|House Democratic Legislative Review|
HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATIVE REVIEW
May 20, 2011
Pennsylvania House Democrats are criticizing Gov. Tom Corbett and Republicans in the legislature for proposing a state budget that would make severe cuts to critical education and health care programs while refusing to use any of the state's burgeoning surplus to ease the pain. House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody and Appropriations Committee Democratic Chairman Joe Markosek noted that state revenue in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year is $506 million ahead of estimate. Standard budgeting procedure says that excess revenue becomes part of next year's revenue base, meaning new funds in excess of $1 billion for the 2011-12 budget.
"House Republicans plan to introduce a budget this week that cuts basic education and higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars, and they will take even more from vital health programs in the name of ‘restoring' money to schools," said Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny. "Republican budget cuts will lead to property tax hikes and even higher college tuition. It doesn't have to be this way. The state is collecting revenue that can be put to use now, but Republicans and the governor want to put that in the Rainy Day Fund," Dermody said.
"We don't need a so-called 'rainy day fund' when it's pouring in Pennsylvania right now with our students, seniors and disabled being threatened with devastating funding cuts," Democratic Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre, said. "The wiser choice would be to use this surplus to restore funding for education and human services."
"Today the governor has an opportunity to offset some of the draconian cuts in his proposed budget without increasing taxes by simply using the additional funds available to Pennsylvania," said Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland. "We cannot stand by and watch the hardest-hit people in Pennsylvania suffer unnecessarily, namely our students from kindergarten through college and our working poor who have been robbed of basic health insurance."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com.
State Rep. Bill Keller, D-Phila., is criticizing House Republicans for continuing to introduce and pass legislation that would penalize and hurt working families during tough economic times. Last week, the House Labor and Industry Committee, of which Keller is Democratic chairman, approved legislation (H.B. 916) that would make a number of changes to the state's unemployment compensation law, including making it harder for workers to qualify for benefits, cutting benefits for unemployed workers who do qualify and slowing the growth of benefits for future UC claimants. All Democrats voted against the bill. Republicans are expected to hold a vote in the full House on the bill next week.
"The changes to the UC system that are proposed in this legislation would do nothing more than penalize workers and attack those who are unemployed through no fault of their own," Keller said. "At a time when unemployment remains high and people continue to struggle to provide for their families, House Republicans want to kick them when they're down. People use these benefits to put food on their table and keep a roof over their head…not to get rich."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Keller.
The House Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing May 12 at the city of Bethlehem's Town Hall to continue its exploration of Marcellus Shale issues, according to Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. State Reps. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton; Steve Samuelson, D-Lehigh/Northampton; and Joe Brennan, D-Lehigh/Northampton, requested the hearing.
Sturla said, "I applaud these legislators for their desire to educate their communities on the benefits and risks of the state's growing Marcellus Shale industry. While the Lehigh Valley may not see the heavy truck traffic and drill sites that other parts of the state do, there most certainly is an impact on water quality in every community across the state regardless of location."
Freeman added, "While Marcellus Shale drilling is a growing industry in Pennsylvania, there are serious concerns that need to be addressed in order to protect Pennsylvania's environment. We need better regulations and oversight of the drilling process and we need to impose a severance tax on the drillers, like other states do. They are going to reap significant profits from a Pennsylvania natural resource and the people of Pennsylvania should be compensated to deal with local impacts from the drilling, environmental needs and revenue needs to reduce the severe cuts in education and human services being proposed by the governor."
Samuelson said, “Today's testifiers provided valuable input on a variety of Marcellus Shale issues. The need for an extraction tax continues to be clear for the sake of our environment and to address the impact drilling has on our communities. This additional revenue also could help lessen the impact of harmful state budget cuts that have been proposed by the governor.”
Brennan added, “As natural gas drilling forges on in Pennsylvania, this was an opportunity for the residents of the Lehigh Valley to join in the discussion. The legislature has a lot to look at in terms of managing the Marcellus Shale, and I'm excited to be a part of a forum where our constituents' voices can be heard.”
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee.
State Rep. Greg Vitali said he will attempt to bring his Marcellus Shale drilling tax legislation, H.B. 33, before the full House of Representatives on Tuesday by calling for a vote to release it from the House Finance Committee. The bill, which has bipartisan support, has been stalled in the committee since Feb. 9. The vote on forcing the bill out of committee will come the same week the state will debate a $27.3 billion budget that does not have a drilling tax, but makes deep cuts to basic and higher education funding, as well as services for the state's most vulnerable residents.
"The enactment of a drilling tax won't solve all our budget problems, but it would restore funding to some important state programs," Vitali said. "For example, it could restore all of the funding to Penn State University or undo proposed cuts to programs that keep 21,000 senior citizens living in their houses instead of nursing homes. The vote on Tuesday will bring the debate of the merits of a drilling tax to the House floor for the first time this legislative session," Vitali said. "It will put members on the record about this issue and it will put added pressure to keep moving the bill forward."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Vitali.
The state House has passed legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, to make Pennsylvania's roads safer by banning the use of hand-held cell phones and texting while driving. Shapiro's amendment to H.B. 8 passed by a bipartisan vote of 151-39. House Bill 8 bans reading, writing or sending a text message while driving. Shapiro's amendment expands the legislation to include a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones for all drivers.
"I am pleased with the bipartisan support my amendment received in the House," Shapiro said. "This is an issue of paramount public safety and importance and is long overdue; we need a comprehensive solution to deal with this dangerous driver distraction. We will simply save lives and stop accidents from happening by disconnecting distracted drivers from their hand-held devices on Pennsylvania's roadways."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Shapiro.
Daley bill to protect children from secondhand smoke
State Rep. Peter J. Daley II, D-Fayette/Washington, plans to introduce legislation that would make it a secondary offense to smoke in a vehicle in which young children are riding. Secondhand smoke has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute lower respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and is known to exacerbate attacks in asthmatic children. Further, children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for ear infections.
"My proposed legislation will serve as a reminder to parents that when they are inside a vehicle with a young child, their child is ingesting the same chemicals as the person who is actually smoking a cigarette," Daley said. "Same chemicals. Same potential health risks. Same serious consequences. But what is worse, these children didn't choose to be exposed."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Daley.