In This Update:
Governor’s Budget Proposal Features Spending and Tax Increases
Earlier this week, Governor Wolf unveiled his proposed $40.2 billion General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022. The governor’s plan includes a $3.1 billion (8.2 percent) increase in state spending from the current fiscal year. The governor’s desire to achieve education funding increases by raising the state’s personal income tax for most Pennsylvanian’s from 3.07% to 4.49% is concerning, as this would be the largest jump in the last 30 years. While the governor is calling for a major spending increase in several budgetary line items, he is planning to eliminate $5 million in state funding for broadband expansion, as well as millions of dollars for agricultural programs and health care services.
Every year, as we commence the process of formulating a state budget plan, we must come together to strike a balance between respecting taxpayers and funding important programs that residents across our Commonwealth depend upon. To many taxpayers, this looks like the wrong budget at the wrong moment. This budget should begin with a plan for plugging the shortfalls in our health care system and correcting the major errors in the state’s pandemic response. Unfortunately, Governor Wolf has chosen to reach for the same big government remedies that continue to fail us in this time of extraordinary challenge.
It is hard to see how higher taxes and increased spending can be justified, when over the last year state government has demonstrated that it is not being particularly well-run. Nearly everywhere we look, state oversight and protective services have been found to be lacking. Mandates have taken the place of common sense precautions. The problems in state veterans’ homes, long-term care facilities, correctional institutions, and other places cannot be blamed on the federal government. Serious questions about direction and accountability in state government must be addressed before any thought is given to increasing taxes.
Every day we read about workers who cannot, even at this late date, get results from the unemployment compensation system. The same is true for essential workers trying to get sufficient protective equipment or vaccinations. Workers continue to lose jobs as more businesses are forced to close, not just because of pandemic restrictions, but because of changes in consumer spending forced on families by economic difficulties and fear of exposure to COVID-19. Every governor at some point says we have to do much better at workforce development, and attempts improvements, but still the system is wanting. Again, more money is not a magical fix, especially in the context of the pandemic and the potential for crippling economic contributors to pay for readjustments.
There is nothing novel about a governor calling for more education money. Pumping more money into the existing structure may satisfy political arithmetic, but it is not going to solve structural problems. Deficiencies in broadband access are proving to be a major stumbling block to education equality and improvement, a consideration outside whatever funding formula someone prefers.
We cannot ignore that this past year has been tremendously challenging for so many families in our region, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial hardships that it has caused. It is imperative that we listen to constituents to gather their thoughts and perspective, before asking for more of their hard-earned tax dollars.
Secretary of State Resigns After Critical Error on Constitutional Amendment
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced this week that she would resign following news that she neglected to advertise a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would have allowed victims of child sex abuse to file civil lawsuits against their attackers, even if the statute of limitations had expired. I have called for a full investigation into Governor Wolf and his administration’s failure to fulfill their legal responsibility to ensure that a constitutional amendment for statute of limitations reform for child sexual abuse could be presented to voters this May.
For the last several years, we have been working on this bi-partisan constitutional amendment to give brave survivors a voice. What has taken place is a further tragedy and indignity inflicted on victims of abuse who have already suffered for too long without access to justice or closure. This is heartbreaking from a human standpoint, when so much advocacy and effort is instantly erased.
To attempt to call this a mistake is to mischaracterize the gravity of the offense. Few Pennsylvanians are going to settle for any claim of isolated incompetence either. This warrants investigation by law enforcement and scrutiny through legislative hearings. There are many of us who want to know how and when this was uncovered, in addition to why it happened.
Meanwhile, we have to work with victims, victim advocates, and legislative proponents, especially Representatives Mark Rozzi and Jim Gregory, to determine how to proceed to reach a reasonable and defensible remedy as quickly as possible.
Resources Available to Answer Unemployment Claimants’ Year-End Tax Questions
Unemployment claimants who have year-end tax questions can find answers through a new Frequently Asked Questions page developed by Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity’s office. The page includes information on what claimants should do if they have not received their 1099G, how to dispute the amount reported on a 1099G form, and what Pennsylvanians should do if they receive a 1099G because they were a victim of fraud or identity theft, among other topics.
Information is also available on how state residents can report identity theft and fraud related to unemployment benefits, as well as how Treasury can provide evidence that fraud has taken place so victims of these crimes can resolve the issue. The Department of Labor and Industry also has its own FAQ page that covers questions about how to obtain forms, report fraudulent activity and more.
New Fraud Attempts Target Social Media Users
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is urging social media users to be on the lookout for fraud attempts involving fake Facebook pages and profiles. By creating fake pages and social media profiles posing as department employees, criminals can attempt to obtain the personal information of Pennsylvanians.
A few helpful reminders:
If you have a question pertaining to unemployment benefits, the contact information for the Department of Labor and Industry is:
2021 Trout Stocking Schedule Available Now
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission recently announced its 2021 trout stocking schedule for all Pennsylvania waterways. This year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plans to stock approximately 3.2 million trout in 701 streams and 128 lakes open to public angling.
Trout season will officially open on April 3, following a single statewide Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day on March 27.
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