on the committee approved the bill on a vote of 9-5 on July 11, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. A timeline for a vote has yet to be scheduled, Republican Caucus spokeswoman Jenn Kocher said Monday.

Democrats on the committee, however, didn’t let the bill pass without first engaging in an impassioned debate that covered many of the same concerns voiced by House Democrats last month.

The bill in question would amend the state’s Abortion Control Act to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — the current standard is 24 weeks. An exception would be made for when the procedure is necessary to prevent the mother’s death or “substantial and irreversible” loss of major bodily functions. The legislation would also ban the dilation and evacuation procedure with the same aforementioned exceptions. The legislation refers to the procedure as “dismemberment abortion,” or the termination of a pregnancy by the removal of the limbs of the unborn child.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware, led off the discussion with questions surrounding the bill’s constitutionality and undefined terms, including “major bodily harm” and “dismemberment.”

“I object to this bill on a number of grounds,” Leach said. “First of all, the Supreme Court, just a few weeks ago, reinvigorated the discussion around the undue burden test on women. This bill creates substantial new burdens on women. Perhaps the most severe is that it requires women to use a more, in most cases, more dangerous, less safe method of having an abortion after 20 weeks. The D&E and is by far the safest method for the woman involved.”

Leach began circulating a co-sponsorship memo last month to repeal Act 122 of 2011 — the law requiring Pennsylvania abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities. Leach’s proposal was inspired by a 5-3 U.S. Supreme Court opinion handed down June 27 deeming a similar Texas law unconstitutional because it imposes an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.

The Texas legislature approved the measure in 2013. Critics say it’s a costly mandate which shuttered half of the state’s 40 abortion clinics, forcing women to drive hundreds of miles for care.

“I don’t know why we are passing unconstitutional laws on issues we know nothing about, on something most of us sitting at this table will never in our lives have to deal with, but we are forcing this on other people and making their lives more at risk, making them less safe, than they are today,” Leach said, likening a woman’s right to abortion to the second amendment.

“With gun ownership, my God, we can’t do anything,” he said. “Can you imagine if we were passing these sorts of laws with regards to guns? We can only buy guns for so many weeks and we can only buy certain kinds of guns at certain times. I mean you can imagine the self-righteous constitutional outcry that we would hear about this sacred constitutional right that we are infringing upon? Yet, we can pass laws about women’s constitutional right, totally equal to the second amendment, we can pass those laws over and over again in the most intrusive way and that’s no problem. No problem at all.”

Committee Majority Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, argued the bill does not prohibit all abortions and therefore does not infringe a woman’s constitutional right.

“My position is there are 15 other states that have legislation like this that have not been challenged,” he said. “The other issue is, we are not interfering with women’s right to an abortion. That’s a constitutional right that they have and we cannot do that.”

Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, chastised the committee for voting the bill, which she characterized as an “obvious political election-year gimmick,” despite the more pressing concern of passing a revenue package capable of funding the $31.63 billion spending plan ahead of a midnight deadline Monday.

“This is, in my opinion, an assault on women’s health, unnecessarily,” she said. “And as the only woman on the Judiciary Committee … I would say that, I’m playing this woman’s card, but to me, it’s more about the family. People that are making this decision — usually a woman doesn’t do it alone — there’s a spouse involved, a lot of times. They talk to their doctors. In that 20 to 24 weeks, there is some testing that’s done, that’s not done prior, and decisions are made. Painstaking decisions by women and men that might have to end the pregnancy, for the sake of the woman and her health and the family’s health. Who is anybody in this room to tell a woman what to do in that critical time? The doctor and the family get to make that decision.”

“It’s hurtful. They cry. There’s pain. And now you’re going to add to it.”

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Pennsylvania legislators closed a $1.3 billion budget gap in the 2016-17 budget by piecing together many different forms of revenue. They increased taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, and applied the state’s sales tax to the digital download of movies, books and video games, which weren’t taxed before. They also borrowed $200 million from a state medical malpractice fund. The budget further depends on $100 million from legalizing Internet gambling, which the Legislature will work on in the fall.

Eight new business tax credits that will start in the 2017-18 fiscal year. All of these tax credits will begin July 1, 2017:

  • Rural jobs and investment: $100 million to attract businesses and create jobs in rural areas of the state
  • Concert rehearsal and tour: $4 million to reimburse concert promotion and management companies for qualifying tour expenses
  • Manufacturing and investment: $4 million to benefit companies that create and maintain at least $1 million in new jobs for five years
  • Mixed-use development: $2 million to increase affordable housing and commercial development
  • Waterfront development: $1.5 million to improve the public’s access to waterfront areas
  • Video game production: $1 million to aid Pennsylvania companies in the development of video games

Beginning this fiscal year, there will also be a $7.5 million coal refuse energy and reclamation tax credit that will rise to $10 million each year after that.

The film production tax credit will now be capped at $65 million, as opposed to $60 million. If 60 percent of a film’s budget is spent in Pennsylvania, the project is eligible for a 25 percent tax credit on those qualifying expenses. This budget bill adds a 30 percent tax credit for postproduction expenses, which had previously not been covered by the program.

There are also new sales tax exemptions for the snack food industry to purchase cardboard boxes and the purchase of machinery and equipment used in the timber industry.

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By Neal Lesher 

Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed two regulatory relief bills, drawing the ire of environmental activists. One dealt with controversial oil and gas regulations and the other involved the Obama Administration’s Clean Power edict. Environmental groups were quick to pounce on the Governor for coming to an agreement with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had been raising concerns over these regulations for some time.

We think the Governor made the right decision. We applaud him for practicing common sense.  Small-business owners know too well the impact an out-of-control regulatory climate is having on their business and our economy. Poorly crafted rules can be devastating for small businesses. Most small employers don’t have the staff to research new regulatory requirements, develop a plan to comply, or implement that plan. More and more of a small-business owner’s time and money is spent dealing with government regulations, taking away from improving products, enhancing customer service, and growing their business.

Small conventional oil and gas producers raised concerns when the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently rammed through sweeping regulations that lumped them in with larger oil companies doing unconventional drilling. They testified at hearings that the new rules would force smaller companies out of business. Nearly all of Pennsylvania’s conventional oil and gas producers are small businesses — as are the supply stores, excavation contractors and other companies, indirectly involved with conventional oil and gas production.

These conventional gas drillers have been in Pennsylvania since the first shallow well was drilled in Titusville in 1859. That’s why the sudden need for comprehensive new regulatory requirements puzzling. The DEP failed to provide anything but anecdotal evidence of the need.

More troubling was the process the agency used. Not only did DEP fail to develop two sets of regulations for small and large drillers, as required by Act 126 of 2014. The agency also did not comply with a law requiring it seek less costly alternatives for small businesses or prove why that can’t be achieved. In some cases, DEP did no analysis at all. NFIB fought hard several years ago to have those provisions added to the Regulatory Review Act to protect small businesses.

These agency actions should serve as a warning sign for small businesses in every industry.  If regulators are willing to abuse their power to run roughshod over one industry, what businesses are next?  Ultimately, the Governor made the right decision by hitting the reset button and blocking these regulations from going into effect.

The coal industry in Pennsylvania is also aware of the impact of overreaching government regulations. Many small businesses in Pennsylvania serving the coal industry have already been hit hard by both regulations and market changes. Now those companies risk being wiped out altogether by the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Even though the Supreme Court delayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan after NFIB and others sued, there was still a concern in Pennsylvania when the DEP indicated it was still moving forward.

Lawmakers representing the coal regions responded by crafting a bill that ensures the state legislature can weigh in on any plan the DEP develops. The bill would also prevent the agency from submitting the Plan to the EPA until the Supreme Court stay is lifted.  NFIB hopes in the long run, the federal courts see the Clean Power Plan for what it is and permanently strike it down.

NFIB is encouraged to see Governor Wolf agree to these changes and pleased to see the Legislature rein in the regulatory machine.  Hopefully, this is a starting point that ultimately leads to further regulatory reforms that will provide relief for small businesses.

Neil Lesher is NFIB Pennsylvania’s Legislative Director. NFIB is the leading advocate for small business owners, with offices in Washington, D.C., and every state capital. Its  mission is to defend the right of small business owners to run their businesses without undue government interference and to advance public policies that promote their success.

 

 

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No.

 

By Charlie Gerow

 

There are certainly valid arguments for reducing the number of school districts in Pennsylvania.  “A European Union for education” and a reversion to thoroughly discredited “outcomes-based education” are not among them.

 

When Governor Pinchot was in office Pennsylvania didn’t have 500 school districts.  There were more than 2,500 in those days.  The 500 we now have represents dramatic consolidations, both legislatively and judicially mandated, in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

 

There are, no doubt, some districts that may want or need to merge with adjacent districts.  The main reasons cited for such mergers is the potential cost savings and an improved educational product and student achievement.

 

Local school district choice, not mandates from the legislature or the courts, should determine whether or not there are such mergers.

 

School districts along the Mason Dixon Line have bandied about the concept of consolidation for years, looking below the border to Maryland which, like neighboring Virginia, has county-wide school districts.

 

Yet when the Independent Fiscal Office did a study of the 15 school districts in York County, they determined that merging those districts into a single county-wide district would not save the taxpayers any money.  It suggested that such a move would both result in higher taxes for middle-income earners but would also produce only minimal savings in administrative costs.

 

Administrative costs have been a growing concern for taxpayers across the state.  With superintendents and top administrators typically making deep into six figure salaries, those paying the bills have long wondered if there aren’t ways to economize.

 

However, the consolidations that have occurred have not produced the promised or hoped for savings.  There are a variety of factors not related to the consolidations that account for this, but it is safe to say that consolidation isn’t necessarily a financial panacea.

 

Ultimately, whether or not mergers produce substantial savings hinges on whether or not the consolidated districts will do what’s necessary to curtail administrative expenses and reduce per-pupil costs.

 

Mergers  and consolidations have not  always produced higher quality education or improved student performance.  Some studies suggest the opposite has been the case.

 

Additionally there have been other impacts that were not intended consequences of these mergers.  Consolidations have often produced a sense of loss of community.  This has been especially seen in sports, band and other extracurricular activities and opportunities for kids.

 

In Arkansas, where more than a third of their districts merged in the past dozen years, businesses closed and kids’ school bus rides got a lot longer.  One superintendent called it “the disenfranchisement of communities.”  He added, “I haven’t seen an increase in academic progress that I think we would have seen.”

 

Yet as communities struggle with skyrocketing pension obligations and administrative costs they’re looking for any reasonable solution.

 

They should certainly be able to merge, consolidate or merely cooperate with neighboring districts.  To require them to merge would be a public policy mistake.  Because of the impact on individual students and their local communities, local choice must be the by-word for any consideration of school district mergers.

 

Let’s not forget that we already have one county-wide school system.  It’s the School District of Philadelphia.  You can judge for yourself how that’s working for cost-saving and student achievement.

 

 

 

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Is 70 the New 65? Why Americans Are Working Longer

“Age 65 has long been considered the traditional retirement age, and not coincidentally is also the age of Medicare eligibility. According to recent statistics, the percentage of Americans 65 and older who are still in the labor force has risen to nearly 20%, the highest level since before Medicare was established in 1965.1

More than 9 million Americans aged 65 and older are working — a record number that is expected to rise in the coming decades, largely because of demographic and economic shifts.2 The first baby boomers have started to file for Medicare, and about 8,000 boomers will turn 65 each day until 2030.3

The U.S. economy is now dominated by service industries, which means there are plenty of employment opportunities that are less physically demanding. In addition, boomers enjoy better health and greater vitality than previous generations.

Even so, an aging U.S. workforce paints a mixed picture, with some positive and negative implications for the long-term financial security of American retirees and the U.S. labor force.

Economic Necessity
U.S. employers have largely replaced traditional pensions with retirement savings accounts such as 401(k) plans, which are funded primarily by employee contributions. Unfortunately, many workers have not saved enough money to retire comfortably.

In fact, nearly half of today’s retirees depend on Social Security for more than half of their income. Considering that the average benefit for retired workers is $1,341 per month in 2016, it’s apparent that some people must work as long as they can just to cover basic living expenses.4

Retirement Reality Check
It’s not only workers of little means who are delaying retirement past age 65. Americans with plenty of financial resources are making the same decision. Of course, many baby boomers continue to work because they are highly satisfied with their careers or want to stay active and socially engaged.

But others are anxious about the future and worried that their savings won’t last. Many would-be retirees see an opportunity to strengthen their financial positions before they give up a regular salary and employer-provided health and retirement benefits.5

Health Is Wealth  
Improvements in modern medicine and longer life expectancies are generally welcome developments, but they also increase the odds that retirees could outlive their assets. The life expectancy for a man who turns 65 today is 5.5 years longer than it was for a man who turned 65 in 1970. A woman’s life expectancy increased by three years over the same period.6

The expectation of high future health-care costs is also a major concern of prospective retirees. By one estimate, a typical 65-year-old married couple might spend $259,000 to cover their out-of-pocket health-care costs in retirement.7

Reasons to Work Longer
A major advantage of remaining employed is that you may be able to keep contributing to workplace retirement accounts instead of taking withdrawals. You could also take advantage of catch-up contributions to retirement plans (available to those who are age 50 and older) to help boost your savings and retirement income.

The same thinking could apply to Social Security benefits, which many people may claim as soon as they stop working. Eligibility for the full Social Security retirement benefit ranges from age 66 to 67 (depending on birth year). If you delay claiming Social Security past full retirement age, your benefit would grow by about 8% each year, up to age 70.

In theory, Social Security benefit calculations are actuarially neutral. In other words, if you live an “average” lifespan, you should receive the same lifetime Social Security income regardless of when you begin collecting benefits. However, if you are relatively healthy, you might consider the possibility that you and/or your spouse could live well beyond that “break-even” point. Delaying Social Security benefits is one way to help ensure thousands of dollars in additional income every year for the rest of your life.

Demographic Dilemma
With so many baby boomers nearing retirement age and younger generations choosing to have fewer children, some people have predicted that the aging population could result in declining labor force participation and lower economic growth.8 If so, it follows that the U.S. economy stands to benefit if a larger pool of skilled, educated, and experienced workers remain in the workforce longer than their predecessors.

Recent studies have found that working may reduce age-related declines in cognitive function and improve overall health.9 Yet it wouldn’t be wise for anyone to count on the ability to work indefinitely. About half of retirees left the workforce earlier than expected in 2015, and health problems were a commonly cited reason.10

In a perfect world, the decision to retire would always be a matter of personal choice. Because there is no way to know what the future will bring, a commitment to saving throughout your career may give you more freedom to make that decision on your own terms.”

Happy Investing

Scott C. Weaver

1, 5) Bloomberg.com, May 13, 2016
2) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
3, 8) The New York Times, May 13, 2016
4, 6) Social Security Administration, 2016
7, 10) Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2015–2016
9) usnews.com, May 13, 2016
The information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.  Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions. © 2016 Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc.

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Yes.

By Tony May

 

When Gifford Pinchot was governor back during the Great Depression it made sense to have 500 school districts.  One room school houses were still a common sight, state highways were a new idea, most people outside of the cities share phone service via “party lines” and the closest thing to Twitter were Western Union boys delivering telegrams on bicycles.

 

Today, county-wide school districts would make a lot more sense.  Getting cross-county in your car to make yourself heard at a school board meeting is easier today than riding in the family horse and buggy to a 1930s era board session,  Information technology makes it as easy to handle records for 50,000 students as  for 500. County-wide districts should allow a reduction in bureaucracy and duplication of middle management. It might even save money.

 

But, as long as people are interested in breaking the mold in the name of reform, is 67 from 500 a really good number.  If you are going county-wide, why not multi-county districts?  Allentown,,

Bethlehem and Easton see themselves as one, contiguous economic market.  Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are seen the same way.  Some counties – say Snyder and Union – are so rural and already share municipal services in other ways.  Northumberland and Columbia already share a school district – Southern Columbia – that takes students from both counties.

 

A model exists to reduce the number of districts to 29.  It’s called the state intermediate unit system. In 1970, in an earlier attempt at school reform and streamlining, the Commonwealth did away with a system of county-wide superintendents of schools and created 29 intermediate units based on geographic affinity.  There’s a lot of confusion about what IUs actually do but they are pretty much empowered to provide any services to schools within their boundaries that are authorized by their boards of directors.  The IU boards, in turn, are made up of delegates from each participating local school boards.  Sort of a European Union for education.

 

Why not just do away with local school districts and cede responsibility to the IUs?  Local control is popular even when the locals have forgotten what it is they want to control.  Historically, it revolved around who got the contracts.  Five hundred bus contracts.  Five hundred architectural firms, engineering firms, insurance companies and suppliers.  The list went on and on.

 

The point is that the idea of merger isn’t so radical.  We once had county superintendents overlaid over local school districts and now we have 29 “super districts.”

 

The reality is that if you are going to start a reform process, you ought to think big and you also should be thinking for the long run.  School districts are just a function of governing schools.

What if you thought in terms of governing educational?  What if you thought in terms of the student as the basic  unit of education?  Families are pretty mobile these days anyway.  Even in Pennsylvania, people  move from district to district in a child’s 12

year educational experience.

 

Why not take a page from an educational reform of the 1990s – outcomes based education—and build a customized educational experience for each child?  It’s already occurring more or less across the state as people shift residence and kids pick up more and more knowledge and learning outside the traditional classroom.  We have traditional Publix schools, private and parochial schools, charter schools, cyber charters and for profit :”learning centers”

and tutoring services.  Plus what kids learn today al fresco from the web.

 

Schools are critical for socialization and even for modeling good citizenship.  But maybe, in the future, they won’t be nearly so important for the purposes of classical education.  After all,

even into the mid-1900s, it was relatively common for people to become lawyers by “reading for the law” and clerking for an established lawyer rather than attending formal law school.  The key  to validating their qualifications to practice law was passing the bar exam.

 

So maybe school governance of the future won’t be built around 500 school districts or 67 or 29 but rather 12 million individual education portfolios – one for each Pennsylvanians – where each

formal and informal learning experience is registered.

 

Sixty seven is a good step in the right direction.

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The Senate dropped charter school reform language from an amendment to House Bill 1606, the Public School Code, Wednesday, clearing the path toward final passage for all the remaining code bills and a long-awaited revenue deal.

While this bill will help usher in the end of the 2016-17 budget battle, it appears the struggle over charter school reform will rage on into the fall.

“We didn’t come to a consensus on the provisions (for HB 1606),” said Appropriations Majority Chairman Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh. “There’s a lot of moving parts here and it’s a difficult issue to reconcile, so we have to do it right.”

The move appeased left-leaning policy organizations and legislative Democrats who panned the charter reform components of House Bill 530 — the House’s version of the Public School Code, from which HB1606’s amendment would have borrowed heavily — as overreaching, nonsensical and providing for the “unfettered expansion” of charter schools.

The language provided for multiple charters to consolidate and share administrative services, reorganized the Charter School Appeal board to include additional charter school representatives, designed a new and separate performance matrix for charters, extended renewal terms from five to ten years and — crucially, critics say — did not allow school districts to cap charter school enrollment.

Some other provisions, including a Charter School Funding Advisory Commission and a state-created enrollment application, were left out of HB1606 too.

What’s left in HB1606 spans 75 pages and does a lot of “housekeeping” — moving education provisions from the 2015-16 Fiscal Code into the more appropriate school code vehicle, including the special education funding formula, the PlanCon Advisory Committee, elimination of the pension double dip and the organization of a regional community college in the western corner of the state.

As anticipated, the bill distributes $1.1 billion in special education funding; $250 million from the Ready to Learn Block grant; $232.1 million in community college funding; $54.4 million for public libraries and $3 million for career and technical education equipment grants.

New this year, the school code will establish two pilot programs: one will provide $250,000 in grants to school districts interested in consolidating administrative services and another will establish a Drug and Alcohol Recovery High School in Philadelphia. The state will cover 60 percent of the $20,000 tuition rate for the school, which will admit 20 students from the city through 2019-20. The state departments of Education and Drug and Alcohol will assess the school’s performance and make recommendations for expansion or extension beyond the 2020 sunset.

The bill also authorizes the E-achievement Program, a hybrid learning grant program rewarding schools for blending “digital resources with traditional classroom teaching.” Schools may apply for a $50,000 planning grant and an implementation grant “not to exceed $250,000 annually.” Schools are limited to three implementation grants in a five-year period.

The amendment also appears to reference a PDE policy decision announced in January explaining the department would no longer mediate payment disputes between districts and charters for any money owed beyond the current school year, citing a 2012 Commonwealth Court decision regarding a $7 million underpayment dispute between Chester Upland School District and Chester Community Charter School.

Charter groups argued against the policy change and said it forces expensive lawsuits in order to collect tuition debts, but PDE spokeswoman Nicole Reigelman said, in April, the department was simply updating the policy to comply with the court decision — something that was long overdue.

HB1606 clarifies charters must submit final documentation to the department no later than October 1 for tuition payments owed for the previous school year by the authorizing district. Once submitted, the state would deduct the debt from the district’s subsidy and redirect it to the charter school. There’s no mention in the bill of the department’s involvement in reconciling charter school tuition disputes for previous school years.

Once mainstays in the Tax Code, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Tax Credit Scholarship programs were moved into HB 1606 this year, along with a $25 million funding boost for EITC.

Under the EITC program, businesses who donate to scholarship funds, educational improvement programs or prekindergarten programs can receive a tax credit for up to 75 percent of their donation — that jumps to 90 percent if the business commits the same amount for two consecutive years. With just $100 million set aside by the state for EITC, however, the tax credit is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis — through the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) — and runs out quickly.

The OSTC program authorizes a 75-percent or 90-percent tax credit to businesses who donate strictly to a scholarship fund for students living in the bottom 15 percent of school districts statewide. The state then uses income guidelines to award tuition assistance to select students so they can attend a nearby private school. The program’s funding is half of what is awarded through EITC, at just $50 million.

Some 1,300 business applied for tax credits in 2014, though the program remains unpopular among legislative Democrats who say the public money is awarded without accountability and shouldn’t funnel into private schools.

The underlying language in HB1606 would codify the searchable database, called SchoolWATCH, that details the revenues and expenditures of Pennsylvania school districts.

It’s the fourth time some form of the bill has moved through the General Assembly. The bill’s language was taken directly from House Bill 224 — an Education Code bill Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed in September 2015.

Currently, SchoolWATCH is available online via the School Performance Profile website. It was a policy move implemented in former Gov. Tom Corbett’s last weeks in office in January 2015. Without any codifying legislation, the Wolf administration could remove the tool at any point. The passage of the school code Wednesday ensures the permanency of the web tool for administrations to come.

The Senate and House overwhelmingly passed HB1606 Wednesday afternoon, on votes of 47-3 and 172-18, respectively.

Meanwhile, a provision stipulating the process PDE must follow to ensure timely intercept payments during any future budget impasse was slipped into the Fiscal Code, House Bill 1605. The existing Pennsylvania School District Intercept Program provides that the Secretary of Education will withhold current or future basic education funding or state aid payments from a school district that fails to make a debt service payment and remit the funds directly to the paying agent bank for the benefit of bondholders.

Another Fiscal Code provision requires PDE perform an analysis on the separation of previously-consolidated school district and provide a written report to the requesting school board within six months. There is no language in the provision describing the identity of the district.

After the approval of the revenue and code bills Wednesday, the House sent to the governor the non-preferred appropriations bills to providing, combined, nearly $600 million in funding to Pennsylvania’s state-related universities: Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania. The governor has said he will sign those bills into law.

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By Rep. Dan Truitt

July 2016 Dan Truitt

On June 30, the PA legislature claimed victory in passing the 2016-17 budget “on-time.” Unfortunately, that’s not what really happened.

Last year, I wrote many times about the fact that a “budget” has two halves – revenues (income) and appropriations (expenditures). Our state constitution requires these to balance. We are simply not permitted to spend more money than we expect to receive under the existing tax laws. If we want to spend more, we must pass bills to raise more revenues, which usually means raising taxes.

On June 1, 2015, the House Majority Leader excoriated the Minority Appropriations Chairman for attempting to force a vote on the spending side of the Governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal without first having a vote on the revenue side of the Governor’s proposal. The motion to consider the spending plan was put on hold and a vote was called for the Governor’s revenue plan. Every member of the House of Representatives – Republican and Democrat – voted against the Governor’s revenue plan. Subsequently, the House returned to consideration of the Governor’s spending plan and the motion was ruled out of order because the plan spent more money than was available and passage would have violated the state constitution.

In my view, this established an excellent precedent that we should always insist that a revenue bill, if required, be passed BEFORE we vote on a spending bill and that was the only reason why I voted against a $30.8 billion spending plan under “second consideration” in December of 2015. To do anything different would have been a violation of my oath of office. The 2015-2016 budget dragged out because no one ever proposed a viable tax plan to raise the revenue required to spend more than $30.3 billion. The nightmare finally ended when all parties finally accepted the fact that there was no support for tax increases and that a $30.3 billion budget was the only constitutional option on the table.

This year, an awful lot of folks seemed to conveniently forget about this part of last year’s budget battle and, last week, we passed a spending bill and sent it to the Governor without a revenue bill. Now, when I say we didn’t have a revenue bill, it’s not like we knew what we were going to put into it, but just hadn’t gotten around to drafting the bill and voting on it. We literally did not know where we were going to get the money to cover the $31.6 billion spending plan. Those of you who know me can probably guess what I did. I voted NO.

For the record, this budget is the first one that I have been forced to oppose on final passage since I arrived in Harrisburg in 2011. Even last year, I supported every spending plan that was considered for final passage because they all represented the best we could get with the available funds and we needed to get the job done for the people of Pennsylvania.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective, my vote was not needed to pass the spending plan last night. However, one of my junior colleagues asked me what happens if we can’t pass a revenue plan to go with a spending plan that has been signed by the Governor. There is no good answer to this question. I sure hope we don’t find out.

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By Angelique H. Caffrey

April 2014 Rep. Roebuck

 

“I never thought I would say this was my profession.”  It’s an honest – and revealing – remark from a PA Representative who has held his seat since the mid-1980s.  Although he admits he had an interest in politics from about the age of 10, James Roebuck, Jr. never consciously intended to become a legislator.

Growing up in Philadelphia, he was a member of a politically active church, Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church.  The pastor at the time was well-known as an agent of social change, and was the first African-American asked to speak at a Democratic convention in the earlier part of the 20th century.  “My church was involved in the civil rights movement, and actively pursued policies.  It wasn’t unusual for major politicians to speak at our Sunday services – that was normal,” he explains.  “I stood on corner and collected money for NAACP – everyone was about making the world a better place.  Many years later, I was on a trip to Israel, and a member of the trip mentioned that he had been a speaker at our church!  It was a magnet for people.”

Roebuck left the Philadelphia area after graduating from an academically-driven high school, Central High School.  The all-boys institute of learning prepared him well for college at the Virginia Union, where he graduated with honors in only three years.  He received a Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and served as an educator at Drexel University.  While back in Philadelphia, he saw the need for change and eventually moved into the political realm.  “I got a job in city government, and shortly after, the Representative died.  I received the endorsement and won in June during a special election… right in the middle of budget time!” he adds with a chuckle.

He would be the first to admit that the 188th congressional district he represents is very diverse across all levels from social to economic, which brings unique challenges.  At the same time, he’s proud to serve an extremely tolerant community accepting of differences among individuals.  Over his more than 30 years in the House, he’s been able to influence changes, including pushing more negotiation and compromise between members of the parties.  He wants to see more of this in the coming years.  “In the 1980s, we could have debates and differences on the House floor.  But afterwards we could go out together.  Nothing was locked in stone.”  His goal is to forge relationships beyond members of opposing political parties.  “When you make friends, you understand issues better.”

Roebuck may no longer teach history, but it still plays a huge role in his life.  He’s a voracious reader, enjoying books on everything from the liberal party in England to early African-American entrepreneurs.  When he was younger, he traveled extensively, visiting Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Caribbean, among other countries.  A Fulbright grant enabled to spend the summer in India and Pakistan.  Yet he was always glad to come back to the states.  “You realize the quality of life is better than anything you would experience anywhere else.  The freedom is greater.  We are a beacon and model for the world.”

To give back to the young people in the 188th district, Roebuck has joined a tutoring program at a local elementary school.  There, he helps children as young as first grade improve their reading skills.  This year will be his fifth as a tutor.  “I like working with young people,” he notes.  “I understand some of the difficulties that our teachers have.”

In fact, his wife of more than 25 years was a K-8 educator who worked with children who mostly came from the local housing project.  She passed away recently of pulmonary fibrosis.  He credits her with having been a “good antidote” to his more naturally introverted personality, speaking fondly of her outgoing nature.

This election cycle, Roebuck has no opponents for his seat and looks forward to remaining a senior member of the House.

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By Angelique H. Caffrey

Baker port

To say traveling is a passion for Pennsylvania Representative Matthew Baker might be a bit of an understatement.  During his lifetime, he’s been privileged to visit about 35 countries, Morocco being among the most exotic.  His trips around the world began in his youth, when his older sister began taking him with her on excursions.  Not only did those travels open his eyes to the rest of the world, but they made him appreciate his hometown of Westfield.

He recalls his journeys with her fondly: “She was 12 years older.  Since we didn’t grow up together at home, we traveled.  We got to know each other.  Every year, we took a major trip.  I learned a lot culturally and educationally.”  Sadly, Baker’s sister died more than a decade ago from diabetes-related complications.  Baker helped take care of her before she passed away, making sure she received the attention she deserved during her final years, a testament to their unique bond.

Today, Baker’s most frequent excursions take place along Route 15, heading from his congressional district in the northern tier of the commonwealth to Harrisburg.  Since the early 1990s, he’s taken this route, representing his constituents from a decidedly rural part of the state.   It’s a position he never sought to hold in his early years, but is privileged to have.

Like many of his colleagues in the House, Baker began his career in the public sector.  After graduating from college, he worked in a Wellsboro law firm whose senior partner was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.  At that time, Representatives didn’t have appointed staff members to help them, so the senior partner asked Baker to fill the role of staffer.  “He wanted to hire me for two jobs: District Aide and law firm worker.  We didn’t have to have separate State Representative offices then; you could just work out of your law firm.”

For more than 12 years, Baker did double-duty.  Along the way, he fell in love with public service. “Handling hundreds of constituent requests for services and concerns every day really taught me a lot about the law and law-making,” he says.  When his supervisor passed away due to cancer, the firm asked Baker to run for the House seat.  It took four years for him to agree, and he won.  Because the laws had since changed, Baker opened a separate State Representative office and has worked there ever since.

Next year, Baker will be the fourth-ranking senior member of the House, which gives him a novel perspective on the PA legislature.  He’s seen plenty of changes, including the advent of social media and emails.  He firmly believes in concentrating on the positives of those changes.  He also strives to show respect in all areas of his life.  “I love to write personal notes to everyone,” he explains.  “I think it shows civility and allows people to find common ground.  We need more civility.”

He’s pleased that the transparency and accountability has grown in the legislature.  “In the 1970s, there didn’t seem to be as much information available to the general public with what was happening,” he says.  “Now, people can track bills and amendments, as well as how a person voted.  People have more access to their legislators and are more engaged.”

Baker has spent his lifetime focused on his career, and he considers his constituents to be an extended family.  His wife, whom he met locally and married 27 years ago, has steadfastly supported him through long days and nights.  Though Baker’s journeys are less global these days, he still has a heart for learning.  He fills his free time with reading, which he feels keeps him grounded.  “I have a personal devotion, a daily devotion, every day.  Being faith-based is the constant in my life that keeps me focused.”