Senator Baker Urges Passage of Tax Credits for Volunteer Firefighters and EMS Workers

It is indeed a privilege for me to join my colleagues and our friends in the fire and emergency medical services community to report progress on initiatives to secure the future of the indispensable services of our volunteers.

In communities across Pennsylvania, dedicated men and women give countless hours of their time, talent and energy to keep our communities and our neighbors safe. Whenever that call is made, these volunteers respond – more than 2,400 units – often at great risk to their lives, and at all hours of the day and night.

And whether you live in a small borough like Dallas or Honesdale, a township, or a city – those that still relies on volunteer units – the problem is all too familiar. The ranks of our volunteer responders have been diminishing at alarming rates.

A sign outside a fire station in Huntington Mills in Luzerne County proclaims “A few serving many.” We can no longer take them for granted or assume that a volunteer will answer the call at the fire house or be available for the ambulance run.

Encouraging words and congratulatory resolutions are not enough for us to attract and retain our irreplaceable volunteers. We must – we as the legislature – must demonstrate our commitment to volunteer emergency responders through action – through legislative action.

There is no need for further reports or studies. After years of discussion, it is time to vote to support our volunteer emergency responders.

Our fire and EMS community has told us that one of the best incentives that we can offer is tax credits.

Two measures that I have introduced will accomplish that:

SB 1314 establishes a $500 personal tax credit for active fire and EMS volunteers. This will be certified by a point system established by the state fire commissioner and the EMS director, and verified by the Secretary of Revenue. Volunteers may even use their tax credits somewhat like “rollover minutes” – if they can not use them all in first year, they can save them for future years. The legislation phases in this tax credit in $100 increments over a five-year period, at a cost of $8.75 million for year one, to include the credits as well as administrative costs. This would begin in tax year 2009.

SB 1316 establishes a $1000 tax credit for employers who hire active fire and EMS volunteers. This compensates for allowing these individuals to leave the workplace and respond to emergency calls and training. Under the program, employers with unused credits in a given year may carry them over and apply them to succeeding years for up to three years. This would be capped at a total cost of $5 million and it would include taxes under PIT, corporate net income tax, and capital stock and franchise taxes.

The case for maintaining Pennsylvania’s volunteer emergency service organizations can be made in terms of both public safety, and dollars and cents.

If we continue to lose our volunteer fire companies and volunteer firefighters, the added taxpayer cost, as Senator Orie said, exceeds $6 billion annually. But the cost to our families, friends and neighbors can never be measured.

I want to acknowledge the efforts of legislators who for many years have championed the cause of the fire and emergency responder community.

I appreciate the commitment of our leaders – Senators Joe Scarnati and Dominic Pileggi – as well as Senator Mellow and the Democrat Caucus which is represented here today, along with the bi-partisan support from the house to moving legislation and funding the costs of the incentives we need.

By strengthening Pennsylvania’s volunteer fire and emergency medical services system, we ensure its future, our future, and the continued safety of our communities.

In the weeks ahead, the General Assembly will do what volunteers the do every day—answer the call and respond effectively.