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Senator Judy Schwank Hello, again!

I hope your Memorial Day weekend went well and you had the chance to reflect on the sacrifices our men and women make for us every day, all over the country to keep us free. As I participated in different ceremonies throughout the district I thought about the 140 members of the Army’s locally based 333rd Engineering Company whom we bade farewell just a month ago. We all wish them well in their brave service to our nation and hope they will soon return safely home. 

It’s starting to get busy in Harrisburg. I am sending this newsletter to provide you a moment-in-time glimpse of where I believe we are as Pennsylvania approaches the end of its fiscal year. If any of these issues are important to you, please make your thoughts and feelings known not just to me but to the leaders of the House and Senate as well as the governor.

Bring on summer!

My best to you,
Sen. Judy Schwank

Budget Overview

CapitolThe governor is required by the state constitution to have a new, balanced budget in place by 11:59 p.m. on June 30; this is the last minute of the current fiscal year.

Budget hearings wrapped up a long time ago and some budget-related legislation has been introduced, but a tremendous amount of work still needs to happen if we are going to make sure your best interests, and the best interests of all Pennsylvanians, are included in the 2013-2014 budget. A budget is a plan for how the commonwealth’s resources are allocated and most policy decisions have fiscal implications. That’s why it is very important to pay attention to this annual process.

To remind you, the governor is seeking $28.4 billion and has been counting on a budget surplus to help pay for some of his key initiatives, like pension reform, eliminating the tax cap on oil and gas companies, and selling the state liquor store system.

I’ll write more about the liquor store selloff later in this newsletter, but the governor’s budget is in jeopardy because the state’s Independent Fiscal Office just predicted that Pennsylvania will finish 2012-’13 with a $520 million deficit. In addition, both he and the Senate and House majority leaders have drawn a line in the sand on pension reform, liquor privatization and transportation. This may very well mean that we don’t get the budget done on time.

Without a surplus, the governor’s basic education increases (which are still not close to investments made in pre-K and K-12 schooling before the governor’s arrival), may be threatened. This is worrisome because school districts are planning their budgets based on state funding. Any funds school boards don’t receive may have to be made up in increased local school property taxes.

We have a lot of work to do in the next month!

Liquor Modernization

Liquor StoreThe reason I labeled this part of my newsletter as “Liquor Modernization” and not “Liquor Privatization” is because I do not support selling the state’s liquor stores.

While many people argue that the state does not belong in the sale of wine and spirits my big concern is that Pennsylvania will lose a gigantic revenue-producing operation that annually counts $1.6 billion in sales and deposits more than $500 million into the state’s general fund. It is unlikely that the sale of licenses by the state will come even close to generating that kind of income over the long term. Will taxpayers be asked to make up the difference?

If the privatization models that the Governor and the house propose become law the 4,500 full- and part-time employees of the state Wine and Spirits Shoppes will be heading for the unemployment lines. In addition small beer distributors who don’t have the cash and the space to purchase a new license may find themselves out of business. Ask your beer distributor how they feel about that!

And then there are the social costs of liquor privatization.

Making it easier for people to buy beer and liquor will exacerbate Greater Reading’s crime problem, as it will the social ills of many other communities throughout Pennsylvania.

Violent crimes often happen because someone has been drinking, and 40 percent of all fatal automobile crashes are because of alcohol. Also, communities that have more bars and liquor stores per capita experience more violent crime.

The governor is using liquor privatization’s “projected” one-time profit as a carrot to lure people into supporting his ill-advised plan. He has promised $1 billion for schools if the legislature agrees to the sell-off, but what happens if the state can’t get that much money during the transfer? And, what will our financially strapped school districts do once the money is spent?

I think the best way to go is Senate Bill 800, which would modernize the state store system and give it the flexibility it needs to more competitively price its products. It would also provide better hours, lottery ticket sales, direct shipment of wine to your home, and beer distributors would no longer be prevented from selling six-packs or 22-ounce bottles.

About half of all Pennsylvanians do not even drink or shop at the state stores so this may seem like a non-issue to them but it may hit them in the wallet if the expected profits from privatization don’t materialize.

Pennsylvania does need to adapt to the marketplace, modernization seems like the better way to go.

Special Education Funding Commission

EducationI am looking forward to getting to work with the new Special Education Funding Commission that Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati appointed me to last month.

This is a great vehicle to make needed sweeping changes in the way Pennsylvania funds special education. The state’s current special education spending directives are out-of-date and often fail to adequately address the needs of children.

I will be working with the chairs and vice-chairs of the House and Senate education committees, plus eight other legislators, the secretaries of education and budget, and the state deputy secretary for elementary and special education.

The commission will be working throughout the summer engaging the public through hearings and other research to develop a new funding formula. The bill that is guiding our group, House Bill 2, is directing us to consider funding for students with least-intensive to most-intensive disabilities. Other factors will also be considered.

When I shared the news of my announcement on Facebook last month, it sparked some very interesting ideas. If you have thoughts about this very important subject, please let me know. This process needs you!


TransportationYou drive over, around and into them every day, I’m sure, but Pennsylvania’s transportation needs are much more pressing than potholes. We need to take care of the macadam divots, too, but our transportation problems also include our crumbling bridges (Did you read about the bridge collapse in Washington state last week?) and decrepit infrastructure, not to mention the growing need for more and better mass transit.

It’s why I am encouraged about proposed legislation that would not only fix our transportation problems, but would add capacity and make it easier for you, me and everyone to get around.

Senate Bill 1 would increase PA’s annual transportation investment by $2.5 billion. To raise these funds it will:

  • Over a three-year period, gradually phase out the wholesale price cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax.
  • Reduce the flat tax paid by consumers at the pump by 17 percent.
  • Increase licensing, registration and permitting fees. For example, vehicle registration would go from $36 for one year to $104 for two years. A driver’s license would jump from $29.50 to $50.50.
  • Drivers who violate traffic laws would pay a $100 surcharge.
  • If police stop a motorist for speeding and that motorist is fined for “failing to obey traffic control device,” that fine would increase from $25 to a sliding scale of $100 to $300.

The legislation also seeks to end the PA Turnpike financing legislation, Act 44, in eight years.

There are some big stakeholders who have already announced their support of SB1, including the Keystone Transportation Funding Commission, Keystone State Railroad Association, PA Chamber of Business and Industry, SEPTA, AARP, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, and the United Transportation Union.

May 30 Town Hall Meeting

Townhall MeetingI’ve given you much to think about in this newsletter. I’m sure you have other concerns, too. A good way to reach me is by email or phone, but I would love to hear from you directly on May 30 when I hold my next town hall meeting.

From 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, I will be meeting with residents of the 11th Senatorial District in the Bern Township Municipal Building, 1069 Old Bernville Road, Reading. Hope to see you there!





May 30 Town Hall Meeting