A constitutional amendment that would be costly

(Feb 20, 2015)

A constitutional amendment that would be costly Last year, county and local governments and school districts in Allegheny County had to forgo nearly $620 million in property taxes to big hospitals and other organizations deemed purely public charities. Now there’s a move afoot that could further reduce the amount of tax money to fund schools and essential public services, such as police and firefighters. Senate Bill 4 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution and make the legislature the judge and jury in determining which charities deserve tax exemptions. Currently, our constitution permits the legislature to exempt "institutions of purely public charity" from tax. However, the constitution left it to the courts to define a public charity. It’s a balance of power that, while not perfect, served Pennsylvania well. I’m concerned that giving the legislature sole authority to decide which charities are tax exempt would increase the influence of special interest money from mega nonprofits. In turn, that would lead to more of them being tax exempt. That would reduce the tax base, particularly in urban areas, and result in higher property taxes, reduced services, or both. After all, every time an organization is declared tax exempt, someone else has to pay more or cuts have to be made. Because S.B. 4 would amend the constitution, it has to pass the Senate and House in two consecutive Read more


Property Tax/Rent Rebate forms now available; good news for CHIP ‘Buy-In’ families

(Feb 18, 2015)

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Forms Now Available! My office has received Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program application forms from the state Department of Revenue – and my staff is ready to help you file yours. The rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians 65 or older, widows and widowers 50 or older, and people with disabilities 18 or older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters. Half of Social Security income is excluded and the maximum standard rebate is $650. Claimants must reapply for rebates every year because rebates are based on annual income and property taxes or rent paid annually. Spouses, personal representatives or estates may file rebate claims on behalf of deceased claimants who lived at least one day in 2014 and met all other eligibility criteria. The oft-extended deadline to apply for a rebate on property taxes or rent paid in 2014 is June 30, 2015, and the rebates will be distributed beginning July 1. Please ignore offers to assist with filing the application for a fee. My office offers help at no charge, and the Revenue Department does not charge a fee to process your application. Applications are also available online at www.revenue.pa.gov or by calling 1-888-222-9190. UPDATE: Even better news for CHIP ‘Buy-In’ Families The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf had won a two-month grace period on potential tax liabilities for families enrolled in the "Buy-In" or Read more


Ravenstahl to hold office hours in North Boroughs beginning Feb. 19

(Feb 11, 2015)

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 11 – State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl announced that he will hold office hours at the Avalon Borough Building, 640 California Ave., every Thursday morning from 8:30 a.m. to noon beginning Feb. 19. "This office will provide convenient service to my constituents in Avalon and Bellevue," Ravenstahl said. "It will offer the same top-notch service and assistance as my main office in Pittsburgh, and there’s no extra cost to taxpayers." Ravenstahl said some of the most common requests for assistance he provides include car registrations, special tags and license applications, birth and death certificate applications, help with problems with state agencies and assistance in filling out state forms of all kinds. Residents are asked to call his Pittsburgh office at 412-321-5523 to make an appointment at the Avalon office. Ravenstahl said his Pittsburgh office at 3689 California Ave. will remain open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Read more


A power struggle that could be costly to you

(Feb 05, 2015)

Click here to view the web version. A power struggle that could be costly to you Did you know there’s a move afoot in the legislature that could lead to homeowners and small businesses paying even more property taxes while crippling local governments’ ability to provide services? I am very concerned about the ramifications of Senate Bill 4, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to give the legislature the power to determine which non-profit organizations have to pay property taxes and which do not. It also would destroy municipalities’ ability to question if a "charity" is indeed acting charitably and deserves to receive tax-exempt status. Our constitution permits the legislature to exempt "institutions of purely public charity" from tax. However, the constitution left it to the courts to define a public charity. I believe the framers of our constitution were wise to put this separation of powers in place. However, it’s been the subject of a decades-long power struggle that could have costly consequences for the average homeowner. To understand the issue, I have to provide you with a little background. In 1985, the state Supreme Court established a five-part test to determine if a nonprofit qualifies as a Read more


Make our schools safer with carbon monoxide detectors

(Jan 20, 2015)

Every year, accidental exposure to carbon monoxide sends thousands of people to emergency rooms across the country, and hundreds die from it. These accidents happen in homes, businesses and even schools. Recently, hundreds of students and faculty were inside a Colorado school when this odorless and tasteless gas seeped into the building because of a malfunctioning furnace. Fortunately, everyone safely escaped. This incident underscores the need for CO detectors, particularly in our schools. Unfortunately, only a handful of states, such as Connecticut and Maryland, require CO detectors in their schools. I firmly believe all schools should have these detectors. That’s why I am reintroducing legislation that would require all Pennsylvania schools – public and private -- that have heating systems or appliances powered by fossil fuels to install CO detectors. We have a number of older schools with aging heating systems, and leaks in school heating systems that lead to a buildup of CO aren't uncommon. Consider these examples: A carbon monoxide leak led to the evacuation of an elementary school in St. Paul, Minn., in 2010. A potentially deadly buildup of CO inside an Atlanta elementary school in 2012 sickened more than 50 people, including 42 students. Also in 2012, higher-than-normal levels of carbon monoxide at an elementary school in Glen Rock, York County, sickened dozens of people. We should install CO detectors in all Read more


All Pa. schools should have CO detectors

(Jan 16, 2015)

This week, hundreds of students and faculty were inside a Colorado school when carbon monoxide – an odorless and deadly gas – seeped into the building because of a malfunctioning furnace. Fortunately, everyone inside the school safely escaped. I do not want to see an incident like this claim a life at a Pennsylvania school. That's why I am preparing to reintroduce legislation that would require all Pennsylvania schools that have heating systems or appliances powered by fossil fuels to install carbon monoxide detectors. Incidents such as the one in Colorado are preventable with a CO detector. However, only a handful of states, such as Connecticut and Maryland, require CO detectors in their schools. I believe it’s time for Pennsylvania to enact legislation to require these detectors in all schools – both public and private. I am hopeful my colleagues will agree. Read more


Act soon for college financial aid

(Jan 15, 2015)

June will be here before we know it, and many graduating seniors and their parents are thinking about college applications and, more importantly, how to pay tuition bills. I’m urging college-bound high school seniors and their families to consider applying as soon as possible for financial assistance by submitting the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is a must for determining eligibility for most need- and income-based financial assistance, including the Pennsylvania State Grant , Pell grants and other federal student loans, work-study programs and various scholarships. The FAFSA may be completed online at www.fafsa.gov . The form is also available on my website by clcking on the education tab under Help & Services. Read more


Ravenstahl begins third full term in Pa. House

(Jan 06, 2015)

State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, D-Allegheny, was sworn in today for a third full term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives serving residents of the 20th Legislative District. Ravenstahl and other state House members were sworn in at noon. The state constitution requires each term of the legislature to begin on the first Tuesday of the year. Read more


Hope for Hannah legislation becomes law

(Dec 28, 2014)

Pennsylvania's children have a new protection thanks to Hannah's Law, named after Hannah Ginion of Bristol Township, who suffered from the rare genetic disorder called Krabbe disease. Hannah passed away on Dec. 28, 2014. Read more


When we help working families, we help Pennsylvania

(Dec 20, 2014)

As the stock market reaches new highs and corporations earn record-level profits, millions of working men, women and children are struggling just to scrape by. A full-time worker earning minimum wage only makes $15,080, nearly $4,500 below the poverty line. The effects of this low wage are especially felt by women, who account for two-thirds of minimum-wage workers. House Democrats support increasing the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour and then to $10.10 per hour a year later to help Pennsylvania's working families climb out of poverty and get off welfare rolls. Read more


New website offers information and clarity on Highmark/UPMC transition

(Dec 09, 2014)

A new arrangement for services between UPMC and Highmark is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 and will affect many western Pennsylvanians. There is a new state website designed to help alleviate any uncertainty and cut through the confusion has been launched to help answer questions. Going forward, both of these entities will abide by consent decrees that each party signed with the state. Read more


Beware IRS phone scams

(Nov 29, 2014)

Recently, my office received information about phone calls received statewide in which an individual claimed to be from the IRS and demanded payment on taxes owed. Please be aware – this phone call is a scam, and the IRS will NOT initiate first contact with you on the phone about taxes owed. Always be wary of unsolicited phone calls in which an individual claims to represent a business or government entity and aggressively demands payment. The IRS does not operate this way and will always send official correspondence through the mail to make its first contact with you. Read more


HEROIN: What you need to know about Pennsylvania’s Good Samaritan Law

(Nov 24, 2014)

Landmark legislation passed during the 2013-14 Legislative Session now allows first responders, including law enforcement, fire fighters, EMS or other organizations the ability to administer a medication known as naloxone, a life-saving opioid-overdose antidote. The law also allows individuals such as friends or family members who might be in a position to help a person at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose to obtain a prescription for naloxone. Additionally, Act 139 provides immunity from prosecution for those responding to and reporting overdoses. Read more


In the News: Dept. of Human Services name change better reflects mission

(Nov 24, 2014)

House Bill 993, which renamed the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare as the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, was signed into law as Act 132 during the 2013-14 Legislative Session. According to advocates for the change, renaming the department was long overdue, and as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, the name change better reflects the department’s mission. Read more


Do you need help paying heating bills?

(Nov 24, 2014)

As we get into the coldest months of winter, many people are worried about affording their increasing heating costs. If you or someone you know qualifies, my office could help you take advantage of a program set up to curtail high home heating bills. Read more


Apply for health insurance by Feb. 16

(Nov 23, 2014)

The open enrollment period for health care coverage is now underway. If you or someone you know is in need of health insurance, please consider visiting the federal Marketplace at www.HealthCare.gov. Applicants have until Feb. 16, 2015 to enroll. Everyone, no matter what age, needs health insurance. A random accident or unexpected illness could put you in danger of losing not only your good health but also your financial future. Read more


Sign up for the Do-Not-Call list

(Nov 22, 2014)

To register for the Pennsylvania and national do-not-call lists, visit http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/dnc.aspx or call 1-888-777-3406. Registration is free. There is a rolling enrollment; individuals may sign up at any time and the registration is good for five years. After that, you can re-enroll. And, signing up on Pennsylvania's list automatically adds those numbers to the national do-not-call list. Read more


Weatherizing your home saves you money on energy bills

(Nov 20, 2014)

Last year’s bitterly cold winter left many people struggling to pay higher-than-normal home energy bills. As we head toward the coldest months of the year, there are ways you can winterize your home to keep heat in, cold air out, and money in your pocket. Many businesses offer professional home energy audits, but you can perform your own by inspecting areas where heat escapes and cold air leaks in. Read more


Check out charities before making holiday donations

(Nov 20, 2014)

While it may be the season for charitable giving, scammers don't take a holiday. The Pennsylvania Department of State offers a simple way to ensure a charity is legitimate and that your donation will be used properly. Read more