In this update:
Are Schools Raising Property Taxes Unnecessarily?
I recently chaired a public hearing of the Senate Education Committee reviewing school budgeting and general fund balances.
Every school district should have money in their reserves for emergencies, but this hearing was very valuable as we review legislation to protect local taxpayers from unfair school property tax increases.
I called this hearing after Auditor General Timothy DeFoor released a report questioning the practices used by twelve school districts that raised local property tax rates while holding millions of dollars in their reserves.
85 Charged with Welfare Fraud in 2023
So far in 2023, the Office of the State Inspector General charged 85 individuals with welfare fraud, with the total amount of fraud over $500,000.
I can still remember a time when a Republican Congress and a Democratic President were able to work out a compromise to provide for meaningful welfare reform. I reintroduced a package of bills this year to help ensure that assistance is provided to those who truly need it – not fraudsters or the deceased.
Working Together to Improve PA Colleges and Universities
I was invited to two statewide conferences last week to discuss higher education as the new chair of the Senate Education Committee. At both events, I discussed the “power to convene” – in other words, if we invite people to sit down and chat with us, they are often willing to do so. Sometimes, the results are routine—and sometime, the results are spectacular.
A perfect example of this is my work with Lehigh Carbon Community College, the Morgan Foundation, and the Tamaqua Area School District to transform the vacant junior high school where my parents once taught into LCCC’s Morgan Campus in Tamaqua.
In 2002, Governor Mark Schweiker visited Tamaqua for the announcement that local students would receive free tuition at this new campus. We changed the lives of SO MANY on that day!
Solving the issues facing Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher education is not a simple task, but I’m hopeful that by collaborating on a bipartisan basis, we can make significant progress.
Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes Significant Areas of Concern and Agreement on Education and Other Issues
During Governor Shapiro’s first budget address, he presented us with an enormous wish list. He offered many good ideas, including finding a new way to fund our public schools and breathing new life into old towns and neighborhoods – but we need to determine what we can afford without overburdening Pennsylvania taxpayers and harming our future financial stability.
In addition to the many spending proposals, the budget includes no indication the governor will remove Pennsylvania from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will burden all Pennsylvanians with an annual tax on electricity of nearly $670 million.
How Do We Properly Fund Schools and Universities?
As the chair of the Senate Education Committee, I participated in last week’s budget hearings with the Department of Education, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and State-Related Universities (Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln University).
I questioned Acting Secretary Khalid Mumin of the Department of Education about why record levels in education spending haven’t led to better performance from our students.
I also asked Acting Secretary Mumin about Governor Shapiro’s actual position on funding school choice programs.
I asked the presidents of Temple, Penn State, Lincoln University, and Pitt about what efforts they’re undertaking to address teacher shortages in Pennsylvania.
I asked PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein to give an update on the integration of six schools into two. Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania includes Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield. Pennsylvania Western University includes California, Clarion, and Edinboro.
Budget Hearing Highlights
The Senate Appropriations Committee has held twelve hearings in the past two weeks – in addition to the four I participated in as Chair of the Education Committee – reviewing Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal. Here are just a few highlights:
State Treasurer Stacy Garrity urged lawmakers to make greater investments in Pennsylvania’s Rainy Day Fund and reduce the structural deficit to improve the state’s credit rating. She testified that the commonwealth has a choice: spend modestly now or face a possible fiscal cliff as federal funds dry up and the Rainy Day Fund is depleted.
Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel confirmed that Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in new energy taxes. Higher electricity costs could be on the horizon if Shapiro advances a carbon tax.
At the Department of State budget hearing, the committee sought details about federal and private election funding, county election grants, funding outreach to unregistered voters and publishing constitutional amendments.
Find full hearing recaps, video, livestreams and upcoming schedule at PASenateGOP.com.
Bills to Aid Corrections Officers and Dairy Farmers Move Forward
My bill to ensure the rights of correctional officers and forensic employees was approved by committee with unanimous, bipartisan support. These officers put their safety on the line to keep us all safe from dangerous criminals every day. We must ensure that their constitutional right of due process is not violated.
The Senate also passed a resolution encouraging the United State Department of Agriculture to allow 2% and whole milk in schools. In 2010, Congress passed a bill prohibiting whole milk from being served in schools, which President Barack Obama signed into law.
The continued prohibition isn’t just hurting our dairy farmers, it’s teaching our students a terrible lesson in nutrition. Reintroducing whole milk to our schools just makes sense for the health of our young people AND the Pennsylvania economy.
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