I am pleased to present my electronic newsletter. These e-newsletters enable me to provide information about issues, events and activities in Harrisburg and around the 49th Senatorial District to you in a timely manner while saving postage costs.
If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website www.senatorlaughlin.com for more information about your state government. If you do not wish to receive these e-newsletters, please click the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the page.
Looking Back at My First Year in Office
As the General Assembly reconvenes to start our legislative work for 2018, I begin my second year representing the 49th District with hopes of matching the success I achieved during my first 12 months in office.
The transition from working as an Erie businessman to representing my friends and neighbors in Harrisburg was a challenge that I certainly enjoyed taking on in 2017. Things work a little slower in state government than they do in private industry, so that took a little bit of time to adjust to. But as a freshman, some of the accomplishments that I had were fairly substantial.”
Topping the list is certainly my successful effort to lock in a recurring $14 million increase in state funding for the financially struggling Erie School District – a task that was compounded during budget deliberations by the difficult fiscal straights facing the Commonwealth as it grappled with a multi-billion dollar deficit.
It was easy to argue for it (basic education funding increase) because there was such a clear need for the Erie School District. What I figured out pretty quickly is, you must have pretty decent people skills to get something done around here and you have to talk to everybody. I talked to the Democrats. I talked to the Republicans. I don’t think there is a single member of the Senate that didn’t understand that the Erie School District was really my top priority this past year.
In addition to providing the funding boost for Erie schools, the Senate also approved two bills I sponsored last year.
Senate Bill 169 would require lobbyists to register and file reports electronically through a computerized system developed by the Pennsylvania Department of State. Currently, lobbyists may register and file reports on paper forms, which in some cases has delayed the posting of the information on the department's website. The bill is now before the House State Government Committee.
Senate Bill 663 amends the UCC act to eliminate the monopoly by requiring municipalities to contract with at least three third-party agencies to handle building inspections. The bill is now before the House Labor & Industry Committee for consideration.
While the financial struggles of the Erie School District may be a known commodity in the Capitol and the Senate, I found that many of my colleagues really don’t know a lot about my hometown.
We are pretty far away from Harrisburg, so there are actually a lot of people who haven’t visited our city. I am fortunate to represent most of Erie County. I consider it one of the best districts. I have the lake. We have Ohio and New York at our borders and I actually have a Canadian border. I am the only senator with an international border, so I rub that in every once in a while.
With the school funding issue handled, promoting economic development and job creation top my list of New Year’s resolutions for 2018.
When I look at our region and I see some of the issues we are having, you can tie them all back to the loss of a good-paying job for a family. Some of the blight issues that we are having, some of the crime issues – they boil down to the fact that somebody doesn’t have a good job. That’s why that’s my next big goal and why I intend to work pretty hard to bring jobs back to Erie.
I plan to build on the lessons learned and the bridges built last year to promote my legislative objectives for 2018. One of my goals is to be the voice of reason. I don’t have any problem working with the Senate Democrats at all. Some of them have become friends of mine. They are representing their districts just as I am representing mine. There is common ground that can be reached fairly easily. The citizens of this state don’t think in quite a partisan manner as perhaps some of the elected folks would like to believe.
First Year Savings Exceed $250,000
As I wrapped up my first year in office, cost cutting measures and reduced expenditures resulted in savings exceeding more than $250,000 for Pennsylvania taxpayers in 2017.
These savings resulted primarily from a substantial reduction in office space costs, a paring of payroll expenses and my refusal to accept the traditional perks that come with the job as a state Senator.
Being fiscally responsible is obviously part of who I am and what I intend to do in this office. Right now according to my calculations we have saved more than a quarter million dollars in taxpayers’ money compared to the previous senator. It came from a combination of the fact that I don’t take a vehicle. I buy my own gas. I have fewer staff and spend less money on my office space.
Through a renegotiation of the lease for our Erie District Office, we were able to secure a 31 percent reduction in the monthly rent for the space vacated by former Senator Sean Wiley. That represents a savings to taxpayers of $15,540 a year for the same location.
Taxpayers would have incurred a $12,285 cancellation penalty if the state had sought an early termination of the lease for the Griswold Plaza office. Additionally, the state would have essentially forfeited about $40,000 that was spent on renovations to the office during Senator Wiley’s term.
Faced with this wasteful option, we renegotiated the lease to scale back the size of the office to a more appropriate and efficient space, which will save taxpayers more than $60,000 over a four-year period in rent expenses. There was no way that I would have taken over the location under the previous terms. This renegotiated lease is much more practical and fiscally responsible.
Another $170,000 in savings over the previous office comes from staff reductions and payroll savings in my Erie and Harrisburg offices. There is no compromise on constituent or legislative services. We are just working more effectively and more efficiently.
In addition to those savings in staff and office costs, I also refused several of the traditional perks of office, such as those intended to cover the costs of my travel between Erie and Harrisburg – a commute of 315 miles each way.
When I was campaigning, I had a list of what I wasn’t going to take. I said that I wouldn’t take any perks. I didn’t sign up for the pension. I didn’t take the (state-leased) vehicle. I don’t take mileage (reimbursement). I buy my own gas. Those are things that -- in the big picture for our state budget -- represent literally a drop in the bucket, but it sets the tone for how I intend to run this office.
PHMC Accepting Keystone Historic Preservation Grant Applications
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) is now accepting applications for Keystone Historic Preservation Grants until March 1.
A total of $1.25 million will be available for grants for projects that identify, preserve, promote and protect historic and archaeological resources in Pennsylvania. Two types of grants – project and construction – are available for historic resources in Pennsylvania listed, or eligible for listing, in the National Register of Historic Places. Applicants may apply for only one type of grant.
Grants will be awarded through a competitive selection process and are contingent on the availability of funds. Please note that all PHMC grant applications are now submitted on the Commonwealth’s Single Application for Assistance system at www.esa.dced.state.pa.us. For grant program guidelines and a program fact sheet, visit PHMC online at www.phmc.pa.gov and click on “Grants and Funding” under the PRESERVATION tab on the top navigation bar.
State Police Announce Christmas, New Year’s Enforcement Results
Pennsylvania State Police troopers arrested 243 people for driving under the influence during the three-day Christmas holiday from Dec. 23 through Dec. 25, 2017. The total of 243 arrests is down from the 314 arrests made during the 2016 Christmas holiday driving period, which spanned four days.
State Police investigated 529 crashes over the Christmas weekend. Sixty of the collisions involved alcohol, 102 people were injured, and five people were killed. Alcohol was a factor in one of the fatal crashes. In addition to DUI enforcement, troopers issued 1,261 speeding citations, 145 seatbelt citations, and 26 child safety seat citations.
Troopers arrested 284 people for driving under the influence during the three-day New Year’s holiday from Dec. 30, 2017 through Jan. 1, 2018. The total is down from 2017 when 328 DUI arrests were made during the same holiday driving period.
State Police investigated 1,169 crashes over the New Year’s weekend, almost double the number investigated during the same period last year, when troopers responded to 595 crashes. Of the 1,169 collisions investigated, 66 involved alcohol, 251 people were injured, and two people were killed. In addition to DUI enforcement, troopers issued 2,617 speeding citations, 251 seatbelt citations, and 30 child safety seat citations.
Crash and enforcement data by troop is available here. These statistics cover only those incidents investigated by state police and do not include statistics on incidents to which other law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania responded.
Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Dips to 4.6 Percent in November
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry recently released its statewide employment report for November 2017. Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was down one-tenth of a percentage point in November to 4.6 percent, the lowest rate since September 2007. This was the fourth consecutive monthly decline of one-tenth of a percentage point. The Commonwealth’s rate remained above that of the United States, which was unchanged from October at 4.1 percent. Over the year, the Pennsylvania unemployment rate declined by nine-tenths of a percentage point.
Pennsylvania’s civilian labor force was down 2,000 over the month to 6,397,000. The decline was due entirely to a drop in unemployment while resident employment stayed at its October level. Over the year, employment was down 1,000 while unemployment shrank by 58,000.
Loyalsock Creek Named PA 2018 River of the Year
Loyalsock Creek has been voted the 2018 Pennsylvania River of the Year. It was selected by public voting over Connoquenessing Creek, Lackawanna River, Little Juniata River and Lower Susquehanna River/Susquehanna Riverlands. A total of 15,061 votes were cast, with the Loyalsock receiving 6,100; Connoquenessing Creek; 5,381; Lackawanna River, 1,676; Lower Susquehanna/Susquehanna Riverlands, 1,113; and Little Juniata, 791.
Loyalsock Creek is a 64-mile-long waterway and its watershed nestled in the mountains north of Williamsport. It flows through Worlds End State Park, a popular destination state park encompassing 780 acres, and Loyalsock Trail, a 59-mile trail providing vistas overlooking the stream below.