This past week, I hosted my final town hall meeting of 2017. My goal has always been to provide you with as many opportunities as possible to share your thoughts and opinions, and I am extremely grateful for all those who have taken the time to attend, ask questions, and share perspectives on the many issues confronting Lancaster County and our Commonwealth.
Since assuming office as your state Senator in 2015, I have hosted 29 outreach events to gather feedback from local residents, including 15 traditional in-person town hall meetings, five coffee and conversation events, and nine telephone town halls. Several issues and concerns have been consistently shared with me by many community residents during these events over the past three years, and I am continuing to work to address these issues in the General Assembly.
No issue generates more interest than school property tax reform. Many of those who have attended my town hall events have expressed deep frustration about the General Assembly’s inability to pass meaningful property tax relief. However, significant concerns have also been raised by some constituents about the impact of an increased or an expanded sales tax, which is one of the ways that many property tax elimination plans replace property tax revenue.
Lancaster County voters recently supported a successful statewide ballot referendum – which garnered over 61 percent of the vote across the county – that could allow property taxes to be eliminated by local governing bodies. The new Constitutional amendment now gives the General Assembly additional tools to focus property tax relief on homesteads and farmsteads.
I believe that approval of this ballot question demonstrates broad support for historic reform. Voters have expressed their will at the ballot box, and it is now time for the General Assembly to act on this groundswell of support for the permanent elimination of the property tax.
Although the property tax has been the biggest concern expressed by local residents, it is not the only issue that has been brought to my attention by community residents. The General Assembly’s inability to pass a balanced budget by the June 30 deadline in two of the past three years has created even more interest in the issues of taxes, spending, and the budget process. I share the concerns that many of you have expressed about new borrowing, out-of-control spending and massive broad-based tax increases.
This feedback is one of the reasons why I introduced legislation to reform our budget process. It was also why I sponsored a bill that was signed into law to create an independent Office of Inspector General in statute. You have expressed to me that we ought to do all that we can to identify and eradicate waste, fraud and abuse in state government. I couldn’t agree more.
Town hall participants have been strongly opposed to continued efforts to balance our state budget through the expansion of gambling. Unfortunately, Governor Wolf recently signed a new law authorizing up to 10 mini-casinos to be operated by the existing casinos. The proposal also legalized internet gambling run by casinos, video gaming terminals at truck stops, bets on daily fantasy sports games and airport tablet gambling.
I am deeply disturbed and troubled by the new law. It saddens me to think that the face and culture of our home and our way of life could be forever changed for the worse by a vice that provides no social or economic value. Community residents have told me that this approach is not the way to promote healthy families, strong communities, a vibrant economy or high performing schools, and I share that point of view.
Fortunately, the law included a provision that allows municipalities that do not want a Category 4 “mini-casino” within their borders to pass a resolution prohibiting the location of one of these facilities by December 31, 2017. I am working to assist municipalities throughout the region that are interested in passing an ordinance that will preserve the character and values of our local communities.
Finally, I continue to hear directly from the residents of northern Lancaster County about the devastating consequences of the opioid crisis on our families and communities. The stories are heartbreaking, and it is clear that we need to take stronger steps to prevent more lives from being lost to this terrible epidemic. Local residents expect the General Assembly to do more to enhance education and treatment options. Support for additional tools, such as involuntary treatment commitment for those struggling with addiction, continues to rise.
All of these concerns deserve to be addressed by the General Assembly, and I won’t stop fighting until we confront all of these problems. I want to sincerely thank all the citizens who have attended and shared their views at my outreach events, as well the individuals and groups that have contacted me by phone, letter, email and social media. I am grateful for the interaction and feedback I receive from all of the people I represent.
It is truly a privilege to represent you in the Pennsylvania Senate.