In this Update:
Shapiro’s Budget Address Filled With Lots Of Ideas…Lots of Bad Ideas
This week, Gov. Josh Shapiro shared his proposed 2024-25 state budget. His report turned into more of a presidential stump speech filled with lots of ideas…lots of bad ideas. First and foremost, spending $3.2 billion more than last year’s historically large budget is entirely unsustainable and unrealistic.
Shapiro’s plan calls for a more than 7% percent increase in overall state spending. This level of new spending requires significant tax increases to balance future budgets. The governor’s budget would completely purge the state’s current and future budgetary reserves – including the state’s savings account, the Rainy Day Fund – throughout the next five years.
Because of these strong budgetary reserves, one of the nation’s leading credit rating agencies – Fitch Ratings – upgraded the state’s bond rating from AA- to AA. The state hasn’t held the improved rating since 2014. The upgrade has led to lower debt service costs, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. This is one of the reasons Senate Republicans have led the efforts to build the state’s Rainy Day Fund to historic highs and resist new recurring spending the state cannot afford. Late last year, Moody’s Investor Services and S&P Global Ratings both upgraded Pennsylvania’s long-term financial outlook from “stable” to “positive.”
Spending all the reserves in our Rainy Day Fund is an extremely bad idea. Senate Republicans have fought for years to bolster our reserves, and his budget wipes out all that hard work. The budget also includes $127.1 million for the governor’s plan to merge the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) with the state’s 15 community colleges.
PASSHE’s failing cost structures and 30% decline in enrollment show the system is too large. The current one-size-fits-all proposal doesn’t allow us to examine each individual school to identify the ones that are succeeding and ones that failing. Pennsylvania’s community colleges, like RACC, are successful precisely because they are hardwired into their unique local communities and maintain an incredible degree of flexibility and creativity which I fear they may lose if they tied into the large statewide system.
Additionally, Shapiro is seeking to divert state sales tax revenues to increase mass transit funding by more than $280 million. Philadelphia’s SEPTA system would receive a disproportionate amount of these funds. In his budget address, Gov. Shapiro mentioned several other bad ideas, including legalizing adult recreational use marijuana, keeping Pennsylvania in RGGI and eliminating the Keystone Communities Program.
However, this is just the start of the conversation. Senate Republicans will work during the next several months to examine Shapiro’s budget proposal and search for greater efficiencies. The Senate Appropriations Committee will begin its series of budget hearings to study the budget proposal on Feb. 20.
Meeting with Students from Local County Career and Technology Centers
Students from both the Lebanon and Lancaster County Career & Technology Centers visited the Capitol this week. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from them about their experience in their respective programs. One student was in the diesel mechanic program and was already offered a job following graduation. Another student gained clinical experience at Lancaster General Hospital.
There is a great need for skilled workers in the trades and the demand for programs continues to grow. This needs to be part of the conversation regarding education in Pennsylvania.
Senate Hearing on Office of Administration Data Loss
This week, the Senate Communications and Technology Committee and Senate State Government Committee held a public hearing on the recent Shapiro Office of Administration (OA) server data loss.
According to the OA, human error from an employee performing server maintenance on Jan. 3 resulted in data loss affecting several agencies. Additional information requested at the hearing will be reviewed once received by the committees. Video of the hearing can be found here.
Senate Passes Measure Supporting a More Secure Southern Border
As the unprecedented rise in illegal immigration strains the resources of states throughout the nation, the Senate approved a measure calling for action to address the border crisis and support the rights of states to protect their citizens.
Senate Resolution 234 voices support for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s actions to secure the border amid federal inaction by the Biden Administration. It also encourages Gov. Josh Shapiro to join dozens of other governors from across the country who have announced their support of Abbott. The Biden Administration continues to fight Abbott’s lawful exercise of his Constitutional authority to defend his state and its citizens.
According to the U.S. Center for Immigration Services, the country’s illegal immigrant population grew to 12.8 million by October 2023. It rose 2.6 million since January 2021, when President Joe Biden took office and used executive orders to move financial resources away from the border, suspend deportations and end the successful “Remain in Mexico” policy.
2023 Accomplishments: Cutting Red Tape
As 2024 kicks off, Senate Republicans will continue our work to cut red tape and improve the experience citizens have when they interact with their government and the agencies intended to help them.
Already this session, we have passed a bill that would improve government efficiency by authorizing the Pennsylvania Treasury Department to return unclaimed property without requiring the owners to search for it. Another legislative measure would ensure Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and Medical Assistance benefits are not spent on the deceased.
For the Pennsylvanians who must apply for a permit, license or certification, another bill would require state agencies to create an accessible website to explain why a permit application was rejected and enable permit applicants to check their application status. It would also deem a permit, license or certification approved if the agency reviewing the application misses its deadline – giving Pennsylvanians far more predictability than they currently have. This change would also help to attract more business to the state and boost our economy by addressing unreasonable permit delays.
It’s Time To Apply For The Property Tax Rebate
The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program is now open. You can apply online or you can contact my office at 717-274-6735 to schedule an appointment for assistance.
Property Tax Relief is Available for Homeowners
Most homes and farms are eligible for property tax reduction under the Homestead Tax Exemption program.
Under a homestead or farmstead property tax exclusion, the assessed value of each homestead or farmstead is reduced by the same amount before the property tax is computed.
To receive school property tax relief for tax years beginning July 1 or Jan. 1, an application for homestead or farmstead exclusions must be filed by the preceding March 1. School districts are required to notify homeowners by Dec. 31 of each year if their property is not approved for the homestead or farmstead exclusion or if their approval is due to expire. Learn more and find an application.
Protecting Against Hypothermia and Frostbite
While this winter has been relatively mild so far, colder weather could set in at any time. Brushing up on the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite can help you keep yourself and others safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers detailed information about warning signs and prevention.
Signs of hypothermia include shivering, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and confusion. In severe cases, hypothermia can lead to death. If someone is experiencing hypothermia, give them warm water and replace any wet clothing with dry layers. Seek medical attention if their body temperature is below 95 degrees.
Frostbite is an injury that can permanently damage the body and typically impacts the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. Symptoms include painful, unusually firm or waxy skin. If impacted, warm the affected area but do not apply pressure. Stay a safe distance from heat sources and know when to get medical care.
Saturday, February 10, 9am-11:30am: Love Your Heart Symposium
Saturday, February 3-11: Great American Outdoor Show
Saturday, February 10, 9am-11am: Valentine’s for Veterans Breakfast
Saturday, February 10, 10am-12pm: Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue Open House
Please do not reply to this email, as that mailbox is unattended. To better serve the constituents of the 48th District, I have set up a contact form on my website. Please click here if you would like to send me a message. To subscribe to Senator Gebhard’s newsletter click here. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or visit https://senatorgebhard48.com/