News Releases

Lawmakers Unveil Legislation Creating Trust Fund for Youth Impacted by Prison System

HARRISBURG, June 21, 2017 — A bipartisan group of state senators and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel today unveiled legislation to establish a public charitable trust to help children impacted by the prison system and reverse the direction of youth who are on a path leading to incarceration in Pennsylvania.

The legislation, authored by state Sens. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia, Montgomery), Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Richard Alloway (R-Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, York), would create the “First Chance Trust Fund,” which would be used to create scholarships and provide grants to programs that benefit children of incarcerated loved ones and children facing challenges.

The trust fund would be administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and would be funded by private, tax‐deductible donations and a 1 percent surcharge on vendors that have a contract with the Department of Corrections exceeding $5 million. Other Pennsylvania agencies would also have the option to include a similar provision in their contracts. It would not require the use of taxpayer dollars.
 

 

 
The lawmakers, along with Secretary Wetzel, highlighted the importance of this legislation during a news conference today at the state Capitol.

“This legislation will give organizations the ability to provide children who face challenges with more educational opportunities to help them stay in school, give them a sense of stability and belonging, and protect them from going down the wrong path,” said Sen. Hughes, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It’s a wise investment that will help children, families, and the community.”

“I am pleased to join my colleagues in introducing this important initiative aimed at providing our young people most at risk of dropping out of school or ending up incarcerated with scholarships and resources that may otherwise not be available to them in an effort to help ensure that they succeed both in school and later in life,” said Sen. Browne, Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Initially, the trust fund is anticipated to generate $500,000 to $1 million on an annual basis.  The fund would be targeted to regions that have statistically higher high school dropout rates and risks of incarceration.

The fund, which would be the first of its kind in the country, will enable youth who are predisposed to the criminal justice system to access programs they need to complete school and become healthy and productive members of society.

“Children deserve a chance to grow and thrive and dream about what the future holds,” said Costa, the Senate Democratic Leader. “These programs – programs that recognize the potential that lives within each child, each family and each community are evidence of the opportunity we have to make a difference. When we invest in our kids and focus on their future, everyone wins.”

“I am very pleased to join with Governor Wolf, Secretary Wetzel, and fellow legislators to take this major step in providing youth with the tools that they need to succeed,” Sen. Alloway said.  “This trust fund, which is unique in the nation, will provide targeted grants and scholarships at no cost to taxpayers.  This program will be a model for states across the country and I am excited to play a part in assisting our neediest of youth.”

Children continue to enter the justice system at alarming rates. Additionally, there are more than 81,000 Pennsylvania children with a parent in prison, and approximately 65 percent of Pennsylvania state inmates have at least one child, according to the Department of Corrections. 

The absence — which some psychologists have compared to the death of a parent — through the formative years can have deleterious effects on a child. Dealing with the emotional, social and economic consequences of that loss can trigger behavioral problems, lead to trouble in school and the possibility of dropping out and continuing the cycle of crime.

“This legislation will be a game-changer for the many children with parents in Pennsylvania prisons,” said Secretary Wetzel. “We know that not finishing school is very often the first step in the downward spiral that leads to incarceration. We need to ensure that these vulnerable children instead have a ‘first chance’ to get the education, programs and support they need for success.”

Representatives and students from two organizations that work with at-risk children participated in the news conference and highlighted the benefits of investing in programs that are providing children with a “first chance.”

POPS (Pain of the Prison System) the Club, located at Steelton-Highspire High School, offers students who have been impacted by the pain of the prison system — those with incarcerated loved ones and those who have been incarcerated themselves — with community and emotional support, as well as opportunities to publish the writings and artwork they create through the club.

“Any initiative that places an emphasis on our youth is critical to the future success of our world.  Programs such as POPS shed a light on incarceration and the struggles associated with children and families when a loved one goes to prison,” said POPS art teacher Jennifer Morrison. “POPS breaks the stigma and gives children an opportunity to heal, learn and grow from the experience through creative writing and visual arts. By creating ways to fund programs like this we can ensure that students who may face a hardship do not become defined by their circumstances.” 

Amachi Pittsburgh provides children impacted by incarceration and children facing challenges with a different path by establishing the consistent presence of loving, caring mentors. The initiative partners with secular and faith-based organizations working together to provide mentoring to children. 

“Tens of thousands of young people in Pennsylvania will go to bed tonight while one of their parents goes to bed in prison.  And many are worried whether they will also end up behind bars in the future,” said Anna Hollis, executive director of Amachi Pittsburgh. “This groundbreaking legislation provides an innovative vehicle for children impacted by parental incarceration to have a viable first chance at a bright future, and for that, Amachi Pittsburgh commends Secretary Wetzel and our bipartisan state senators for advancing such a monumental effort.”  

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Lawmakers Rally to Denounce ‘Repeal and Replace’ Health Care Plan

HARRISBURG, June 26, 2017 — Lawmakers from the state Senate and House of Representatives, along with Wolf Administration officials and advocates, denounced the latest attempt in Washington to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act during a rally today at the State Capitol.

The lawmakers said the Republican-led efforts in Washington will have an immediate and devastating impact on Pennsylvanians’ health care and will add to an already-gaping budget deficit.

The so-called ‘Better Care Reconciliation Act’ is not better care, unless you’re part of the wealthy elite who will benefit financially from deep cuts to programs, service and critical care,” said Democratic Leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). “This is an attack on the working poor, elderly, children and Pennsylvanians with disabilities and we will not stand for it. We speak out today because we care too deeply.

 

“Removing health care coverage for hard working families, senior citizens and children is sickening. This effort out of Washington to repeal a landmark and historic health care act isn’t just playing politics, it’s risking lives,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The only people who make out in all of this are the wealthiest individuals in the nation. Repealing Obamacare will hurt the Pennsylvania budget but, more importantly, it will jeopardize critical coverage for our most vulnerable citizens.”

“When the Affordable Care Act came out, people could actually get coverage and care. We must not go back to where we were before,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “Health care is a right of every citizen. Ensuring that individuals and families have access to affordable coverage is a reasonable right. This is part of what a just and humane society does.”

“Both plans coming out of Washington will be disastrous for folks who need, want and deserve coverage. The plans dole out tax cuts to the rich on the backs of the poor, the middle class and the elderly,” said state Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. “We must stand up collectively and let Congress know that these health care efforts will be devastating to folks across Pennsylvania.”

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Pennsylvania’s uninsured rate is at its lowest point in history, and uncompensated care costs have dropped dramatically, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

One million Pennsylvanians rely on the Affordable Care Act for health coverage, including 716,000 individuals who have benefitted from the state’s Medicaid expansion and another 400,000 who have health benefits through ACA’s health care marketplace.

Both the Senate and House proposals in Congress phase out Medicaid expansion and inflict deep cuts to Medicaid. The Republican proposals will shift the cost of health care to state governments, make private insurance more expensive for older adults and lower income populations, cuts insurance subsidies for low-income and middle-class Americans in order to provide tax cuts for the rich, and defund Planned Parenthood for a year.

The lawmakers encourage constituents to share their health care story on social media using the hashtag #PASpeaksOut

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Sen. Hughes Unveils Legislation Addressing School Funding Inequities

PHILADELPHIA, June 15, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes, along with state and local advocates, today unveiled legislation that would provide funding to upgrade school facilities and ensure education equity in public schools.

The news conference was held at Cassidy Academics Plus Elementary School in the Overbrook section of the city to highlight state funding inequities in education.

Hughes’ first bill would address infrastructure needs by creating the Schools of the Future Repair, Rebuild and Revitalize Plan. The second measure is aimed at resolving education funding inequities by creating the Academic Success Program. The legislation would drive significant dollars through the Basic Education Funding Formula and provide additional support through the Intensive Academic Investment Block Grant Program. Both plans would be funded through a tax on Marcellus Shale drilling.

Pennsylvania is the only state that does not impose a natural gas extraction tax. The Independent Fiscal Office predicts that a modest 6.5 percent tax on gas extraction would raise $349 million in Fiscal Year 2017-18, $712 million in 2018-19, $755 million in 2019-20, $931 million in 2020-21 and $1.5 billion in 2021-22.

“There is an immediate and critical need to address education inequality in Pennsylvania. It’s not just a Philadelphia issue; it’s a statewide issue. Children are learning in buildings with rodents, contaminated drinking water and outdated textbooks.  Meanwhile, students in other districts can access the latest technologies to bolster their educations. Our children deserve better,” Hughes said. “The legislation addresses the fundamental issues that impact education. It will ensure that all children have equal opportunities to succeed academically.

“The truth is, Marcellus shale drillers are taking our natural resources and profiting from them without contributing back to our state. They are not paying their fair share,” he said. “This is a common-sense approach that will enrich our most precious resource — our children.”

Cassidy fourth-grader Chelsea Mungo recently wrote to Hughes about the need to fund schools, asking “Why does the color of the students’ skin matter how much money we get for our school?” Cassidy students also visited the senator on Tuesday at the Capitol as part of the Young Heroes Outreach Program; in return, the senator visited their school today prior to announcing this legislation.

“I had the hardest conversation with the children at Cassidy this week, who were trying to understand this issue,” said state Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia). “It’s time to stop talking and start investing in the future of this commonwealth. If we’re not preparing the next generation, then we’re not preparing this commonwealth to be competitive.”
Jerry Roseman, acting director of Occupational & Environmental Health & Safety for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the state of a school’s infrastructure has an impact on the students’ academics and achievement.

“There is no way to deliver high quality education in buildings that are crumbling,” he said.

“One of key elements of addressing injustice is adequate and fair funding,” said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, which released a report that provides a state and national analysis of 20 years of maintenance and operations spending and capital construction investments on public school facilities. “Using a tax on natural gas for infrastructure is spot on.”

Pennsylvania NAACP President Joan Duvall-Flynn noted that Pennsylvania cannot thrive following the path of inadequate education for a significant portion of its population.

“The NAACP PA supports the efforts of Senator Vincent Hughes to create a statewide school facilities renovation program, funded by a tax on shale extraction,” she said. “We stand with his efforts for a significant increase in classroom dollars.”

“All Pennsylvania children deserve schools with resources ready to educate them, to keep them healthy, and to help them lead productive lives. Just as schools must have enough teachers, counselors, books, and technology, they must have fresh water, clear air, and safe physical conditions that befit the endless potential of our children,” said Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, attorney from the Public Interest Law Center. “This is not only a moral responsibility, but a legal command enshrined in the Constitution of this commonwealth.”

Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation in terms of supporting public education. Local school districts must find ways to cover the costs that the state does not, said Tomea A. Sippio-Smith, K12 policy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY).

“Long-term increases in student spending have been shown to improve children’s chances of graduating from high school, going to college, earning more money as adults and lifting their families out of poverty,” Sippio-Smith said. “We all benefit when young people finish school prepared for college and careers, ready to compete in the marketplace and strengthen our economy.”

Recent reports from the Education Law Center and POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild) show that education funding is still being distributed to Pennsylvania public schools unfairly with a distinct racial bias.

“How long must we tolerate this injustice?” said Rev. Gregory Holston, POWER executive director. “This racial discrimination — this educational apartheid — has to end, and it has to end now.”

“The Education Law Center fully supports Senator Hughes’ push for equity in our public schools. Our schools are woefully underfunded and our children are underserved,” said Deborah Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center. “ELC stands ready to work with our allies here today to ensure all children in Pennsylvania have access to quality public education.”

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Lawmakers Announce Voting Access Improvement Package 

HARRISBURG, June 13, 2017 — A group of Democratic lawmakers announced a package of bills today aimed at increasing voter participation in Pennsylvania. 

“We are committed to reforming our election process by improving voting access and participation,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “Pennsylvania must join the growing number of states that are increasing options for individuals who want to register and vote.”

 

 

 

Hughes has authored automatic voter registration legislation (Senate Bill 608), which would change the voter registration process in Pennsylvania from an “opt-in” system to an “opt-out” system. 

Sen. Lisa Boscola’s bills would allow for Election Day voter registration (Senate Bill 282) and would allow employees time off to vote on an Election Day (Senate Bill 284).

“We need to make voting more convenient and inclusive. It will strengthen our representative democracy,” said Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh). “These reform measures remove unnecessary roadblocks and make it easier for all Pennsylvanians to vote.”

Sen. Wayne Fontana’s legislation (Senate Bill 440) would allow early voting in Pennsylvania.

“To me, our task is simple. We need to find ways to make voting easier and more accommodating to the modern day, busy lives of our citizens,” said Fontana (D-Allegheny). “Early voting would help people who work several jobs, travel or may face uncertainty about making it to the polls on Election Day. My plan caters to the voters rather than making voters cater to some specific voting date within a 13-hour timeframe.”

At the news conference today, the lawmakers noted that although citizens are becoming more engaged in legislative issues on the state and national level, administrative barriers prevent citizens from participating in the electoral process.  Their bills offer more flexibility and more convenient options to make it easier to register and vote.  

The measures address automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, time off for voting, early voting, notification of voter registration eligibility for younger Pennsylvanians, and absentee ballot voting.

Currently, 38 states have some period of early voting, 31 states have no-excuse absentee voting, 28 states allow young people to pre-register to vote, 23 states mandate that employees must be permitted paid time off to vote on Election Day and 15 states have same-day voter registration.

Over the last five presidential election cycles, states that have implemented all or most of these reforms have had significantly higher voter turnout — 5 percent — than states that have not implemented the reforms, according to data from the United States Elections Project.

Voter Access Legislation Introduced by Lawmakers:

  • Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery): Automatic voter registration (Senate Bill 608)
  • Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton): Same-day voter registration (Senate Bill 282), time off for voting (Senate Bill 284)
  • Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny): Early voting (Senate Bill 440)
  • Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie): Same-day voter registration (House Bill 101)
  • Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery): Voter pre-registration (House Bill 1145)
  • Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny): Same-day voter registration (House Bill 945), early voting (House Bill 946)
  • Edward Gainey (D-Allegheny): Automatic voter registration (House Bill 193)
  • Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill): No excuse absentee voting (House Bill 1138)
  • Robert Matzie (D-Beaver/Allegheny): Vote by mail
  • Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne): Early voting (House Bill 427)
  • Christopher Rabb (D-Philadelphia): Omnibus election reform (House Bill 1465)
  • Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia): No excuse absentee voting and early voting (House Bill 1117)
  • Pam Snyder (D-Washington/Fayette/Snyder): No excuse absentee voting and early voting (House Bill 75)

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Brewster, Hughes React to New State Report on Charter Schools

Harrisburg – May 24, 2017 – State Sens. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) and Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) reacted to today’s release of the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report, which examined the financial impact of charter schools in Pennsylvania.

Brewster and Hughes have been long-time advocates of changing the state’s charter school law.  Both senators have introduced legislation that includes a wide range of charter reforms.

“The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee study gives the General Assembly an excellent analysis of how charter schools operate vis-à-vis local school districts and where improvements can be made,” Brewster said.  “The report includes a long list of recommendations that, if adopted, will aid public schools and provide charters with a reasonable path forward.”

Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that the charter law needs to be examined and reworked with reasonable and responsible changes that improve accountability and better serve students and taxpayers.

“Our charter law needs to be changed significantly with reforms that make sense,” Hughes said.  “Charter schools play a role in our education system and have a place, but they cannot be positioned in such a way that they financially put our traditional public schools in a bind.

“The report from the LBFC reinforces the idea that the current system needs to be reformed.”

Brewster, who is vice chair of the committee, has offered a comprehensive charter reform measure (Senate Bill 670), which would realign and redefine how local school districts, charter schools, students and taxpayers interact.  Hughes’ legislation, Senate Bill 198, would provide local school boards with the tools to better oversee charter schools in their school districts.

The LBFC report included several recommendations, including the following:

  • Allowing fiscal considerations to be considered by school districts, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Charter Appeal Board and the courts for new and expanded public charter applications;
  • Permitting school districts to negotiate charter per pupil payment rates and methods;
  • Eliminating mandates for transportation that are inconsistent with services offered for district-operated schools;
  • Requiring parents who place students in charters to first register with school district and then notify the district of changes in status;
  • Modifying the PDE funding intercept process to allow school districts to verify that it is responsible for payment prior to funding being intercepted by the department;
  • Eliminating public school districts’ responsibility for charter school compliance with compulsory attendance requirements;
  • Requiring greater transparency and fiscal accountability addressing such items as shell ownership, leasing, state payments, and conflict of interest policies; allowing audits of funds transferred to associated entities and for-profits; prohibiting the guaranteeing of loans where there is no direct school involvement; and requiring charter to timely submit financial records for the district to review; and
  • Requiring all “brick and mortar” charter school students from multiple districts to obtain regional charters.

Several of the accountability and transparency provisions noted in the report are already pieces of Brewster’s and Hughes’ bills.

Brewster said there are significant political and financial issues to deal with when the legislature is moving forward with charter reform but he said he thinks common ground can be found and a better charter law produced.

“The law needs to be changed to include financial reforms, accountability measures and alterations to how the charter school appeal board operates,” Brewster said.  “The recommendations made by the LBFC, combined with provisions in my legislation, Senator Hughes’ bill and others would go a long way toward improving how charters interact with local school districts.”

“There are many ideas to incorporate and plenty of work to do to achieve a better charter law,” Hughes said.  “Our local school districts and charter schools both need to be treated fairly.  We can strike that balance.”

Brewster said that he wanted to thank the members of the LBFC and its staff for its excellent work in preparing the report and the recommendations.

Editor’s Note: A copy of the LBFC report is available online: http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/Resources/Documents/Reports/584.pdf   

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Hughes Announces $2.2 Million for Traffic Signal Improvements in Upper Dublin

UPPER DUBLIN, May 12, 2017—Upper Dublin Township has been awarded significant state funding to upgrade traffic signals, according to state Sen. Vincent Hughes.

The $2.2 million in funds will go toward the installation of adaptive traffic signal equipment and software along the West Moreland Road and Easton Road corridors.

“This project will improve both safety and traffic flow along these well-traveled roads in Upper Dublin Township,” said Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “I’m grateful that the state continues to make key investments in transportation infrastructure in our communities.”

The funding was distributed through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s “Green Light-Go” Program. Green Light-Go was established as part of the massive transportation funding plan, Act 89 of 2013.

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As Tax Deadline Looms, Hughes, Torsella Urge Pennsylvanians to Claim Tax Credit

PHILADELPHIA, April 4, 2017 — With the deadline for taxpayers to file their income taxes just two weeks away, state Sen. Vincent Hughes and state Treasurer Joe Torsella today urged Pennsylvanians to claim every cent of cash they may be owed by the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Standing at a tax preparation center in Center City, Hughes and Torsella urged taxpayers to take advantage of this tax benefit, for which more than a million Pennsylvanians qualify.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes discusses the importance of applying for the EITC during an April 4 news conference at a Center City tax preparation site. With him are Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella (left) and Mary Arthur of Campaign for Working Families (right).

“Every year, hundreds of millions of tax benefits through the EITC go unclaimed —money that hardworking folks can use to help themselves and their families. I’m pleased to join Treasurer Torsella to remind Pennsylvanians about this opportunity,” said Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “The tax deadline is almost upon us, so I urge folks to see if they qualify for the EITC when they file their tax returns.”

“All across the Commonwealth, Pennsylvanians get up and work hard every day to make ends meet. Yet year after year, many of our neighbors are leaving a lot of their own cash on the table by not claiming their EITC benefit at tax time,” said Torsella. “I’m glad to join Senator Hughes in encouraging Pennsylvanians to make sure they receive every tax benefit for working families they may qualify for.”

The federal Earned Income Tax Credit is a benefit for working people with low to moderate income, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Individuals must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if they do not owe any tax or are not required to file.

On average, qualifying Pennsylvania taxpayers received a refund of around $2,100 through the EITC.

More than 963,000 Pennsylvanians who qualified for the EITC claimed the benefit in 2015, collecting more than $2 billion in tax credits, according to IRS statistics. However, another 197,000 Pennsylvanians missed out on tax credits, leaving more than $430 million on the table in overpayments to the IRS.

The Philadelphia Department of Revenue launched a campaign called “You Earned It Philly” to inform the public about the EITC.

 

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is a meaningful financial opportunity that tens of thousands of Philadelphians are missing out on,” said city Revenue Commissioner Frank Breslin. “Residents should visit www.YouEarnedItPhilly.com to find a free tax prep location right now so that they can get their refund, which averages $2,500 in Philadelphia.”

PathWays PA and Campaign for Working Families, Inc. have partnered with the Department of Revenue to provide free tax preparation services and highlighted the need to ensure that taxpayers have the information they need to apply for tax credits that they deserve.

“The Earned Income Tax Credit supports our families and our local economy,” said Marianne Bellesorte, vice president of advocacy at PathWays PA. “So far this year, PathWays PA and our partner, Ceiba, have brought nearly $5 million in federal refunds back into the pockets of local families — $1.5 million of that came from the EITC. We’re so proud to work with the You Earned It Campaign to help Philadelphia families keep the money they earned.”

“Our goal at the Campaign for Working Families, Inc. is to inform the public that we are working on their behalf and ensuring every eligible taxpayer has access to free and accurate tax preparation services, where they can be assured that they will receive all eligible credits they are entitled to,” said Mary Arthur, president/CEO of CWF, Inc. “In this effort to maximize their refund we assist them in building on a stable economic foundation that leads to additional resources and asset development.”

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Media Contacts

Lawmakers’ Plan Offers Middle Class Tax Cut, Ensures Wealthiest Pay ‘Fair Share’

HARRISBURG, March 22, 2017 — State Sens. Art Haywood and Vincent Hughes, along with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, today announced a plan to generate additional revenue to address the commonwealth’s deficit by ensuring that the wealthiest Pennsylvanians pay their fair share in taxes, while reducing or leaving untouched the tax burden on 84 percent of all taxpayers.

The “Fair Share Tax” plan would divide the state’s Personal Income Tax into two parts: a tax on wages and interest, which would be reduced from 3.07 percent to 2.8 percent; and a tax on income from wealth, which would increase from 3.07 percent to 6.5 percent.

Income from wealth would include dividends or net income from a business, profession, or farm; capital gains; net income from rents, royalties, patents and copyrights; gambling and lottery winnings and income from estates or trusts.

Under the plan, 58 percent of taxpayers will see their taxes go down and another 26 percent will see no change in their taxes. It is expected to bring in $2 billion in new revenue to balance the commonwealth’s budget.

Hughes and Haywood said they will sponsor the legislation that would implement the Fair Share Tax plan.

 

“Under our state’s current tax structure, the Personal Income Tax is the same, whether you are wealthy, middle class or struggling, which means average Pennsylvanians bear the tax burden. It’s time for those at the top to pay their fair share,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This plan would ensure more fairness in our Personal Income Tax structure, provide a break for many taxpayers and bring in much-needed new revenue to Pennsylvania.”

“Our taxes are rigged against everyday people. Moderate and low income Pennsylvanians pay more of their income in taxes than the high income,” said state Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “The Fair Tax proposal is a solution to having the deck stacked against us.  The Fair Share Tax plan also provides money for schools, state troopers and new jobs in distressed cities and towns.”

Pennsylvania’s Uniformity Clause prohibits graduated tax rates, resulting in a flat-rate income tax. This is inherently regressive because a flat rate means state and local taxes take a higher proportion of income from lower-income families than high-income families. Currently, the 20 percent of taxpayers with the lowest incomes pay 12 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay only 4.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

“We will never have the resources we need to invest in education, infrastructure, human services and the protection of clean air and water if we don’t fix our upside-down tax system so that everyone pays their fair share,” said Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “The legislation being announced today is a huge step in that direction.”

“Too many kids in our cities are all breathing dirty air and too many kids in our rural areas don’t have access to safe drinking water but, year after year, Pennsylvania has slashed the budgets for clean air and water and laid off a whole generation of environmental protectors,” said Josh McNeil, executive director of the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. “If our wealthiest citizens can put us back on track to a healthy environment, every citizen will benefit.”

“Pennsylvania needs to have a budget that is fair and equitable for all of its citizens, especially the most vulnerable among us and those that are struggling,” said Rochelle Jackson, public policy advocate at Just Harvest. “We need a revenue and tax system that does not overburden low and middle income households and requires the wealthy to pay their fair share.”

According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s annual state budget address, Pennsylvania currently faces a $3 billion structural deficit. As budget negotiations continue, the lawmakers said this new revenue would provide a stable source of funding without burdening average Pennsylvania families.

Editor’s Note: A copy of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s report is available online: https://pennbpc.org/fair-share-tax-support-public-investment-pennsylvania

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Media Contacts
Elizabeth Rementer (Sen. Hughes): 717-787-5166, erementer@pasenate.com
Michelle Welk (Sen. Haywood): 215-242-8171, mwelk@pasenate.com
John Neurohr (PA Budget and Policy Center): 724-903-0077, neurohr@pennbpc.org

Hughes: ‘Turn Anger into Action’ at Upcoming Community Forum

 
PHILADELPHIA, February 22, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes invites the public to participate in an upcoming community forum that will focus on public engagement on legislative issues in Harrisburg and Washington, DC.

The community forum will take place on Wednesday, March 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Science Center Theater at Montgomery County Community College, located at 340 Dekalb Pike in Blue Bell.

“People are engaged in democracy and want to take the next step and get more involved. It’s important for folks to know that their voice can and should be heard, and this forum is an opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns, and meet individuals and groups who are actively involved in the community,” said Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “Let’s turn our interest into engagement, our passion into policy, and our anger into action by coming together to for a lively discussion on the matters that affect all of us.”

For more information or to register for the event, contact Omar Sabir in Hughes’ office at 215-879-7777 or osabir@pasenate.com. More information is also available at senatorhughes.com, on Twitter @SenatorHughes and @SenHughesOffice and on the senator’s Facebook page.

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Lawmakers Announce $357,000 for Philadelphia School District from Rideshare Revenues

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) highlights the benefits of a new law regulating ridesharing companies during a Feb. 16 news conference at Philadelphia School District headquarters. Revenues collected from the ridesharing companies will benefit Philadelphia public school students. With him are (left to right) State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), state Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite.

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 16, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes today joined fellow lawmakers and officials from the School District of Philadelphia to announce that the school district has received its first installment of state funding — more than $357,000 — as a result of a new state law regulating rideshare companies in the City of Philadelphia and across the commonwealth.

“Today’s announcement is a result of a comprehensive effort to regulate rideshare companies statewide and ensure that they pay their fair share for conducting business in a major city,” said Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “In just a short time, revenue has been generated that will directly benefit our schools. This funding is expected to continue to grow as rideshare companies become a more popular transportation choice for consumers, and that’s good news for our school children.”

Two measures were enacted last year to secure this new source of funding for the school district.

Act 164 of 2016, which was signed into law last November, extends the regulation of Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to include the City of Philadelphia. Under the law, the ridesharing companies are required to pay 1.4 percent of their gross receipts of all fares charged to customers for prearranged rides originating in the city. The revenue collected would be distributed 66.67 percent to the Philadelphia School District and 33.33 percent to the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Additional revenues were collected with the passage of Act 85 of 2016, in which the state temporarily authorized the legal operation of rideshare companies in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention, collecting 1 percent of gross receipts.

The $357,593.31 represents the revenues collected during the temporary authorization, but it is estimated that the School District of Philadelphia will receive $2 million in revenues from the assessment this year.

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Hughes: Governor’s Budget Plan Invests in Jobs, Working Families

HARRISBURG, February 7, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) who serves as Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 budget invests in jobs and working families and is a good fiscal blueprint to begin budget deliberations.

The $32.3 billion budget plan eliminates a $3 billion deficit while making $2 billion in budget cuts and a 1.8 percent increase in spending, all without a broad-based tax increase.

“The governor is in a difficult position of dealing a massive $3 billion deficit. His budget plan takes positive, creative steps in balancing the budget. He made tough choices, and we’ll have to continue to make tough choices, but today’s address represents a good start,” said Hughes “We must be responsible about addressing the deficit while investing in critical areas like job creation, education, and social services.

Republicans have had control of the legislature for years and have never taken such an approach to balancing the budget, instead relying on slash-and-burn policies that decimated education spending and social safety net programs, he said.

Hughes highlighted key investments in job creation and retention programs in the budget proposal, including a minimum wage increase.

“The governor’s plan places an important emphasis on the crucial issue of job creation and retention for working-class families, which must be a priority in Pennsylvania,” Hughes said. “Raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour will not only lift up low-wage workers and their families but also boost state revenues. The budget also includes investments in job training and apprenticeship grants, economic development grants, and an initiative to invest in the manufacturing industries — all of which will help our economy and our workforce.

“For too long, some corporations, especially the shale drilling companies, have not paid their fair share, so we need to take steps to make sure they are investing more and we must provide the means to help lift up working families and rebuild communities,” Hughes said. “I look forward to a robust discussion on the governor’s jobs initiatives in the budget so we can level the playing field for working families.”

 

The budget plan also calls for an additional $100 million in basic education, $75 million for high-quality early education and $25 million for special education.

“I support the governor’s continuing commitment to education. We must make investments in education, starting with preschool, to ensure that our children have all the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond,” Hughes said.

“We are faced with the challenging and complex task of ensuring that the state budget is balanced, while maintaining crucial programs and services, and today’s budget address is just the first step toward achieving those goals,” Hughes said. “My colleagues and I on the Senate Appropriations Committee will thoroughly examine all aspects of the governor’s budget plan during budget hearings in the coming weeks.”

Senate budget hearings begin Feb. 21.

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Senate Democrats Call for Special Session on Property Tax Relief or Elimination

 

Harrisburg – February 1, 2017 – State Senate Democrats said that Gov. Tom Wolf should call a special session of the General Assembly to ensure that legislation that results in significant property tax relief or total elimination is passed and signed into law this session.

At a news conference today at the state Capitol, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said taxpayers of Pennsylvania have waited too long for relief from escalating tax bills.

“We believe there should be a full, complete and transparent discussion of any and all tax relief or elimination proposals,” Costa said.  “A special session provides the kind of platform that is needed for citizens and lawmakers to understand specifics about each proposal.”

Leading the call for the special session, state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) said, “Relief from property tax needs to be addressed without delay.”

In the letter to the governor, the Democrats stated, “Our taxpayers have waited far too long for action on this important issue.  They want lawmakers to set aside partisan agendas and enact a significant property tax reform or elimination measure–NOW.”

Working families are struggling to pay mortgages and save for college for their children while seniors have to scrape resources together to make ends meet; property taxes add to their burden, the letter said.

Boscola, who has been a long-time advocate of property tax elimination and relief, said that “my goal is to pass legislation that will eliminate the property tax and replace it with a better system to fund public education. Our homeowners deserve it and our children need it.”

Another strong proponent of calling the special session is Senate Democratic Whip Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware).

“Addressing property tax relief or elimination needs to be a top priority, but is critical that we look at all the plans closely and find common ground,” Williams said.  “A special session will force the General Assembly to focus on the issue, act assertively and come forward with a proposal that is balanced and equitable.

“Our property taxpayers have waited long enough.”

Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) endorsed the call for a special session.

“The issue of property taxes has been a top priority for Pennsylvanians, many of whom have seen significant tax increases over the past few years,” Hughes said.  “This special session would serve as an opportunity to thoroughly examine how we can provide the sustainable property tax relief that Pennsylvanians want and deserve while ensuring that our school districts are still properly funded.”

Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) said that a special session will allow lawmakers to fashion a plan that strikes a balance between property tax relief and reliable state support for public education.

“For many Pennsylvanians – particularly our seniors and lower income property owners – there is a very real school property tax crisis. I remain committed to a responsible solution that can significantly reduce and, if possible, eliminate the property tax burden on these lower income property owners,” Blake said. “I believe strongly that a special session on property tax reform can finally allow the legislature to strike the appropriate balance between property tax relief and the assurance of sufficient, predictable and reliable state financial support for public education.”

Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said he hoped a special session will spur lawmakers to act.

“For too long our taxpayers have watched while the General Assembly has tried to deal with reducing property taxes,” Brewster said. “There are many plans now being drafted or considered and lawmakers need to come together on a plan that provided real relief or elimination.  Taxpayers have waited too long.

“A special session is an excellent forum for all plans to be discussed, including the plan to totally eliminate property taxes.”

Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) said that there are several approaches to address tax reform, but lawmakers need to be thoughtful about how tax elimination impacts schools.

“If we’re going to get serious about providing property tax relief or elimination, we must do it thoughtfully. We certainly can’t hastily approve an elimination plan at the expense of our public schools,” Street said. “There are several approaches to addressing property taxes, so a special session would provide us with a clearer path toward true relief.”

Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), who has long been an advocate of property tax elimination, said school property tax is a complicated issue.

“One large source of revenue for school funding must be replaced with multiple other sources, and we must do this fairly and uniformly,” Schwank said.  “Let’s use this special session to strike a balance between relieving the heavy burden property owners face, while also providing our schools with a reliable source of investment.”

Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) said that property tax reform is a complex issue, but one that must be addressed.

“Property taxes remain an important issue to address. I still maintain that the appropriate solution will prove complex. We must dedicate time and effort to ensure the solution is successful,” Haywood said.

“The property tax is no longer sustainable as the sole source of funding for public education. It is high time for us to come together in the spirit of bipartisanship to develop and enact new and lasting solutions to the ongoing burden of rising property taxes on Pennsylvania homeowners,” Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee said. “This is a process that must involve both school districts and direct input from taxpayers and homeowners.”

The governor is empowered to call a special session of the General Assembly under the provisions of Article II, Section 4 and Article IV, Section 12 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

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Senator Vincent Hughes Calls for Immediate Negotiations on Statewide Paid Sick Leave

Harrisburg – January 27, 2017 – Senator Vincent Hughes issued the following statement calling for immediate negotiations to create a statewide paid sick leave policy for employers:

“Earlier this week, the Republican majority on the Pennsylvania Senate’s Local Government Committee voted down my amendment to create a statewide sick leave policy which would have allowed workers to earn time off for medical reasons. I offered my amendment to a bill that will preempt paid sick leave policies that are already in place, including taking away benefits from over 200,000 workers in Philadelphia.

“Proponents of the preemption bill claimed at the hearing that employers need a unified policy. Therefore, I am calling for immediate negotiations for a statewide sick leave policy that will work for both employees and employers. Lawmakers, members of the business community, advocates, and labor must come together to address this issue.

“We know that the folks who are most directly impacted are workers at the bottom of the economic ladder. They deserve to have the opportunity to earn sick days, so that they can protect their health and productivity. It is time for all of the players to come together and work to make this a reality.”   

State Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District and is the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Download Letter Sent to Leaders and Gov. Wolf →

Senator Vincent Hughes Announces $125,000 in State Grants to Address Lead Crisis in Philadelphia

Philadelphia – December 22, 2016 – Senators Vincent Hughes today announced two grants totaling $125,000 to combat lead poising in Philadelphia. The grants come from state funded programs earmarked for job training and community revitalization.

Senator Hughes also announced that he would reintroduce legislation to create over $250 million in dedicated funding for lead remediation across Pennsylvania.

“We know that lead poisoning is a serious problem in both Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania,” said Senator Hughes. “Today’s grant announcement is just the start of the important work at the city, state, and federal level that must be done to address this issue. I want to especially thank Governor Tom Wolf for his support to help make these grants a reality.”

A total of $35,000 will be awarded to the Overbrook Environmental Education Center for a training program that teaches lead safety measures necessary to protect inhabitants during renovations, repairs, and painting projects in pre-1978 housing and pre-1978 child occupied facilities such as daycare centers where lead based paint will be disturbed by their work. The remainder of the funding will be awarded to the City of Philadelphia’s Lead and Healthy Homes Program, which conducts lead remediation for contaminated properties.

 

“For inner city children to be prepared to run the race in life they must start out on equal footing,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones, who participated in the press conference. “Overcoming lead paint poisoning starts our kids off in the race with combat boots.”

The grants, which are supported by Governor Tom Wolf, comes primarily from the Department of Economic and Community Development. It is part of a multifaceted approach by elected officials at the local, state, and federal level to address widespread exposure to lead in Philadelphia.

“In light of the long-term decrease in federal funding for lead remediation, I commend my colleagues for identify funding and introducing legislation to tackle such an important issue,” said State Representative-Elect Morgan Cephas. “Widespread exposure to lead has had a devastating effect on so many of our families and an overall long-term negative impact on our communities.”

State Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes both Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Senator Vincent Hughes & Senator Christine Tartaglione Call for Pennsylvania Senate to Reconvene to Extend Funding for Labor & Industry Service Call Centers

Harrisburg – November 18th, 2016 – Senators Vincent Hughes and Christine Tartaglione issued the following statements on the failure of the Pennsylvania Senate to extend funding for Labor & Industry service call centers:

Senator Hughes: “I am outraged by the failure of the Pennsylvania Senate Republican leadership to hold a vote to extend funding for unemployment compensation service call centers. Because of this inaction, nearly 600 working people will lose their jobs just one week before Christmas. It also means that thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians will experience longer wait times when seeking assistance while applying for benefits.

“We must be clear that was a choice made by Senate Republicans for political reasons. They control the Senate calendar and Governor Wolf and Senate Democrats made it clear throughout the fall session that this bill was a priority.  The bill should have been voted on October 26 but it was delayed when the Republican pension plan fell apart.  Then, on our final session day Wednesday, the bill was marked for a vote but was pulled again after their plan to further limit a women’s right to make her own health decisions failed.  Because they twice didn’t get what they wanted, Senator Scott Wagner decided to play Scrooge to 600 workers who will lose their jobs just one week before Christmas. 

“The inconsistency in public statements by Senate Republicans is clear proof that this failure to act is pure politics. First, the Senate Republicans tried to blame Governor Wolf even though they control what bills we consider in the Senate. Then, Senator Wagner openly admits that he wanted to cut funding to these call centers and see them shut down. They can’t have it both ways.

“Republicans also cannot simultaneously claim to be the champions of the working class and force the closure of facilities that help people who are unemployed. I call on the Senate Republicans to immediately reconvene the Senate to pass an extension of funding to unemployment compensation service calls centers.”       

State Senator Christine Tartaglione, Democratic Chairwoman of Senate Labor & Industry Committee, offered the following statement:

“I join my colleague in calling for Senate Republicans to move on this important issue. I have been calling for the funding to be restored to these calls centers as one of my top priorities for the entire legislative session and offered my own bill, Senate Bill 1335 that would have reauthorized this funding for an additional four years. It is important to realize that this money is available, it simply needs to authorized. There is no reason that the Senate should not have acted to prevent these layoffs. Now, nearly 600 workers will lose their jobs and thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians will see diminished services.”

State Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District and is the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Christine Tartaglione represents the 2nd Senatorial District and is the Democratic Chair of the Senate Labor & Industry Committee.

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Senate Democrats Announce Leadership Team

Harrisburg – November 16, 2016 – Senate Democrats today elected leaders for the 2017-18 legislative session. State Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) was re-elected Democratic Floor Leader.

“It is an honor and a privilege to once again be chosen to serve the caucus as Leader,” Costa said. “We face many challenges moving into the new session but our members are focused and determined to address key issues and provide for the needs of all Pennsylvanians.”

Costa was elected to the Senate in 1996 and was elected into leadership in 2006, serving first as Caucus Chairman and later Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Costa will be joined in leadership for the 2017-18 legislative session by:

  • Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Phila./Montgomery), Democratic Whip. Williams has served in the state legislature since 1988 and was elected to the Senate in 1998. He has served as Democratic Whip since 2011.
  • Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery), Democratic Appropriations chair. Senator Hughes was elected to the Senate in 1994 and served the caucus previously as Caucus Chairman. This will be Hughes’ fourth term as Democratic Appropriations chair.
  • Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Caucus Chairman. Fontana was elected to the Senate in 2005 and was appointed to the leadership team in 2011 as Caucus Administrator where he served for four years.
  • Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), Caucus Secretary. Sen. Farnese has represented the First Senatorial District since 2009 and has served on the Democratic leadership team as Caucus Secretary since 2014.
  • Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), Policy Committee Chair. Boscola has served in the legislature for more than 20 years and was chosen to serve in 2010 as Caucus Administrator and elected in 2011 as Policy Committee chair.

The leadership positions are effective Dec. 1.

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Senator Vincent J. Hughes Calls for Pennsylvania Senate to Begin Proceeding to Remove West York Mayor

Harrisburg, October 7th, 2016 – Today, State Senator Vincent J. Hughes sent a letter to Senator Joe Scarnati, President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate, calling for him to appoint a special committee to investigate the potential removal of Charles Wasko, Mayor of West York Borough, pursuant to Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Mr. Wasko has received international attention for repeatedly posting threatening, racist, misogynistic, and religiously offensive images on social media. Some of the posts even appear to threaten the life of the President of the United States and denigrate the First Family.

“This is simply unacceptable,” said Senator Hughes. “Federal law makes it a crime to threaten the life of the President of the United States. I do not take the removal of an elected official lightly, but clearly Mr. Wasko is unfit to hold office and this very serious step must be taken.”

Mr. Wasko has repeatedly posted content that compares African-Americans to orangutans and gorillas. He has also posted photos that attack Muslim-Americans and even suggested that President Barack Obama should be lynched. Numerous organizations have called for him to resign, including the West York Borough Council and Pennsylvania NAACP.

“We know from Mr. Wasko’s social media posts that he holds contemptable attitudes towards many of his own constituents,” said Senator Hughes. “His removal is something that ought to be supported by all good thinking people in West York and across Pennsylvania.”

Article VI, section 7 of the Pennsylvania constitution provides a vehicle for the Pennsylvania Senate to remove Mr. Wasko from office. That action would require a full investigation and an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Pennsylvania Senate.

“I do not believe that Mr. Wasko can perform his duties as mayor,” said Senator Hughes. “His behavior is unacceptable, especially since public officials must be held to a higher standard. It’s time for the Pennsylvania Senate to take action and consider taking the step of removing him from office.”

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Costa, Hughes Support Budget Becoming Law; New Funds for Education, Opioid Treatment

Harrisburg, July 10, 2016 – Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) released the following comments in support of Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement that he was allowing the state budget bill (Senate Bill 1073) to become law without his signature.

The governor said that he will continue working on a bipartisan revenue package to fund the $31.53 billion state spending plan for Fiscal 2016-17. The spending measure that cleared the Senate with a bipartisan 47 to 3 vote includes $200 million in new dollars for basic education, $20 million more for special education and additional fund for early childhood education.

Sen. Jay Costa:

“In letting the budget become law and keeping the dollars flowing for key programs, the governor is appropriately moving the state forward. The state spending plan is solid budget that includes new funds for basic education, special education, early childhood education and dollars for opioid treatment. Work must continue on a bipartisan basis to find the resources and revenues that are needed to fund these key initiatives.”

Sen. Vincent J. Hughes:

“The state budget was developed in a bipartisan way and it passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support. While we all have differing priorities, I am pleased that the measure will go into effect so important social service programs and funding initiatives are not interrupted. Revenues are tight and choices hard, but we must continue working in a bipartisan way to find sustainable revenues and balance the state spending plan.”

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Senator Hughes Statement on Passage of State Budget

Harrisburg, June 29th, 2016 – State Senator Vincent Hughes today voted with the majority of the Pennsylvania Senate to pass a $31.53 billion General Fund budget. The bill offers an on-time budget that contains a modest increase funding for public education and makes other investments. The bill, which passed the Senate 47 to 3, will now be sent back to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for concurrence.

 
“This budget represents a bipartisan compromise that delivers an increase in funding for education in a very difficult fiscal and political climate,” said Senator Hughes. “There were many people who wanted to do nothing for our public schools. That is why I have joined with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make this on-time budget a reality.”

The $31.53 billion budget contains a $250 million increase in funding for education. This includes $200 million for basic education, $30 million for Pre-K and Head Start, and $20 million increase for special education. This represents the beginning of restoring more than $1 billion cut from public education under the previous administration.

 
“This budget also increases funding for higher education, while others sought a spending agreement that contained no increase,” said Senator Hughes. “I have been steadfast since the beginning of this process that I would only support a budget that contained increased funding for education. There is still a significant amount of work to be done, but this budget represents a step forward.”

The budget passed by the Senate also includes new investments in social programs and human services. It contains $15 million to combat opiod abuse, $1.4 million for Zika Virus prevention, $506,000 increase for services for victims of domestic violence, and a $289,000 increase for rape crises centers. There is also a significant increase of $630,000 for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

“The spending plan passed by the Senate makes modest and sensible increases,” said Senator Hughes. “This stands in contrast to others who sought a more austere state budget.”

The budget agreement passed the Pennsylvania Senate one day before the deadline of June 30th, which is the end of the fiscal year. This is a major improvement over the previous year, which saw the longest budget standoff in the history of Pennsylvania. The on-time budget means that school districts, social service agencies, and non-profit organizations will be able to provide vital services without any disruption.

Senate Democrats Call for More Funding for Human Relations Commission

June 22, 2016 − State Senate Democratic Whip Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) today said that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) has been devastated by recurring state budget cuts and that the state spending plan now under consideration needs to address agency funding shortfalls.

“The PHRC has an incredibly important job to do and it cannot function properly if its funding is slashed year in and year out,” Williams said today.

Williams was joined at a news conference at the Capitol by his Democratic colleague from Philadelphia Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), Senate Democratic leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) other Democratic senators and advocates.

 

“The agency’s ability to ensure that civil rights protections are upheld has been compromised by chronic underfunding,” Tartaglione said. “We are here to request that additional funds be included in the appropriation for the commission so it has the resources to do its important work.”

The state appropriation for the PHRC has fallen from $10.6 million in 2008 to $8.7 million last year. The total agency budget was reduced from $14.1 million to $10 million over the same time span.

“Incredibly, at a time when we should be doing more to protect civil rights, the agency dedicated to this purpose has had to dramatically cut staff and is under pressure to close cases without proper investigation,” Williams said.

The lawmakers are seeking an additional $2 million in state funding in this budget to bolster operations at the PHRC.

“I am pleased that my Senate Democratic colleagues and those representatives that have been touched by the work of the PHRC have come out today to support the call for more funding,” Williams said. “It is important that those of us who are committed to preserving this agency as a protector of civil rights stay united and put pressure on budget negotiators.”

Williams said that staffing at the commission is at a crisis point. According to the senator, the historical complement of investigators and professional staff has been just under 200 employees. Today, there are only 76 investigators and professionals to handle the agency’s responsibilities.

“Values like equality, service, integrity, excellence and teamwork were once associated with the commission and its operations,” Williams said. “The PHRC was once recognized as a preeminent protector of civil rights.

 

“We can get the agency back to that position of being a nationally-recognized leader, but it has to be funded properly.”

The call for more funding and for making systemic repairs at the commission follows media reports about upheaval at the agency over the last several years. Allegations of long-time staff being forced out, hostile working conditions and discriminatory hiring practices have been cited in news reports.

The operations of the commission were recently examined at a Senate State Government Committee hearing requested by Williams earlier this month.

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