Get Involved

In the Pennsylvania State Senate

Prior to being elected as your State Senator in 2010 and since being sworn in, I have believed in five basic core values (Original Platform 2010). I have worked diligently and with a conscientious purpose to ensure these values are foremost in the manner in which both my staff and I serve the constituents of the 22nd District.

Guiding all of my work in Harrisburg has been a commitment to be accessible and responsive to the public. My staff and I have been accessible and responsive to constituent requests and needs -- my legislative activity and my policy positions in Harrisburg have not only been transparent but they have been fully accountable to the interests and the opinions of the people I serve in the 22nd District.

The PA Senate website as well as my own Senate website and Facebook site; media communications including periodic TV appearances; radio appearances; and meetings with the Scranton Times’ editorial board; as well as other local forums; public hearings; conferences and summits have all been ways in which I have tried to make my work visible to and subject to the critical analysis of the people I serve.

When in session in Harrisburg I have also routinely participated in a half hour TV show -- "The Pennsylvania Report" -- via our PA Senate media/communications team – which provides periodic updates of my work in the Senate. These reports have been broadcast multiple times on ECTV -- a public access community television station serving the greater Scranton region -- and these video reports have also been available for review on my Senate website – www.senatorblake.com.

As you will see below, I have remained true to the core values of my original platform and I have focused -- and I will continue to focus -- on the 8 key public policy areas outlined in that original 2010 platform. I am proud to reference them here again for you now as I offer an honest evaluation of the manner in which I have kept prior campaign promises – the promises I made to you when I first sought your vote.

PLATFORM:

  1. The Legislature:

    Our present system of legislative redistricting allows legislators to define their own districts and select their own voters. Known as “gerrymandering”, the current system is inherently flawed, corrosive to democracy and ill-advised.

    In my 2010 platform, I noted that this misguided system needed reform. While it initially appeared that a Constitutional Convention would be the only means to make the needed change, a more streamlined and efficient method of accomplishing the goal is through legislation – adopted in two consecutive legislative sessions – to validate an amendment to the PA Constitution.

    Keeping to my original promise to address this problem, I will introduce legislation this year to advance redistricting reform that will require the following framework for drawing legislative districts in the wake of the national census which occurs every ten years:

    • The Creation of a 7 member commission tasked with both State and Congressional redistricting – no members can be elected legislators.
    • Commission members are to be selected by both House and Senate Democrats and Republicans each choosing three non-elected members
    • The Supreme Court chooses the Chairman A Supermajority (5 out of 7) commission votes are needed to approve a legislative redistricting plan according to criteria outlined in law per the PA Constitution
    • Both state and federal redistricting plans must be completed by the end of the year following a census

    My 2010 legislative platform also articulated a belief that the General Assembly be open to public scrutiny, accountable for public funds entrusted to it and less subject to the influence of narrow interests. My campaign promise to the voters of the 22nd District was to work with diligence in addressing these priorities. Toward this end, my legislative efforts have included authorship of bills as well as co-sponsorship of bills to enhance transparency and accountability in state government:

    • Open Records Reform: I introduced SB457 to provide greater transparency at our four state-related universities: Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple, and Lincoln. The Open Records reform effort continues and significant and appropriate enhancements to the law are likely to be achieved in the 2014 legislative session.

    I have also co-sponsored the following bills, each of which relates to state government reform, transparency and accountability to taxpayers:

    • Early Voting – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Fontana’s SB900 which would allow for early voting to take place for a specific number of days over a course of several weeks before Election Day, including a set amount of hours on Saturday during the early voting period.
    • Voter’s Choice Act – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Folmer’s SB195, known as the “Voter’s Choice Act” which would eliminate unfair hurdles to ballot access for minor party and independent candidates.
    • Lobbyist Disclosure – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Scarnati’s SB308 which would require the Department of State to post on its Lobbyist Disclosure website all lobbying registration and reporting documents it receives within seven days of the filing.
    • Lobbyist Loophole – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Pileggi’s SB199 which would close a loophole which allows lobbyists to collect a contingency fee for grants, loans, capital projects and other awards of Commonwealth funds.
    • Ending Taxpayer-Paid State Lobbyists – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Teplitz’s SB697 which would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars by all three branches of State Government to hire lobbyists to lobby other state agencies.
    • Campaign Finance Reform – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Costa’s SB472 which would amend the Election Code to limit the expenditures of a candidate, political committee, political action committee, political party committee or other person for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election to expenditures directly and exclusively incurred for the campaign in which the candidate is running in the contemporaneous election cycle and not for any personal purpose. The legislation also addresses acceptance of campaign contributions from out-of-state committees.
    • Limitations on Political Contributions by Commonwealth Contractors – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Farnese’s SB318 to limit political contributions by contractors who work with the Commonwealth to state office holders or state office candidates by requiring bidding contractors to list political contributions made by executives or PACs associated with them and require lobbyists who work on their behalf to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act; defining who will be subject to make contributions public under this law; requiring that lobbyists who work on behalf of bidding contractors are registered as stipulated under the Lobbying Disclosure Act; making all information available to the public and consequently make the bidding process more open and transparent to the taxpayers; and establishing limits of political contributions to $2400 per candidate per election and $5000 per PAC per election.
    • Repeal Voter ID – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Leach’s SB543 which would repeal the Voter ID Law and increase penalties for Voter Impersonation in Pennsylvania. (NOTE: VOTER ID law was ruled invalid by PA State Superior Court in January, 2014)
    • Government Reform – I am a co-sponsor of Senator Teplitz’s SBs 691, 692, 693, 696 which would require annual audits of the legislature; eliminate the annual cost of living adjustments for legislators; eliminate mid-term cost of living adjustments; and provide for open primaries, respectively
    • Per diems - I have agreed to co-sponsor a bill (yet to be introduced) by Senator Randy Vulukovich that would require full accounting of Senate-related expenses before expense reimbursement to all Senators – a move away from undocumented per diems. (Note: I do not take per diems)
    • Public Pension Forfeiture – I am a co-sponsor of three bills that would require the forfeiture of public pensions:
      • Senator Vance's SB493 that would amend the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act to add the definition of "infamous crime" to the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, using the same determination found under Article II, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
      • Senator Farnese's SB319 that would amend the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act to prohibit public officials and employees convicted of, or that have plead guilty or no defense to, any offense against a minor requiring registration under 42 Pa.C.S. §9795.1 from collecting their public pension.
      • Senator Ward's SB147 that would amend the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act to include the crime of unlawful contact with a minor (18 Pa.C.S. § 6318), as one of the crimes that causes a public official or employee to forfeit their public pension.
  2. Economic Development:

    My original campaign platform in 2010 advanced my belief that the Commonwealth plays a critical role in the creation and retention of jobs.

    Job protection at military installations (including Tobyhanna); expansion of the job creation tax credits; state incentives to enhance access to credit for small to midsized companies; as well as workforce development and investment in core infrastructure were among the goals I promised to focus on and to accomplish.

    Since beginning my service in the legislature, I initiated (along with my colleague Senator Rich Alloway from Adams County,) a bi-partisan, bi-cameral Military Installations and Base Development Caucus. This provided an impetus for meetings with Senator Alloway, Governor Corbett, his senior staff and myself. The Governor then (by Executive Order) formally established an executive branch commission called the “Military Community Protection Commission”. The Governor has since appointed me as a member of that Commission.

    The mission of both the legislative caucus and the executive commission is to protect our military installations and jobs from federal funding cuts and mission realignments (referred to as the US Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure process– BRAC). The work of both the caucus and commission ensures that our state government is consistently monitoring, assessing and working to protect the continuity of employment at our military installations. The key to this work is protecting the manufacturing base that supports our national security.

    Expanding and updating the Job Creation Tax Credit program at the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, as well as the establishment of Innovate in PA, a $100 million economic development investment initiative, point to my efforts and my success in using appropriate state incentives to assist small and mid-size businesses in creating and retaining jobs.

    I also planned and implemented two “E2 Summits” which were concentrated on career focused education; workforce development; and enhanced industry partnerships with our schools. This effort was informed by my work in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee and my membership on the PA State Workforce Investment Board.

    In 2012 I held a Transportation Summit and in 2013 I supported the Transportation Bill (Act 89) that will lead to $2.4 billion in new state investment in bridges, roads, transit, rail, trails, streetscapes and airports. Implementing this law will support the retention of 12,000 PA jobs and the creation of 50,000 more -- while upgrading thousands of structurally deficient bridges; paving hundreds of miles of roads; and enhancements to our ports, airports, public transit systems and other transportation related assets.

    Most of the funds raised for this new investment will come from raising taxes on big oil companies at the wholesale level. To protect consumers there is also an elimination of the 12 cent flat tax on gasoline at the retail level. The actual economic drivers of retail gas prices is global supply and demand as well as unrest in the Middle East; weather conditions affecting oil refining operations concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico; and speculation -- oil and gas futures trading -- on Wall Street. Most economists believe that gas prices will fall in 2014. I also advocated for, and the state awarded funding to support, a Northeast PA Regional Bioscience Initiative. Along with former Lieutenant Governor William Scranton, the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of NEPA and the Life Science Greenhouse of Central and Northeast PA, we hosted an event to announce the initiative, explain its intentions and outline its mission. This initiative focuses on bringing health care and life science jobs as well as innovation and research to the region; it will inventory labs, equipment and bioscience talent in the region; and it will advance the success of The Commonwealth Medical College, Scranton’s pre-eminent educational institution educating our future physicians.

    Finally, I held an International Business Development Forum at Marywood University to address the issue of how best PA businesses could, with state support, access global markets for both product and service export potential while supporting job growth here at home.

    Taken together, these and other efforts my staff and I have undertaken in the 22nd District, evidence adherence to my original platform that put a focus on community and economic development to improve the quality of life in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

  3. Marcellus Shale Natural Gas

    Another seminal plank of my platform was that PA must have proactive management and stewardship of the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas resource. I have been focused on this issue from the moment I initiated my first campaign right up to today.

    Ensuring our citizens have confidence in the state’s regulatory oversight of this growing industry is of utmost importance. Additionally, monitoring water sourcing, assisting local markets meet the industry demands for labor, equipment and workers as well as requiring transparency from the industry with regard to its business conduct are issues and areas of concern that impact each of us, and require legislative involvement.

    To accomplish those goals, I have supported significant legislation (introduced by Senator Lisa Baker) to update and reform gas pipeline safety in order to comply with stringent federal requirements.

    I have advocated a severance tax on the gas industry and I was a vocal opponent of the Corbett Administration’s convoluted Impact Fee legislation (Act 13) which gave the industry a “pass,” thereby shortchanging Pennsylvania’s citizens and communities. Unlike every other gas-producing state in the nation, the position of Governor Corbett has created a situation in which PA receives no revenue based on the volume of natural gas extracted from our state. Instead, we get only a flat fee based upon the number of holes drilled and the tax is levied at the County level. The Commonwealth has lost … and is losing … hundreds of millions of dollars that we should be collecting from the industry at a reasonable and competitive rate -- a rate in proportion to what the gas industry pays in every other state where they do business.

    I also worked with the industry to cultivate good relationships with both Johnson College and Lackawanna College in order to build partnerships for workforce-development. State Senator John Yudichak and I hosted a large forum at the Best Western East Mountain Inn along with labor leaders, workforce development organizations, small business owners and the Marcellus Shale Coalition to foster better connections between the natural gas drilling and pipeline industries and PA businesses, workers and labor unions.

    I have advocated for the awarding of state funds to expand infrastructure in areas near to natural gas distribution systems so that residents and businesses might benefit from the geographic proximity to this abundant energy resource. I have also provided technical assistance to local residents, non-profit organizations and small businesses about the economic analyses gas companies must undertake when making business decisions to invest in and expand gas pipelines to serve more consumers and communities.

  4. Seniors
    When beginning my campaign in 2010, I outlined a simple belief that the Commonwealth must expand its assistance to our senior citizens as well as to persons with disabilities. I promised to support human services programs designed to provide essential assistance to care givers of senior citizens as well as to those who care for persons with disabilities.

    I supported the construction of more affordable, community based living facilities for seniors as well as expansion of our efforts to provide medication procurement assistance. Equally significant, I pledged to work aggressively to insure that no fraud or abuse of medical subsidies in nursing homes or assisted living facilities would be tolerated.

    Much of my work since going to Harrisburg has been focused in the area of providing quality service to senior citizens and persons with disabilities. I have also hosted and participated in three aging seminars and forums in the 22nd District since 2011 and this, in part, evidences a commitment to fulfill my campaign pledge in this area.

    I opposed the Governor’s ill-fated effort to privatize PA lottery operations because our lottery system is the envy of the nation, raising $1 billion per year to fund seniors’ programs including PACE Prescription Drug Benefits and Rent/Property Tax Rebate Assistance.

    My work on the Appropriations Committee has also been focused on the quality of care in our long term care and assisted living facilities. I have had a constant engagement with the human service community in my district and I have effectively used my office to impact policy and regulatory issues at the PA Department of Public Welfare and the PA Department of Health whenever the needs of seniors or persons with disabilities were in question and whenever local non-profit providers were undermined in their work to service consumers and their families.

    I also introduced legislation to fund the PA State Housing Trust fund in order to support the development or improvement of affordable, accessible housing for seniors. My introduction of legislation dealing with the optional county sales tax to reduce property taxes is also something I can relate as consistent with my campaign pledge to help seniors. I sponsored an amendment on the Small Games of Chance and Tavern Gaming legislation that would have directed any incremental new state revenues to the lottery fund to benefit seniors. That amendment, unfortunately, was defeated on a party line vote in the Appropriations Committee; and instead new funds raised annually from that expansion of gaming will go into the PA General Fund.

    I participated in three Annual Aging Summits at the University of Scranton in order to hear from local, regional, national and international experts on aging issues. These Aging Summits (in 2011, 2012, 2013) were facilitated by the University’s faculty and I presented at each summit outlining PA state policies and state funding linked to services for aging citizens. I also facilitated the participation of the Secretary of the PA Department of Aging, Brian Duke, in each of these summits. The key to the success of these annual summits is securing input from senior citizens and their families that could be utilized to ensure the development of sound policies with proper allocation of resources to meet current and future needs. Lackawanna County has a large “aging-in-place population” and, as such, it is the ideal location to research needs as well as to identify and implement best practices to meet those needs.

  5. Working Families
    In 2010, I stated that efforts to assist working families should focus on private investment in local communities.

    I pledged to support community development programs that would efficiently use state gaming revenues to reduce the burden of property taxes as well as support local initiatives to improve citizens’ overall quality of life. Specific programs to impact working families that I wanted to support needed to: create affordable housing, provide tax credits to small businesses offering health care insurance, enhance the quality of day care for children, retain CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and retain/leverage the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program as well as the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program.

    I can now share with you the following results of my work to impact positively on the lives of working families in our District:

    I have worked diligently to ensure the 22nd District is treated fairly and proportionately in the state’s award of gaming funds under the Local Share Assessment grant award programs in Monroe, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. On average, communities and civic projects or programs in my district, often benefitting working class neighborhoods and families, have received between $1.5 and $2 million per year from these gaming fund programs.

    I have co-sponsored legislation introduced by Senator Judy Schwank to offer state tax credits to businesses that provide health insurance to their workers.

    I railed against the Corbett administration for its arbitrary elimination of the Adult Basic Health Insurance program -- a program that provided health insurance to 64,000 working Pennsylvanians. I have also advocated for Medicaid Expansion in PA. I have passionately and consistently argued against the Corbett administration’s failure to take advantage of significant federal investment which would create jobs in the health care and human service industries, relieve our state budget, and, most importantly, provide affordable health insurance to over 500,000 Pennsylvanians, virtually all of whom are in working class families.

    I voted to expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program and include an annual adjustment (aligned to the Consumer Price Index) which could increase the amount of tax credits available yearly. These tax credits are awarded to businesses that support Educational Improvement Organizations by making contributions which are used to support scholarships for students attending private schools. EITC donations provide a path for working families to send their children to a private school if they so desire.

    I have been an effective advocate in bringing state PHFA Low Income Housing Tax Credits and other state funds to the 22nd District. These efforts have funded affordable housing projects such as the North Scranton Junior/Senior High School; Catholic Social Services Veterans’ Housing and Shelter in Scranton; Catholic Social Services Affordable Housing in Jessup; United Neighborhood Centers Affordable Housing in South Scranton and others.

    I have forcefully spoken against the Corbett Administration and the Department of Public Welfare as it has mishandled the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The federal government charged the Corbett Administration with improperly denying eligibility to PA families under this program.

    My vote for tax reform in 2013 included a major tax policy change: “the Pennsylvania inheritance tax will NOT apply to the transfer of a "qualified family business interest" to one or more "qualified transferees”. This change makes it easier for businesses to be passed down from generation to generation; the policy change is vitally important for family farms and other small, family-owned businesses in the state. This exemption from inheritance tax is a good tax policy change for working families.

    My voting record in the Senate also evidences advocacy for organized labor and this was clear in debates over privatization of the state’s liquor control system; the lottery; and in the annual negotiation of the state’s public education budget. I believe strongly that I’ve met the intentions of this element of my 2010 platform and I pledge to continue to work hard to protect the interests of working class families throughout my Senate District.

  6. Education
    Pennsylvania’s future vitality as well as its ability to be a competitor in national and global markets depends upon maintaining a strong public education system. With assurances of accountability in place, my belief in a public commitment to education is best defined via my 2010 platform position.

    When campaigning, I vowed to maintain or increase the state’s current share of funding of the cost of public education, sustain funding for successful Pre-K assistance, accountability block grants, educational tutoring and teacher training as well as dual enrollment programming for school districts and our colleges and universities.

    As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have been a powerful advocate for public education funding by the Commonwealth. My “no” vote on Corbett Administration budgets, which have been devastating to public education, are evidence that I have met my pledge as it relates to our investment in public education.

    This voting record, as well as my consistent interaction with teachers, superintendents and school board members in the 22nd District, has ensured that I remain vigilant on public education issues of concern to the citizens and taxpayers of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

    I have been a vocal opponent of unfunded mandates placed upon on our schools and have consistently advocated that the state’s share of public education should rise to be further in line with other states. Pennsylvania has a terrible record -- retreating from meeting its share of the costs of K-12 education. The state now funds (on average) about 36% of the total costs of K-12 public education. This means that for every dollar the state invests, the local tax base of our school districts must raise $2. This is unacceptable.

    I have been an advocate for a change in the school funding formula which is inequitable and sometimes punitive to less affluent school districts such as Scranton or Carbondale, where the incidence of free or reduced price lunch is greater (i.e., more families in poverty). Further, I have been a strong advocate for a change in the manner in which the state funds Special Education across the state. Finally, along with other Senate Democratic colleagues, I have been an advocate for proper Charter School Reforms to bring all of our public schools under similar standards of performance and accountability.

    My work with the E2 Summits also engaged traditional elementary and secondary schools as well as vocational-technical schools in my district in a shared mission to improve career development and future job placement for our students. I have made visits to many of our schools to read to our children; meet with student athletes as well as student council leaders; and to participate in local school programming. Also, my Student Ambassadors program, initiated this year, has enabled sixteen graduating seniors nominated from schools throughout my Senate District to participate in a five month program to better educate and inform them on state government, public service and the state legislative process.

    My engagement with educational leaders as well as students, parents and other interested citizens in the 22nd District ensures my understanding of what it means to provide a quality education for our children and how the state can -- and must -- be a better partner to guarantee it.

  7. Local Government
    In order to maximize the level of assistance and engagement that local governments can expect from the State, I advanced a platform in 2010 which called for several significant initiatives.

    I advanced the belief that local officials needed to be able to obtain reliable data about the fiscal health of their communities. As challenging as it is, I advocated for the need to address local pension and tax reform as well as to offer incentives for the regionalization of municipal services and land use planning.

    Providing incentives for energy and operational efficiency in school districts as well as offering support for professional planning, market analyses and technical assistance (i.e. grant writing) for local governments, also formed the basis of my 2010 platform for local government.

    At the conclusion of my first term, I point to my involvement as Chair of the Senate Local Government committee which allowed me to have a strong hand in several important reforms and legislation affecting local governments throughout the state.

    While I am no longer Chairman, I remain a member of the Local Government Committee as well as a member of the PA State Local Government Commission. I have introduced several bills to assist local governments and have been actively involved in a major upgrade and reform of PA’s Act 47, the Financially Distressed Communities Act. I have also held annual Local Government Forums to engage local government officials from throughout the 22nd District.

    I introduced the Optional County Sales Tax legislation at the request of both the County Commissioners and the Mayor of Scranton, as a potential vehicle to provide property tax relief to residents as well as enhance revenues for the county and the city. This legislation was not supported by Senators in the Republican Majority; it did not move out of committee in my first year in the Senate. There remains little Republican support for the bill. A local sales tax option has already been granted to the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but no other jurisdiction in the state can levy such a tax to diversify local revenue streams and reduce reliance on property taxes.

    I was involved in high profile hearings in the wake of a fiscal debacle related to the City of Harrisburg’s Trash Incinerator. Those hearings led to a five bill legislative package of local government reforms designed to protect taxpayers from poor borrowing decisions, the dangers of interest rate swap transactions, as well as protect them from conflicts of interest or ethics violations by local government officials. (This package of bills -- Senate Bills 901, 902, 903, 904 and 1189 will likely be voted on the floor of the Senate in this upcoming year). I am the author and prime sponsor for SB 902. This reform effort was bi-partisan and involved Senate Republican John Eichelberger, Senate Republican Mike Folmer, and Senate Democrat Rob Teplitz.

    The Act 47 Task Force resulted in creation of a major piece of legislation -- with companion, identical bills introduced in the PA House by Representative Chris Ross (R) and in the Senate by Senator John Eichelberger (R). The legislation was drafted by the Local Government Commission after a bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort, led by these two legislators, along with Representative Bob Freeman (D) and myself. Three legislative colleagues and I presided over hearings and fact finding sub-committees involving over 100 stakeholders from local government associations, private business, legal and financial consultants, state agencies and legislative staff.

    The reforms and changes slated to occur in Act 47 as a result of this effort will likely be legislated this year. It is important to note that elements of the legislation, which has been introduced in the House and the Senate by Republican lawmakers, has considerable import for and benefit to the City of Scranton and for every current and future Act 47 community designated by the state as financially distressed.

    I have also worked very hard, along with my colleague Senator Judy Schwank, as well as with former Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty, current Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, the Lackawanna County Commissioners, and the Borough of Dunmore to advance prospects for establishment of state sanctioned Community Revitalization Improvement Zones (CRIZ). These zones are a major tool in helping to attract private investment to blighted or disinvested areas of cities and boroughs throughout the state. While Scranton and Dunmore applied for CRIZ zone approval in 2013, both were declined in the state competition. Senator Schwank and I have introduced new legislation that will not only assure that Scranton and other cities and boroughs be permitted to compete for CRIZ zone approvals by the state, but will also accelerate the number of such approvals beyond the ceiling originally stipulated by the Corbett Administration in 2013.

    My voting record, my work in the Local Government Committee and Local Government Commission and my extensive work (and that of my staff, including my Regional Director Larry West) with local government officials within and throughout the 22nd District confirm that I have met the intentions identified in this element of my 2010 Platform.

    From Flood Control projects in Duryea and Jermyn to interventions with PennDOT on road and bridge work in Taylor, Moosic, Scranton, Dupont -- and indeed in most of my 22nd District Communities, my staff and I have kept our promise to be helpful and accessible to local government officials. Offering technical assistance and advocacy on state grant applications as well as many other examples of local government engagement and assistance demonstrate I have worked hard to make the state a better partner to my communities.

    Finally, I made a campaign promise that I would attend at least one local government meeting (City Council, Borough Council, Township Supervisors) meeting in all of my municipalities in the 22nd District. I’ve been to about one third of those but will get to the remainder in 2014. While my attendance at these meetings may not seem significant in and of itself, it stands as another visible reminder that my campaign promises have been translated into actual accomplishments in my first three years in the Senate.

  8. Business Taxes
    Improving tax fairness and enhancing PA’s competitiveness in a 21st century global economy are critical components to insuring that the Commonwealth creates and sustains a viable and healthy economy.

    My 2010 platform vowed that I would require Mandatory Combined Reporting by Pennsylvania corporations and close the Delaware loophole, reduce the Corporate Net Income Tax to promote business investment and remove the cap on net operating loss (NOL) deductions to foster business growth.

    As my first term draws to its conclusion, I note that I introduced legislation to gradually reduce Pennsylvania’s Corporate Net Income Tax from 9.9% to 7.9% over five years while gradually migrating to Mandatory Combined Reporting.

    I also supported changes to the tax code that enhanced PA’s business tax climate. Most of these changes occurred via the same legislation that included my tax credit program (Innovate in Pa). Business tax reforms achieved in the 2013 Tax Code (Act 52 of 2013) include the elimination of inheritance taxes on certain family-owned small businesses which are bequeathed to the next generation of family ownership; a tightening of compliance and enforcement capacities on the part of the PA Dept of Revenue regarding tax avoidance and the so-called "Delaware loophole"; long sought reforms to the business tax appeal process; as well as an increase to the Net Operating Loss (NOL) cap from $3 million or 20 percent of a company's tax liability to $4 million or 25 percent of a company's tax liability in 2014 and $5 million or 30 percent in 2015.

    Additionally, I supported a plan to reform and upgrade the PA Unemployment Compensation insurance program. The State’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund has been insolvent -- deep in debt to the federal government -- due to the extended unemployment benefits that needed to be paid out during the protracted recession and its resulting high unemployment. The Commonwealth was paying the federal government between 3-5% on the debt we incurred to meet unemployment benefits. The UC reform measure involved a complete payoff of the federal debt through a bond issue secured in the capital market. That bond issue was secured at one of the lowest interest rates (below 2%) in the nation as a result of the state’s favorable bond rating.

    The transaction saved PA millions of dollars in reduced debt service and federal UC payments. This UC reform measure, again, necessary to ensure fiscal solvency for the UC fund, also adjusted the formula for certain UC benefits to the unemployed and provided a clear predictability of financial responsibility to Pennsylvania’s business community. The state’s UC Fund is now well ahead of plan in regaining fiscal solvency and the reform measure has been estimated to save PA taxpayers and businesses over $300 million to date. This is, effectively, a business tax cut.

    The Corbett Administration reported to the General Assembly that the UC reform measure would only adversely impact about 10% of UC beneficiaries statewide in terms of adjusted benefits. Since the measure became law, however, it is clear that it is adversely affecting a larger number of seasonal workers (i.e. construction workers whose construction season ends with the onset of winter weather) in a way not expected or intended. In December, however, during the negotiations on the State Transportation package between the Governor’s office and the General Assembly, the Corbett Administration agreed to work with leaders in the Senate and the House to legislate a correction to the UC reform that would restore certain benefits and correct the problem that has been particularly harsh on seasonal workers. It is expected that this correction (HB 403) will be legislated and signed into law this year and it is important to note that making this correction, while bringing much needed relief to seasonal workers, will have minimal impact on continuing the restoration of solvency for the UC fund.

    My Innovate in PA program offers the PA Insurance Industry $100 million in deferred tax credits -- that is, tax credits that cannot be redeemed for at least three more years -- and then, only at a level of $20 million per year for five forward years -- for putting up cash to support early stage investment in the state for the next three years. This program is very beneficial to the insurance industry as it helps their balance sheet reporting and reserve position with federal and state regulators. They need not perform in any way or obtain a guarantee or line of credit to back up the prospect for the tax credits; they need only put up cash to the state in order to secure the positive effects of the program.

    I also supported a tax credit to enhance development at our ports in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Erie.

    My work in the Senate Appropriations Committee; my work as Democratic chair of the Senate Finance Committee; my membership on the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee; as well as the other areas of success noted above provide clear evidence that I have met the intentions of my 2010 Platform as relates to state business tax policy and the vitality of our business community.

    I hope you’ve appreciated this point by point analysis of my 2010 campaign platform and the information I’ve provided here to highlight promises kept!

    My voting record; my legislative activism; my work in Senate committees and with state boards and commissions; the attention I’ve given to the opinions and the concerns of the people I represent; and my responsiveness to constituent needs and requests all demonstrate that the core values I outlined in 2010 -- and that I continue to hold as necessary for our success -- have been, and will continue to be honored to the best of my ability.

    Ethical imperative, hard work and integrity have marked each day of my first term and I respectfully -- and humbly -- ask the voters of the 22nd District to allow me the privilege and the opportunity to continue to serve them by voting me to a second term in the PA State Senate.