Archive for category lisa boscola

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‘Devil’s in the details’: Valley Republicans optimistic on Wolf’s budget

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a $32.3 billion spending plan, 3.2 percent larger than the current fiscal year’s spending.

Republican lawmakers representing the Lehigh Valley voice cautious optimism on Gov. Tom Wolf‘s fiscal year 2017-18 budget presented Tuesday.

“Now the devil’s in the details,” state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in remarks shared via Twitter. “We’ll have to do our due diligence as part of the Senate appropriations process to make sure it works.”

Wolf’s $32.3 billion spending plan, 3.2 percent bigger than this fiscal year’s budget, includes an ambitious consolidation of four departments — Human Services, Health, Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs — into one Department of Health and Human Services. It’s an idea floated for years but never acted on, Browne said.

“The consolidation proposal is a huge proposal: $34 billion department, it’s going to grow from there,” he said, noting that the governor needs to demonstrate the ability to provide better service at lower prices. “If it’s just bigger government it’s just not going to do what we need it to do. So that’s going to be a big issue.”

Sen. Lisa Boscola, a Democrat like Wolf, called the budget “a workable solution to the state’s financial challenges.”

“I share the governor’s interest in cutting and consolidating government services by $2.1 billion to avoid raising” sales or income taxes, she said in a statement. “Cutting, consolidating and modernizing state government will not only enable us to close the budget deficit, but will also empower us to invest more dollars in creating jobs, reinvigorating our manufacturing sector and adequately funding our schools.”

Boscola, who represents communities in Lehigh and Northampton counties, called for more work on reducing or eliminating local property taxes, and voiced hope that the budget will be passed on time by June 30.

My thoughts following today’s budget address. Encouraged by the govt. efficiency & job creation pts. @GovernorTomWolf @LtGovStack #pabudget

— Senator Lisa Boscola (@SenLisaBoscola) February 7, 2017

Wolf’s budget does raise some taxes — by $1 billion — largely by imposing a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and eliminating what his administration views as tax loopholes. It also eliminates sales-tax exemptions on custom programming, design and data processing; commercial storage; and aircraft sales, use and repair.

Central to the budget is additional money for education funding, including pre-kindergarten, special education and Head Start assistance.

State Rep. Joseph Emrick, R-Northampton, said he welcomes “the change of tone” of the governor.

“He has come to the realization that fiscal responsibility is the course Pennsylvania must take in order to turn around our economy and set us on a path to prosperity,” Emrick said in a statement.

“Today’s address is a good start,” Emrick stated, “and I’m anxious to work with my colleagues to pass a fiscally responsible budget that protects the hard-working taxpayers of Pennsylvania.”

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State Rep. Marcia Hahn, R-Northampton, also called the proposal a good starting point, according to a statement.

“Gov. Wolf’s budget address is a distinct and refreshing change from those of his first two years in office when broad-based taxes were his default way of solving our revenue problems,” stated Hahn, a majority member of the House Appropriations Committee that will hold hearings on the budget. “Choosing a fiscally responsible path to prosperity is what taxpayers demand and deserve, and I applaud his change of heart.”

Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Berks/Lehigh, credited Republican arguments against “more broad-based taxes and increased spending” with helping to sway Wolf’s budgetary view.

“I am intrigued by some of his proposals and look forward to learning more about his plans to reduce costs,” he stated. “As the old saying goes, ‘The devil is in the details.'”

Newly elected state Rep. Zach Mako, R-Lehigh/Northampton, said his focus is on property tax reform, job creation and infrastructure improvements.

“Any final budget must rein in government spending, not burden taxpayers, and signal Pennsylvania is open for business,” Mako stated. “Now is the time to restart Pennsylvania. We need to grow the commonwealth’s economy.”

Kurt Bresswein may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @KurtBresswein. Find on Facebook.

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How Bethlehem plans to temporarily make up casino cash

Lawmakers in Harrisburg cannot agree on a fix to the state’s unconstitutional casino host fee law.

As it looks increasingly unlikely that state lawmakers will revamp the casino host fee law before year’s end, Bethlehem City Council wants to know how to balance its books. 

The city is about to jump into its 2017 budget season with the release of Mayor Bob Donchez’s budget on Nov. 11, yet millions of dollars from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem remain in limbo.

When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s casino host fee law, which generates $142 million for communities, it gave Harrisburg four months to come up with a solution. 

Bethlehem City Council President J. William Reynolds asked the administration for an update Tuesday night. He is skeptical this affects enough cities to light a fire under lawmakers.

“I think it is realistic that it might not get done until the middle of the summer,” Reynolds said.

Donchez remains optimistic that lawmakers will follow through on a promised fix before the city misses out on any payments this spring, he said.

He praised the Lehigh Valley delegation for their ongoing work. The mayor is in continued contact with state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, and Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton.

“They both feel very confident that the amount of money we are receiving will be in the final proposal,” Donchez said. “That is what is most important to me.”

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About $8.8 million — the equivalent of 100 cops — or 12 percent of the city’s budget is in jeopardy. But officials cautioned it isn’t time to panic. The $1.1 million table games generates are not in jeopardy.

“It wasn’t taken away,” city Business Manager David Brong said. “It was cast into uncertainty.”

The city is due $5.5 million of casino cash in 2017 based on money accrued in 2016 prior to the stay, Brong said. And if Harrisburg drags its feet on a solution, the city plans to take out a Tax Revenue Anticipation Note to carry it through.

Brong anticipates the city could make it to the third-quarter of the year before having to take out the loan.

The state Senate passed a temporary fix that would’ve kept the host fee going. But then the House passed its own bill tying continued host fee payments to the legalization of online gaming and daily fantasy sports betting.

The House is not scheduled to reconvene in a voting session this year.

While the Senate is expected to return on Nov. 16, action on the House bill is unlikely since the body doesn’t support the expansion of online gaming.

“There is a slight chance they will review it and pass it,” Donchez said. “It is unlikely though.”

It looks as if a fix will not come until a new legislative body is seated in January, he said.

Browne, who chairs the Senate appropriations committee, believes a solution can be reached prior to April 15, when second quarter host fee payments are due, The Morning Call reports.

Municipalities can build their casino cash into 2017 budgets, he told the newspaper.

“Everyone understands how important this is to municipalities across the state,” Browne told the paper. “We’re not going to leave them short.”

Sara K. Satullo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sarasatullo and Facebook. Find on Facebook.