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In this email update:
Debunking myths of Senate Bill 76
Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon/Dauphin/York) spoke in support of Senate Bill 76, also known as the Property Tax Independence Act, earlier this week.
In his remarks, he addressed the myths of Senate Bill 76. As was the case last week, this drew the ire of the Senate Democratic Leader. You can watch the debate below.
Senator Folmer also penned the following op-ed addressing many of the myths that are being thrown at the proposal to eliminate school property taxes. I hope you will take a few moments to read Sen. Folmer’s perspective:
I support Senator Argall’s Senate Bill 76 to eliminate school property taxes and I’m perplexed opponents offer no alternative – except supporting the status quo, which isn’t working. Consider some of the myths SB 76 opponents are spreading.
Opponents say SB 76 eliminates local control. I agree, we need to address cost drivers plaguing education: pensions, health care, collective bargaining, Prevailing Wage, and other state and federal requirements. While some of these costs are determined locally (i.e., contracts), we can’t continue to ignore these issues. However, SB 76 is just one piece of the puzzle.
Many of us have fought to repeal mandates only to feel we’re standing alone. The zeal of opponents against SB 76 is nowhere near the same as their support for lifting mandates. If they brought the same passion to lifting mandates as they’ve shown in opposing SB 76, many mandates would have been gone years ago.
SB 76 gives schools two options to raise revenues locally: Personal Income or Earned Income Taxes – after voter approval, like other states. Voter referenda are not unique: seven states require referenda to approve school budgets, 34 require them to approve property tax increases, and 19 require a referendum to approve increases over a certain limit.
When I first joined the Senate, I was told the Constitution required the Commonwealth to pay 50% of education costs. I carry a copy of the Constitution and know there’s no such requirement. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania taxpayers have been generous in their support of education, spending nearly $28,000,000,000 a year – $875 a second – in federal, state, and local taxes.
Another SB 76 myth is the uncertainty of the Sales Tax. Enacted in 1953 as a “temporary” 1% levy, the Sales Tax evolved into support for public education: revenues roughly equal state appropriations for basic education. Last year, sales taxes raised nearly $9.8 Billion and the state appropriated over $10.7 Billion for basic education.
Sales and Personal Income Taxes account for 77% of the Commonwealth’s budget and nearly 37% of the budget supports education. Even in lean years with a weak economy when sales and personal income lagged, the state share for education increased or stayed the same. If the Commonwealth can support education with these taxes, why can’t we do the same as proposed by SB 76?
Opponents of SB 76 say advocates mislead with the claim it will completely eliminate school property taxes. They say it doesn’t because “43% of school districts will maintain a property tax of at least 20% of their current rate.”
As an accommodation to opponents, SB 76 excludes existing debt service from the dollar-for-dollar property tax reductions until schools liquidate that debt. Once repaid, all school property taxes would be eliminated.
Is the glass half full or half empty? I believe it’s 80% full as SB 76 would result in immediate reductions in school property taxes statewide: the average would be nearly 80% and only 23 districts would have reductions under 50%.
I understand the concerns with SB 76. However, no one has offered an alternative to eliminate school property taxes. This is why emotions of supporters run high: we want total elimination – not partial elimination, no tax credits, and no state programs that benefit some but not all.
If you support the total elimination of school property taxes, you should support SB 76. If you don’t support SB 76 – or say “there’s a better plan” – I anxiously await your alternative.
In the interim, I’ll stand with taxpayers in supporting Senate Bill 76 because I believe no tax should have the power to leave you homeless.
You can also access Senator Folmer’s column here.
Education Committee advances independent review of State System of Higher Education, other reforms
The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved a resolution I sponsored that calls for an independent review of the future of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
Created by law in 1983, PASSHE currently operates 14 universities across the state comprised of 105,000 students and 12,000 faculty members.
According to documents accompanying the governor’s state budget proposal, enrollment trends for three of four areas of higher education are expected to grow significantly. Between Fiscal Year 2015-16 and 2021-22, community colleges are expected to add over 4,500 students, representing a growth rate of five percent; the state-related universities (Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln) are expected to add 16,158 students, or a 10 percent increase; and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is expected to add 326 students, or an increase of 38 percent. However, PASSHE is only expected to add 143 students over that same period, a growth rate of 0.14 percent.
The graph below highlights only Slippery Rock University and Wester Chester University experiencing growth in the most recent year. .
Our PASSHE universities are great institutions with a long tradition of affordable education for so many Pennsylvanians. This study will give us a blueprint for the best use of limited taxpayer resources and what opportunities are available for PASSHE to partner with our other colleges and universities so that we can prepare our future students for the jobs of the 21st century
The committee also approved Senate Bill 406, which requires all property tax increases to be approved by a two-thirds majority vote by the board of school directors.
The committee approved three other reforms, including:
Senate Bill 494 would bar public school teachers from working full-time for their union while remaining on their district’s payroll. These teachers are commonly referred to as “ghost teachers.”
House Bill 202 eliminates the statutory requirement for the development and implementation of Keystone Exams in English Composition, Algebra II, Geometry, U.S. History, Chemistry, Civics and Government, and World History.
House Bill 224 provides civil immunity to trained school bus drivers who administer epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) to students.
New bills would strengthen Protection from Abuse laws
Senators Camera Bartolotta, Tom Killion, Tom McGarrigle and Randy Vulakovich held a press conference in the State Capitol on Tuesday to announce four bills designed to offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence and their children, as well as hold abusers accountable.
Last year, Pennsylvania assisted more than 89,000 victims of domestic violence.
The legislative package reflects recommendations of the bi-partisan Joint State Government Commission staff study on protection from abuse orders (PFA) in Pennsylvania and is in alignment with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s priorities of improving the safety of victims, their children and the community as a whole.
The bills in the package include:
Senate Bill 449, introduced by Senator Bartolotta, would allow Magisterial District Judges to use a risk assessment tool when determining bail in domestic violence cases.
Senate Bill 500, introduced by Senator Vulakovich, ensures that law enforcement protection is available to a victim before or while the petition and PFA orders are being served.
Senate Bill 501, introduced by Senator Killion, addresses the relinquishment of firearms in PFA cases.
Senate Bill 502, introduced by Senator McGarrigle, allows courts to extend an existing PFA order or issue a new order in certain circumstances.
Senate approves several bills and resolutions
The Senate approved four bills and two resolutions this week. The bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 30 gives the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission the authority to establish the fees that it charges for licenses. Senate Resolution 36 urges Congress to renew the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from spending funds to interfere with implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
Senate Resolution 44 condemns the recent acts of hate against the Jewish community in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
Senate Bill 171 requires Senate confirmation of the Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Senate Bill 192 gives the Pennsylvania Game Commission the authority to set hunting and fur-taking license fees.
Pottsville meeting focuses on revitalizing the downtown
On Monday evening, officials from various groups affiliated with economic development, local elected officials and senior staff from D.G. Yuengling & Son met to discuss the future of the city.
Over the last several years, several different communities across the country have seen a renaissance by harnessing the growing interest in small breweries. Pottsville is in a very unique position as it is home to America’s oldest brewery. With a history no other brewery can compete with and very strong brand name recognition across the Eastern seaboard, we are well situated to bring new growth here based upon Yuengling’s plans to do to expand their visitor experience.
Below is an excerpt from a letter I sent to the Senate leaders expressing my strong support for Yuengling’s plans to bring new life to Pottsville:
“Schuylkill County and the City of Pottsville, home to America’s Oldest Brewery, have historical significance that can be leveraged to bring increased tourism to the area. These enhancements to the brewery campus will provide a first-class tourist attraction in the state of Pennsylvania that will capitalize on the beer and wine tourism boom that is taking place across the country. In addition, visitors will have a concurrent impact on other local attractions, restaurants, hotels and businesses, which will create additional jobs, generate revenue and improve property values in the community.”
You can read more about Monday’s meeting in the Republican Herald here.
My staff and I did share the following statement with those in attendance, expressing my strong support for the revitalization of Pottsville:
“The success of the City of Pottsville is intimately tied to the success of the county. The reverse is also true. I’ve strongly supported efforts to give the community more tools to combat blight and abandonment by securing $1.4 million in the latest state budget for demolition projects in Schuylkill County.
One thing I’ve learned through decades of successful revitalization efforts is that blight is contagious. It can tear apart an entire community block by block. I’ve also seen the exact opposite – revitalization is contagious and can spread from neighborhood to neighborhood.
When I saw the initial plans for the Yuengling’s ‘Pottsville Vision’ to capture the rising beer tourism market segment, I pledged my full support.
Based on statistics in other areas of the country with lesser-known brands, Yuengling could be a catalyst for the City of Pottsville’s resurgence.
Yuengling has partnered with a first-rate developer to put together a strategic development plan that reflects the realities of the community and the county as a whole.
I’m excited to work with Dick Yuengling and his team to make this vision a reality and will do everything in my capacity to support this much-needed project.”