Column on See Tracks? Think Train! campaign to raise awareness about rail safety.

National Train Day: See Tracks? Think Train!
Senator Pat Browne (R-16)

Although most Americans today know the dangers associated with distracted driving or texting while driving or crossing the street, many are unaware of the risks they are taking around railroad tracks.

Recent federal data reveal an alarming increase in the number of pedestrian deaths on tracks and fatal collisions at railroad crossings. According to 2013 U.S. Department of Transportation statistics, 908 pedestrians were injured or killed while walking on or near railroad tracks in 2013, up 7.7 percent from 843 in 2012. Additionally, 1,193 people were injured or killed at railroad grade crossings, up 1.5 percent from 1,175 in 2012. Estimates indicate that a train strikes a vehicle or person approximately once every three hours in the United States.

Here in Pennsylvania, there have been 135 deaths and injuries since 2011 as a result of trespassing on rail tracks – the fourth highest number in the nation. And each trespassing tragedy can be prevented if each of us will act safely around rail tracks.

Often pedestrians and drivers simply do not realize how dangerous it is to walk on railroad tracks or how long it takes the average freight train to stop. For example, a train may extend three feet beyond the steel rails, and many times pedestrians do not realize they are standing too close. Additionally, it can take a mile or more for a fully loaded train to stop – the length of 18 football fields. By the time an engineer sees a person on the tracks and applies the emergency brakes, it’s too late.

Saturday, May 10, is National Train Day – a day set aside to recognize the advantages of rail travel and transport across the country. One of these advantages is the tremendous safety record enjoyed by our railroads. America’s freight railroads continue to invest record levels of their dollars into their privately owned rail networks and nearly all of these investments enhance rail safety. Because of their commitment to safety, American freight railroads are working hand-in-hand with Operation Lifesaver to help reduce the number of trespassing injuries and fatalities. Railroads are constantly incorporating new technologies to improve rail safety – including sophisticated detectors along tracks that identify defects on passing rail cars; ground-penetrating radar that identifies problems below ground, and specialized rail cars that identify defects in tracks.

I proudly support the new national See Tracks? Think Train! campaign to raise awareness about rail safety. Please join me in helping share this important message from Operation Lifesaver and the railroads. We can save lives by encouraging others to obey traffic signals and reminding them that railroad tracks are no place to walk or play. Remember: “See Tracks? Think Train!”  

Contact:          Matt Moyer    (610) 366-2327

Child Protection Legislation Signed into Law

One of the most fundamental responsibilities of legislators is to protect Pennsylvania’s children and provide a safe environment in which they can live, learn and play. It is vital that we pass laws aimed at safeguarding children from abuse and prosecuting predators. It is also important that we encourage and protect those who speak up on behalf of victims and shield them from harassment and intimidation.

I am pleased that the state legislature and the Governor placed a high priority on strengthening Pennsylvania’s child protection laws. As part of that effort, through the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December of 2011, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection was created. Following a series of public meetings, the task force released a report in November of 2012 that detailed its finding and recommendations for ways the state could improve the protection of children in Pennsylvania. The task force focused on both broad and specific recommendations.

The state Senate and House of Representatives picked up the mantle from there and proposed, in a bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort, a package of legislation to take the necessary steps to ensure children’s safety. Governor Tom Corbett recently signed into law 10 bills from the package of legislation.

One of the bills signed into law last year, Senate Bill 28, was legislation I introduced. This measure lowers the age of a perpetrator for simple assault from age 21 to 18; amends aggravated assault to include (1) causing bodily injury to a child under the age of 6 as a felony of the second degree and (2) causing serious bodily injury to a child under the age of 13 as a felony of the first degree; creates new offenses of “false reports of child abuse” and “intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases” to protect any reporter, victim or witness who reports child abuse.

This new law holds perpetrators accountable for their actions by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child. In addition, it creates the new offense of ‘intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases’ which not only protects the victim, but also the reporter or witness who acts on behalf of the abused child. These changes are important steps to increase the safety of Pennsylvania’s young people, fully prosecute those who prey on children and to protect those who have a responsibility to report cases of child abuse.

Some of the other bills that were part of the package include laws that increase penalties for luring a young child into a motor vehicle or structure (House Bill 1594), while another (Senate Bill 30) holds accountable individuals who make false abuse reports by establishing accountability and due process protections for individuals.

Senate Bill 23 and House Bill 726 update definitions of “perpetrator,” “child abuse,” “person responsible for a child’s welfare” and other related terms in the Child Protective Services Law.

Senate Bill 1116 provides for a multidisciplinary investigative team to be used to coordinate child-abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement, while Senate Bill 34 establishes a comprehensive system for professional educators who are investigated and disciplined for misconduct in Pennsylvania.

House Bill 321 directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to provide a sentencing enhancement for child pornography, based upon the age of the child victimized, the number of images possessed, and the nature and character of the abuse. House Bill 414 requires the court, in a custody proceeding, to consider factors related to child abuse and involvement with child protective services, while House Bill 1201 amends the Judicial Code concerning child victims and witnesses, and reporting by district attorneys.

Whether in school, on a playground or in a home, children and their parents should feel safe and should not have to worry about individuals looking to prey on children. We must continue to seek ways to prevent child abuse from happening in the first place and, if it does, we must have laws in place that adequately punish those who target children.

These legislative measures are important steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our most vulnerable citizens. As we head into the new session, I am hopeful that more bills that were part of the child protection package will receive final passage.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

PENNWATCH Opens State Finance to Public Review

A column by Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District

Tremendous advancements in technology have given the public greater access to state government. When I was first elected to office, you had to come to Harrisburg to see a legislative session. You had to make a request in writing or visit an office to get a document. Now, with technology, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can have direct access online to the interworking of state government.

As part of that effort to provide transparency in government, I was the prime sponsor of the Pennsylvania Web Accountability and Transparency (PENNWATCH) Act in the Senate, a measure that formed the basis of Act 18 of 2011. The key requirement of that measure involved the creation of a website and searchable database that gives the people of the Commonwealth an unprecedented opportunity to fully monitor the fiscal activities of state government.

I am pleased to report that the site www.pennwatch.pa.gov went online on December 20, 2012.

With PENNWATCH, we took transparency to a whole new level. This is something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Citizens now have unprecedented access to what their state legislators and governor are doing.

We have made accountability and transparency in government a top priority. We have embraced new technologies by streaming legislative sessions live online and creating public-searchable databases of legislation, roll call votes and lobbyist disclosure reports. We have made ourselves more accountable through amendments to the Open Records Law, through the Independent Fiscal Office and through the Governor’s Open PA website. But, without the information and technology available through PENNWATCH, citizens would still not have the information and resources to follow how and where their tax dollars are being spent.

The increasing public demand for access to information – at all levels of government – made PENNWATCH the logical, broad-based follow-up to those government reform measures already in use.

Under the provisions of Act 18, PENNWATCH enables people to see the interactions between Commonwealth agencies and their individual vendors. The ledgers will be opened to allow citizens to monitor spending. Personnel records will be opened to provide basic information about staffing across state departments and agencies.

This information empowers the people of Pennsylvania by holding state government accountable for its expenditures. It is important for them to be engaged in how their tax dollars are being spent. But they can only be engaged with the ability to access that information, which PENNWATCH gives them.

I strongly believe that PENNWATCH will be an excellent tool for Pennsylvania in continuing our efforts to make State government more transparent and accountable. The timeliness of this is important given the revenue capacity of the state. We are making difficult financial choices in Harrisburg. For our citizens, it is vital that they know what those choices are and what priorities we have set for spending.

This is a whole new day of transparency in state government.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

New Law Establishes Pennsylvania Veterans’ Trust Fund

A column by Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District

Pennsylvania is home to more than 900,000 military veterans. Their tremendous service to our nation stands as a point of pride for our commonwealth. It takes a special person to be a soldier, a sailor, a Marine, a member of the Air Force or a member of the Coast Guard. How many people would want to or be able to face the threats and uncertainties that our service members have and still do on a daily basis?

We have an obligation to these brave men and women who have fought to keep our nation safe and free to ensure they have the necessary assistance and support when they return home from duty and adjust back into their everyday lives.

That is why I recently voted for a new law that will help generate additional dollars for support services for our veterans through private donations.

Act 194 of 2012 creates a new Pennsylvania Veterans’ Trust Fund (PVTF) to supplement state appropriations for veterans’ programs. The legislation provides additional dollars through voluntary donations to enhance current programs, services and benefits our state already offers, without asking taxpayers to contribute significant new funding.

Funding for the Trust will come from donations made via a voluntary check-off box on driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations, proceeds from the sale of special license plates for veterans and other motorists who wish to honor their service, as well as other private donations. The Trust will fund a variety of programs, such as grants for veterans’ organizations, support for county veterans’ programs and housing assistance for veterans.

To ensure this proposal creates the greatest benefit for our veterans, the legislation also supports new partnerships between the state and a number of charities and veterans’ service organizations. It is important to note that money from the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Trust Fund is not intended to replace existing government funding.

State, federal and county governments offer a number of helpful resources for our veterans, and it is important to ensure that all men and women who have served our country are aware of the benefits available to them. A list of helpful informational links is available on my website under the Resources/Links tab at https://senatorbrowne.com/veterans-resources/. Additional information is also available by contacting the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs online at www.dmva.state.pa.us or calling toll-free 1-800-547-2838.

It is vital that our men and women in uniform know that they have our deepest gratitude and appreciation. This program allows us a way to show it.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

The American Experience Fulfills Saint Patrick’s Aspirations for the Irish

By Patrick McHale Browne – Pennsylvania State Senator – 16th District and Grandson of County Mayo, Ireland

Once upon a time in America, propelled by the promise of the New World, a begotten and besieged race of people, the cast out and conflicted children of Erin, began their final steps on a millennial journey.  Tired, torn and tattered, on the desperate boats of famine they sailed – calluses and cracks their only possession of hand. Backs and shoulders burdened by the suffering and sacrifice of thousands long since past.

Yet, when the sun rose up behind them, on the dawn of a new day, a golden shore, a magnificent genesis would consume the horizon – a landing labored for by mankind’s legions, longed for by humanities destitute. Once settled, enveloped in America’s embrace, the Irish would find their destiny, unattained despite centuries of battle, blight and blood in their native soil. And from this time forward, the new world’s beacon of freedom, the sheen of liberties limelight would, in part, take on a bright shade of emerald green.

In the citadel of freedom, the Irish spirit would thrive.  On the backs and braughn of the Irish, American cities rose and bridges spanned, railroads forged west to unify a continent and mountain plateaus moved to fuel a fledging nation. They offered supreme sacrifice on its battlefields. One hundred and fifty years past, the gallantry of the men of the Irish brigade on the hallowed ground of the American civil war still inspires, still captivates the conscience.  And they found comfort in its communities. In America’s metropolis, large and small, the Irish populated neighborhoods, built congregations and weaved their unique spirited culture into the collage of humanity which is our melting pot. Once relegated to servitude and seclusion, the American experience provided the Irish the dignity that St Patrick aspired for them – the promise that their hopes and dreams could be pursued, could be realized.

America’s bequest to the Irish, as it has done for all those yearning to be free, was to unleash the potential of the human condition; the divine spark within each and every mortal soul to find promise and posterity reached when uncoupled from the shackles of servitude. With freedom the Irish initiated, they innovated, they inspired.  They gave purpose; they took part in America’s ascension to greatness.

Reflecting on the Irish journey, as the culmination of mankind’s quest for the freedom of the human soul, America and its sovereign jurisdictions must continue to instill in all its pronouncements a reverence to its indelible legacy which attracted and activated the Irish and all those once retched, once refused.  Notwithstanding populist postulation or feverous financial friction, our public sector must continue to foster individual autonomy as its overriding objective and primary platform. For if the human journey teaches us anything, especially that of the Irish, it is that regardless of passage of time, place or personality, regardless of the changing condition and material advancement of the human circumstance, it is only the encroachment of a collective or paternal mandate to manage those circumstances which is abhorrent to the fundamental truths of man and his individual potential for posterity. The Irish did not thrive when under the thumb, did not prosper under the penal law’s sequester, did not blossom when under Britannica’s boot. Only through a reverence and resolve to the virtue of human dignity, preached to them by Saint Patrick, provided to them in freedom’s embrace, was this realized.

As proclaimed in mystic folklore of the ancient Irish, upon the conclusion of their mortal existence, the sacred souls of the emerald Isle first enter the Kingdom of Heaven through the lush and fertile hills of Tara where St Patrick first bestowed the divine grace of Christ upon his adopted brethren. Once upon a time in America, the once desperate and destitute Irish, cast away and castigated with dreams unattained,  began to hear the triumphal testaments of Tara in the hallowed halls of liberties cathedral. Through the centuries it has been the inspirations and aspirations of St Patrick who bestowed on the Irish the faith and strength to look to the horizon and realize their destiny – a destiny instilled in the dignity of all man.  America was conceived and created as the beacon of hope on that horizon and it is was here that the Irish people first came ashore.  As an American prayer on this feast of Saint Patrick, let us resolve to preserve the principals which allowed it to kindle and rekindle the divine spark in the Irish spirit. As American’s it is our birthright – as free people, it is our destiny.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

CO Detector Legislation Would Make PA Homes Safer

A column by Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills about 500 people and sends more than 15,000 people to emergency rooms each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the past several years, Pennsylvania has had the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of accidental CO poisoning deaths in the country.

That is why I introduced Senate Bill 920, legislation that would require homeowners, upon the sale of their homes, to demonstrate that the structure is equipped with a CO detector. According to the National Fire Protection Association, over 80 percent of carbon monoxide incidents occur in the home. The minimal cost of these detectors is a small price to pay to save lives and protect families in their homes.

My legislation would apply to homes and multi-family dwellings (such as apartments) that have fossil fuel burning heaters or appliances. It also applies to those with an attached garage. Apartments would be required to install an alarm following the law’s effective date.

You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels, it can kill a person in minutes. CO is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 83 percent of Pennsylvania housing uses some form of fossil fuel-burning heating system, which can generate CO.

If appliances that burn those types of fuels are well maintained and properly ventilated, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.

Since the gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, CO alarms are the only safe way to alert people of its presence before it becomes harmful or fatal. At moderate levels, CO can cause severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea, and fainting. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, many people may not realize that CO poisoning could be the cause.

While I hope my bill will be enacted into law, I urge you not to wait. Protect your family by installing CO detector alarms on each floor of your home, especially on each sleeping floor. Install additional detectors near, but not within five feet of, major fuel burning appliances. Here are a few other steps you can take to prevent CO poisoning:

  • Never idle a car in a garage – even if the outside garage door is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
  • Never use gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.
  • Never use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
  • Never use a charcoal grill indoors, even in a fireplace.
  • Never sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.

I believe that we can save lives and significantly reduce carbon monoxide related poisonings by making sure that more homes in the Commonwealth are equipped with these alarms. Now is the time to act before more Pennsylvanians fall victim to this deadly killer.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

Lehigh Valley, Monroe gain clout under reapportionment

An op-ed column by Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District

Pennsylvania’s Senate and House of Representatives districts are redrawn every 10 years based on U.S. Census data. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires these boundary changes to ensure state residents receive equal representation in state government.

Under the new reapportionment plan, each state Senator will represent approximately 254,000 citizens and each member of the House of Representatives will represent approximately 62,500 citizens.

The state legislative districts are drawn and approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, a bi-partisan, bi-cameral panel and do not need to be approved by the House or the Senate or signed into law by the Governor. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission recently approved the final maps showing the new realignment of Pennsylvania’s state legislative districts.

The Lehigh Valley and Monroe County areas saw significant change with the release of the new districts.

Starting with the Senate, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission was able to address the criticisms of the 2001 district realignments. For one, Monroe County, which was divided among six state Senators – none of whom lived within the county lines – will be represented by a single Senator come 2013. To make this possible, the 45th Senatorial District was moved from Allegheny County to Monroe County. With Monroe County experiencing some of the greatest growth in the state over the past 20 years and Allegheny County seeing its population numbers decrease it was natural to shift a seat from the west to Monroe. The new 45th Senatorial District will include all of Monroe County and will extend into part of Northampton County.

While I regret losing my portion of Monroe County, I truly believe the consolidation under a single senatorial district is not only merited, but long overdue for those residents.

Another adjustment, this time in Northampton County, was shifting Easton back into the 18th Senatorial District where it had been until the 2001 redistricting.

As for the 16th Senatorial District, which I represent, it has been consolidated under the new reapportionment plan and will consist solely of municipalities in Lehigh County. My new district, starting in 2013, will include: the City of Allentown; the townships of Heidleburg, Lower Macungie, Lower Milford, Lowhill, Lynn, North Whitehall, South Whitehall, Upper Macungie, Upper Milford, Upper Saucon, Washington and Weisenberg; and, the boroughs of Alburtis, Coopersburg and Macungie.

I have greatly enjoyed and been privileged to represent parts of Northampton and Monroe County since joining the Senate in 2005. I believe, though, that the changes made in all three counties will benefit the residents of each and meets the goal of combining municipalities that share many common interests.

On the House side of the plan, one of the major changes involves the addition of a new district in the Lehigh Valley, specifically in the city of Allentown.

The 22nd State House District would be moved from Allegheny County to the City of Allentown. Currently, Allentown is split between four House Districts. Under the final approved plan, the city would be represented by just two seats: the 22nd and the 132nd districts.

This move not only reflects the population growth experienced by the city, but will potentially provide Allentown a less fractured voice in Harrisburg. This change will be a true benefit for the city and for the Lehigh Valley region in general.

The final reapportionment plan was approved on December 12, 2011 and filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. A 30-day window in which grievances and challenges are able to be filed with the courts started following this approval. If no challenges are successful, the reapportionment plan will be approved by the courts and finalized.

To view the final maps, visit the Commission’s website: www.redistricting.state.pa.us/.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

State Senator Pat Browne represents the 16th Senatorial District and serves as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Working to improve transparency in government

A Column by State Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District

The state Senate has taken a number of steps over the past few years to make government more open to public scrutiny. I am encouraged by these reforms and am pleased to report that this effort continues during the current legislative session. The Senate recently approved two bills intended to make government operations at the state, county and local levels more transparent.

House Bill 15, which I had a companion bill Senate Bill 105, is also known as the Pennsylvania Web Accountability and Transparency or PennWatch Act and was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett on June 30, 2011 as Act 18 of 2011. It directs the Governor’s Office of Administration to create and maintain a searchable website to expand the public’s access to state spending records.

The database created by this legislation will provide transparency to state spending and is another important and essential move in our on-going efforts to increase accountability in state government.

The “PennWatch” website will provide annual appropriation and expenditure information for all Commonwealth agencies.  The website will also identify vendors, the amount of funds they receive and the state agency initiating the funding action or expenditure.

The legislation also requires:

  • PennWatch to show state revenue received and deposited in the General Fund and Motor License Fund.
  • PennWatch to provide links to each Commonwealth agency’s Internet website where available.
  • PennWatch to provide the total number of individuals employed by each Commonwealth agency on a monthly basis. Requires “PennWatch” show the name, position title and annualized salary of each individual employed by each Commonwealth agency.

The Senate also approved Senate Bill 101, a bill I co-sponsored, which would increase the penalties for intentional violations of the state Sunshine Law. SB 101 was also approved by the House of Representatives on June 28, 2011 and the Senate on June 30, 2011 and was signed into law by the Governor on July 7, 2011 as Act 56 of 2011.

The impetus for this measure came from a Lancaster County grand jury that reviewed wrongdoing arising from months of secret meetings involving the then county commissioners.

Currently, the maximum fine for a violation of the Sunshine Act is only $100. This legislation increases the fine to a maximum of $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,000 for subsequent offenses. In addition, the bill prohibits the use of tax dollars for paying these fines. That means offenders will have to pay the fines out of their own pockets.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

State Must Continue Funding of Early Childhood Education

A Column by State Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District

The financial struggles and challenges facing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the upcoming budget process are well known. Governor Tom Corbett made it abundantly clear in his first budget address that he will not support a budget that increases taxes. He also was clear that each department and agency will have to make do with less as the state works to erase a $4 billion deficit.

This will require examining every area of state funding to determine where cuts are necessary and which programs merit continued funding.

One area that deserves continued funding and is critical to the future growth and prosperity of the Commonwealth is early childhood education. This funding is vital in giving at-risk young people the opportunity to succeed in school and later in life.

As co-chair of the Early Childhood Education Caucus, I applaud Governor Corbett for protecting and preserving state support for these programs in his 2010-2011 budget proposal. He understands that these initiatives are not only essential to the education of these children, but also to our communities and the future fiscal success of our great commonwealth.

There is no denying that investing in early childhood education comes with an initial cost.  However, in the long-run, these programs improve the lives of those who need help the most. They also provide long-term value to taxpayers in the form of more productivity and less dependence on government assistance.

Case studies have shown that children who participate in early education programs were more likely to graduate from high school, lead more productive lives afterward and were less likely to be arrested or reliant on social services. Additionally, at-risk children who participate in the early childhood education programs are significantly less likely to repeat a grade in school, and that alone results in thousands of tax dollars saved each year.

A few weeks ago, America’s Edge – a group dedicated to strengthening businesses, the economy and communities through proven investments in children – disclosed the results of a new study and report that detailed the clear and deep economic connections between early childhood education and business growth and development in Pennsylvania. The report showed that investment in quality early care and education will actually generate $1.06 in sales of local goods and services from Pennsylvania businesses for every $1 invested.

As the state looks to find resources and ways to promote job growth, reduce unemployment rates and remove individuals’ reliance on government, starting kids out on the right foot early in life by providing them with the proper educational tools will go a long way to doing just that.

The state, however, cannot do this alone. It is imperative that families, educators, business leaders, legislators and, of course, the students themselves take an active role in the education process.

Without question, this will be the toughest budget process that the state has faced in a long time. I hope and look for the Governor and my fellow legislators to join me to continue Pennsylvania’s involvement in early childhood education. It is a must for the future of our children, our state and our country.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327

State Must Address Budget Challenges

A Column by State Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District

As we open a new Legislative Session with a new Governor and a new Legislature in Harrisburg, one issue remains at the top of our agenda – crafting a fiscally responsible budget that holds the line on spending and includes no new taxes.

There’s no arguing that times are tough for Pennsylvania workers, for local governments and for those who rely on state programs and services. So, we need to make tough choices.

A recent Quinnipiac University survey found that over 90 percent of those polled said the state budget is a “serious” problem. More than half of those polled want state government to cut services before raising taxes. State government must take that message to heart in the coming months as we work to craft a state budget.

The recent mid-fiscal year budget report indicated that revenues are coming in on target. This is a promising sign after many straight months of deficits. State revenue growth is slowly picking up as far as corporate taxes and sales taxes are concerned. Cost-cutting measures have yielded savings.

But that does not mean our state’s budget challenges are nearing an end. Pennsylvania will lose $2.6 billion in federal stimulus aid and another $750 million in one-time revenue transfers from other special state funds in the upcoming fiscal year.

So, while we are seeing a slight pickup in state revenues, we still have a huge hole to fill. The state must address the increased costs for medical assistance to low-income families and senior citizens, as well as higher costs for public pensions and prison operations.

We have made good strides in reducing some of these burdens, especially in the area of pension reform. Last year, we passed and signed into law a pension bill designed to provide $3 billion in savings to Pennsylvania’s public pensions, while addressing an impending spike in costs for those plans. Through these changes, we can stabilize Pennsylvania’s public pension systems while addressing the projected substantial increases in premium costs and ease the burden that is facing local taxpayers.

Also included in that legislation was language to establish an Independent Fiscal Office. This office will fundamentally reform Pennsylvania’s budgeting process while monitoring spending and increasing accountability in state government. The Independent Fiscal Office is a non-partisan agency with representatives from both the House and Senate and its members will have expertise in financial matters.

As we look to tackle this year’s budget, we must look at every program and department line by line to see where we can reduce costs or increase efficiencies. We must determine which programs or services are achieving their intended goals and which are not. Those programs that are reaching or exceeding their goals need to be continued, while those that are failing to do so need to be eliminated.

How we address those public challenges in the 2011-12 state budget will impact Pennsylvania’s economy for at least a decade. We simply cannot put off the difficult decisions for another day. We must pass a budget on time and work to position Pennsylvania to emerge from this recession as an economic leader.

The state budget is one of our most powerful tools for economic development and economic recovery. While the economy is certainly not out of the woods yet, I am confident that the choices we’ve made and will make, including prudent investments and reducing the cost of running government, will help to move us in the right direction in the years ahead.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327