I have been honored and privileged to represent the people of the 22nd District in Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Senate for the past three years. I am grateful to the people of the 22nd District who place their trust in me to render informed judgment and good public service on their behalf in Harrisburg.
My education, experience and understanding of local needs have guided me in the exercise of my duties and responsibilities -- both in the State Senate in Harrisburg and here at home. As a first term Senator in a minority caucus, I have strived to maintain the highest standards of public service. It has been both a challenging and a rewarding first term. I have worked hard to strike a balance between serving the critical needs and concerns of families and communities in my Senatorial District while properly attending to my Senate committee and legislative responsibilities in the General Assembly in Harrisburg.
Our government must work for the citizens of this Commonwealth. That is why I have coordinated community-based forums in the 22nd District on Health Care and Medicaid; Aging; International Business Development; Workforce Development; Community and Economic Development and Transportation. I have also hosted annual town-hall meetings with local elected officials on issues such as infrastructure, public education and the state budget.
Iâ€™ve kept my promise to bring openness and accountability in state government operations and to ensure accessibility for local constituents. Attending borough council and township supervisor meetings in municipalities throughout the 22nd District has ensured for me personal access to my constituents as well as an appreciation of local challenges and priorities.
I have successfully led and supported passage of important legislation on economic development; public safety; infrastructure improvements and government reform -- including campaign finance and legislative redistricting reform -- which are so important to the proper functioning of our mature democracy.
Working with my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle, Iâ€™ve worked to establish a bi-partisan, bi-cameral Military Installations and Base Development Caucus. Its purpose is to protect not only the 64,000 Pennsylvania jobs at critical defense industry sites such as Tobyhanna Army Depot, but to sustain private sector defense-industry jobs at Gentex, Lockheed Martin, BAE and General Dynamics in Northeast PA. This legislative caucus, initiated by myself and Republican Senator Rich Alloway from Adams County, was the impetus for the establishment of the Governorâ€™s Military Community Protection Commission (MCPC). The Governor appointed me to serve on that Commission in August of 2013.
I have stood forcefully for Northeastern Pennsylvaniansâ€™ interests regarding Marcellus Shale development. I have worked with my Senate colleagues to not only hold the industry responsible for environmental protection and pipeline safety, but also to ensure that the benefits of the industryâ€™s growth accrue to the Commonwealth as a whole.
In addition, I have been vigilant in assuring that the 22nd District properly share in all tax credit, grant or loan programs administered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Assistance to local governments; to the local business and academic community; as well as to key non-profit institutions and community-focused organizations has been foremost in my mind and in my work the PA State Senate.
Since taking office in 2011, I have supported local elected officials as well as the local business community; the academic community; and the local non-profit sector in securing the award of nearly $40 million in state funding support for the 22nd District. These state funding awards evidence my vigilant advocacy for local communities and agencies. Since January of 2011, significant state funding has been awarded to assist community development and public interest projects as well as business expansion and job growth initiatives throughout my Senate District. State funds awarded are supporting affordable housing development for our seniors and veterans; new recreational facilities; recycling efforts; health care programs; transportation; public works infrastructure; community revitalization; flood control projects; higher education capital improvements; local public libraries; workforce development; small business development; private school scholarships for children of families in need and the purchase of public safety vehicles and public safety equipment throughout the 22nd District.
In my first year in the Senate I served as Democratic Chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee. In that capacity, I presided over high profile public hearings convened in the wake of a financial debacle regarding the City of Harrisburgâ€™s incinerator project. These hearings, and the significant legislative work following them led to a package of government reform bills that will be taken up in the Senate in 2014. The reforms are significant as they protect taxpayers from irresponsible actions by officials in local government involving significant local debt issuances and in so-called â€œswapâ€ transactions. These reforms protect taxpayers by ensuring greater state oversight of municipal authoritiesâ€™ borrowing and contracting activities.
In 2011 I was also appointed to serve on the PA State Local Government Commission. The commission is heavily involved in all local government-related legislation. I served as one of four co-chairs for a bi-partisan, bi-cameral task force charged with updating and reforming the stateâ€™s financially distressed communities law, Act 47. The work of this task force has resulted in the introduction of new and sweeping legislation that will have dramatic impact for all Act 47 communities throughout the state, including of course, the City of Scranton in the 22nd District. After additional committee hearings in 2014, this legislation, which has been introduced by Republican lawmakers in both the House and the Senate, will likely be voted upon and sent to the Governor for signature.
In my first year in Harrisburg I was selected by Senate Democratic leadership to serve on the all-important Senate Appropriations Committee and Iâ€™ve continued to serve on that committee throughout my first term. As a member of the Appropriations Committee I have a significant role in the state budget process which includes interviewing all cabinet-level, gubernatorial appointees on their annual budgets and policy priorities. For legislation to become law, whether that legislation originates in the PA Senate or in the PA House of Representatives, it must be considered first in the Senate Appropriations Committee. My service on that committee allows me considerable insight into -- as well as a vote -- on all legislation in every subject matter area affecting the citizens and the communities of our Commonwealth.
In January of 2013, at the start of a new legislative session, I was appointed by Senate Democratic leadership to serve as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. This committee is exceedingly important given the nature of the legislation considered by it. The Commonwealthâ€™s Fiscal Code -- an important, state budget-related bill -- as well as all tax credit and tax policy bills; pension reforms; and other important state fiscal issues are the purview of this committee. Among the more important legislative achievements Iâ€™ve had as a 1st term Senator were those achieved through my work with my Senate colleagues in the Senate Finance Committee.
Included in the 2013 Fiscal Code was a $100 million tax credit program referred to as â€œInnovate in PAâ€ -- a program derived from legislation I first introduced in 2012 and then re-introduced in the Senate in January of 2013. The program, which will be revenue neutral to the Commonwealth over nine years, provides deferred tax credits to PAâ€™s insurance industry while raising an estimated $85 million for new, early-stage investment in promising small business start-ups -- the job creators of the future -- in technology, advanced manufacturing, health care and the life sciences.
Most of this new investment will be stewarded through the PA Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP), a world-class, nationally renowned platform for effective early stage due-diligence and investment management. Over the past 30 years, for every $1.00 invested by the Commonwealth of PA via BFTP, over $3.60 has been returned to the stateâ€™s General Fund. Innovate in PA will serve to recapitalize BFTP which has suffered significantly for lack of funds since the onset of the great recession in 2008.
Also included in the 2013 Fiscal Code were long needed reforms in PA tax policy that are important to improve Pennsylvaniaâ€™s business tax climate as well as to advance greater tax fairness for all PA taxpayers. 2013 changes to the PA tax code, which I supported, include: an allowance for taxpayers to deduct $5,000 in business start-up expenses for tax years beginning this year -- consistent with a federal tax deduction already permitted for this purpose; an exemption to the inheritance tax for certain family-owned businesses -- an enormously important exemption that protects descendants from onerous inheritance taxes that have often undermined the continuity of family-owned businesses in PA; the continuation of the phase out of the Capital Stock and Franchise tax -- which I have supported since my first day in the Senate (as PA is the only state in the nation that taxes both business income and business assets); notable improvements in the manner in which we levy taxes on pass-through entities; market-based sourcing on servicesâ€™ receipts in PA; and, importantly, a major reform in the manner in which the Commonwealth handles tax appeals.
This year I expect to play an important role as Democratic chair of the Senate Finance Committee when we take up state pension reforms necessary to relieve our General Fund budget and the annual budgets of our public school districts in the 22nd District and throughout the state. These pension reforms, and other important state budget and policy actions, are absolutely essential to protect our seniors from onerous local property taxes and to ensure that younger families starting out can afford to buy their first home.
As I enter upon my fourth year in the Senate I will continue to focus on those issues identified in my original 2010 Platform: accountability and transparency in state government; jobs and economic growth; proper stewardship of the Marcellus Shale industry; attention to the needs of our seniors including the frail, elderly and persons with disabilities; attention to the priorities and concerns of working families; adequate funding and proper performance in our public education system; the fiscal health and vitality of our cities and our neighborhoods; and a fair, balanced and economically competitive business tax system.
In 2014 I will continue to serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as on the Local Government, Labor and Industry and Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committees. I will continue to serve as Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. I will also continue to serve as the Senate Democratic appointee to the PA Local Government Commission; the PA State Workforce Investment Board; the Team PA Foundation; the PA Capitol Preservation Commission and the Governorâ€™s Military Community Protection Commission.
We have a significant state budget deficit looming for this fiscal year -- estimated at $1.2 billion. The reason for this is clear: Pennsylvania is not fostering economic growth at a pace equal to the national average or even on par with states bordering our own. I will work tirelessly and with my Senate and House colleagues to change that trajectory and ensure a prosperous future for every family and every community in my District.
It is important to note that the state redistricting process occurring in the wake of the 2010 census has re-drawn the boundaries of the 22nd District. I am very proud to represent the people of the 22nd District. I welcome those citizens of Pittston Township in Luzerne County and Price Township in Monroe County, who, as a result of re-districting, are new to my representation. I will work very hard to earn your trust and your confidence in the years ahead.
My commitment to hard work came from my family. I grew up in Archbald where my father, the late Jack Blake was a WW2 Navy Vet who worked at the Tobyhanna Army Depot for more than 30 years. My mom, the late Theresa Maslar Blake, was a hard-working mother of five and a very talented seamstress. My parents stressed faith, family, hard work and education -- and they inspired my calling to public service. I have three sisters, all area residents, upon whom I count on for help and support. We lost my older brother Vince in 1977.
On a personal level, my beautiful wife Louise and I will celebrate 29 years of marriage in 2014. Louise has worked for over 30 years as a dental hygienist in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wayne Counties. We have two wonderful children. Vince, 25, graduated with honors from the Rochester Institute of Technology and now works for Siemens Corporation and Katie, 23, a recent college graduate with a communications degree from Pace University in New York City. Katie is now working diligently for a local law firm.
I went to Valley View High School; was president of my Senior Class; and played linebacker for legendary football coach Frank Pazzaglia. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my academic career at Villanova University where I earned an undergraduate degree in Sociology and played defensive end for the Division I Villanova Wildcats. I earned a Masters Degree in Social Work from Marywood College and I earned an MBA in Finance from the University of Scrantonâ€™s Kania School of Management in 2001. I also completed Executive Education in Public Management at Harvard Universityâ€™s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
I have played guitar since 1974 and have performed on my own and with friends ever since my undergraduate days at Villanova. I have also completed five Steamtown Marathons, including the most recent race held in October 2013.
Professionally, I served for 10 years as Executive Director of the Lackawanna County Redevelopment Authority where I secured and leveraged over $50 million in federal, state and private investment for housing, community development, public works and infrastructure improvements to support regional business expansion, job growth and community revitalization.
In 1998, I was selected from among 9,000 applicants nationwide for a two year Community Builders Fellowship with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), serving Eastern PA out of HUDâ€™s PA State Office in Philadelphia.
That experience led me into the private sector where, as vice-president for PNC Bankâ€™s community development division, I managed and grew a $35 million portfolio of community development loans and investments and worked to focus some of the bankâ€™s lending, investment and corporate giving activities in disinvested areas of Northeastern and Central PA.
I returned to public service as Director for the Northeast PA Office of the Governor -- serving as a Rendell Administration liaison to local governments; academia; the business community; and to community and economic development professionals in 15 counties.
In 2007 I was appointed Executive Deputy Secretary for the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), serving as the Departmentâ€™s Chief Operating Officer. I managed over 300 staff and $1 billion annually in federal and state funding for community and economic development statewide. I also served as Acting Secretary of the Department in 2008-09, stewarding the stateâ€™s community and economic development mission through one of the worst recessions ever visited upon the Commonwealth of PA.
From 2010 to 2013 I served as a member of the Adjunct Faculty for the Economics and Finance Department at the Kania School of Management, teaching introductory economics to non-business undergraduate students of all grades at the University of Scranton.
My education, experience and local sensibilities inform and guide my beliefs about the value of public service and the virtues, duties and the responsibilities of holding public office. I am deeply honored and privileged to represent the people of the 22nd District in the PA State Senate. I work hard every day to ensure that I use informed judgment in serving their interests and to properly engage in their behalf in the important public policy debates -- and yes, in the legislative battles, that mark our daily business in Harrisburg. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and I deeply appreciate the friendship and support of the people of the 22nd District.