In This Update:
Senator Baker Voices Concerns About Governor Wolf’s Bridge Tolling Plan
Governor Wolf’s Administration recently announced a plan to toll nine bridges on interstates across Pennsylvania, including a nine-mile stretch along Interstate 81 in Susquehanna County, and the Nescopeck Creek bridges on Interstate 80 in Luzerne County. We cannot ignore the fact that Pennsylvania already has a gas tax, which is dedicated to supporting our transportation infrastructure. Governor Wolf’s bridge tolling plan gives PennDOT the authority to further tax motorists and appropriate funds without legislative oversight. This is another instance where the Wolf Administration has overlooked crucial community and legislative input. I will be working with others to pass legislation to remedy that defect in state decision-making.
Susquehanna County is already at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving its fair share of maintenance dollars because of a funding formula that shortchanges rural communities. Now Governor Wolf plans to ask residents to sacrifice again, by paying a fee to complete work that has already been underway and programmed.
People use this route to travel to New York for work, shopping, and medical care. The surrounding infrastructure is already insufficient. Even modest increases in automobile and tractor trailer traffic from those looking to avoid the bridge toll will cause further wear and tear on these roads, and add to an already congested intersection, raising further safety concerns.
In addition to commuters, the bridges in Luzerne County handle a great deal of commercial traffic from our industrial parks, which have been booming over the last few years. Tolls could have a lasting negative impact by halting future growth in the region.
At a time when we need to be helping our communities recover from COVID-19, we should be looking for ways to foster greater job growth and development, while spending within our means, as working families are forced to do. If we have learned anything from the last year it should be that a unilateral approach to governing is not in the best interest of our state. We must work together in a bi-partisan manner and listen to our constituents.
The governor needs to hear not only from legislators, but also directly from individuals adversely affected by this plan, as well as local elected officials and community leaders, to make sure their positions are known and their input is included in the discussion. I strongly encourage 20th Senatorial District constituents to join me in sharing their concerns with PennDOT by phone, email, or online.
The complete plan is available at www.penndot.gov. Public comments are being accepted at:
𝐈-𝟖𝟎 𝐍𝐞𝐬𝐜𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐤 𝐁𝐫𝐢𝐝𝐠𝐞𝐬
Lawmakers Authorize Use of PA National Guard to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine
The Senate voted recently to authorize the use of the Pennsylvania National Guard to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. The bill would allow the National Guard to operate under the guidance of the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Human Services to help collect, secure and transport doses of the vaccine.
In addition, National Guard members who have the necessary training would be permitted to administer the vaccine to Pennsylvanians who want to receive it. The proposal could help improve Pennsylvania’s troubled roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state currently ranks 46th in the nation in terms of the percentage of distributed vaccines that have been administered.
Senate Approves Bill to Generate More Private Donations to Support Veterans
Pennsylvanians could donate more money to help veterans under a bill the Senate approved on Wednesday. The legislation would increase the donation amounts to the Veterans’ Trust Fund when Pennsylvanians renew a driver’s license, ID card or vehicle registration.
The bill would increase the donation amount from $3 to $5, or from $6 to $10 when applying for a two-year vehicle registration. All donations support grants to county directors of veterans’ affairs, veterans’ service organizations and other charitable organizations that provide assistance, shelter and living necessities to veterans and their families.
Legislation Would Create Medals of Commendation for Firefighters, Law Enforcement, EMS
The Senate passed legislation this week that would create a new way to honor members of law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS personnel who demonstrate uncommon heroism in the line of duty. The bill would establish special medals of commendation to be awarded to members of these organizations who are injured or killed in the line of duty, or who demonstrate exceptional gallantry, heroism and bravery in the face of life-threatening circumstances.
The color of each medal – the Star of Valor, Heart and Medal of Ultimate Sacrifice – would coordinate with the respective program: blue for law enforcement, red for firefighters, and white for EMS personnel.
Senate Passes Bill to Boost Farmland Preservation
Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation efforts could take a critical step forward under legislation approved by the Senate last Tuesday. The bill would help generate new funding for the program without placing additional burdens on taxpayers.
The legislation dedicates a portion of existing farmland preservation funding to private land trusts – groups that take stewardship over a property with the permission of the landowner. Land trusts would be required to provide matching funds, which would make more resources available to preserve farms.
Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation Claimants Must File by March 12
The Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional $100 in weekly benefits for claimants who earned at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment. Claimants must submit acceptable documentation by March 12 to receive the extra benefits. The additional benefit applies from January 2 through March 13.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants are not eligible for the program. Details on the program, applicable tax years and documentation are available here.
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