The beginning of a new year offers a golden opportunity to look back at accomplishments and disappointments, while at the same time charting a new course for a brighter year ahead.
For many local families – and for me personally – the biggest disappointment was the failure of lawmakers to reach a consensus on legislation that would have prevented the premature retirement and the loss of jobs at Three Mile Island.
Lawmakers cannot run from complicated or contentious issues. We must be willing to make difficult choices in order to protect our Commonwealth now and in the future. Decisions regarding the energy industry and protecting our environment are no exception.
Although any future action will come too late to save Three Mile Island, I remain committed to supporting the nuclear industry and safeguarding Pennsylvania’s diverse energy portfolio to provide a resilient and reliable electricity grid.
Pennsylvania has made some headway in reducing its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. However, the premature retirement of our nuclear power plants will result in significant back-sliding on greenhouse gas reductions. Closures more than negate the emissions benefits of switching from coal to natural gas, thereby erasing any reduction in emissions resulting from state investments in wind and solar.
Nuclear power must play a prominent role in our future, if we are truly interested in free market solutions to climate change.
While our failure to address this challenge was a bitter disappointment, the General Assembly took positive steps on a number of other important fronts in 2019, including health care, education, and the economy – all issues that directly contribute to economic opportunity and the quality of life in our communities.
The Senate passed a bill I authored to improve the state’s teacher evaluation system to ensure the best and brightest educators remain in the classroom.
These reforms would reduce the emphasis on standardized testing, acknowledge the relationship between poverty and student performance on tests, and give our educators the useful and meaningful feedback that they need to boost student performance.
We also made progress toward training students for the jobs of today and tomorrow by increasing funding for some our best career and technical schools, including a $4 million increase for the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.
The end result will be a better trained workforce, stronger business growth, and a greater economic future for all of the school’s students.
Our work on health care was no less significant.
We passed a new law I authored to curb the impact of the heroin and opioid crisis, and our work continues to address high prescription drug prices and boost transparency of pharmacy benefit managers in order to bring down costs to consumers and taxpayers.
The work of 2019 sets the stage for even greater accomplishments in 2020.
Education is at the forefront of our shared efforts to build stronger communities and a brighter future for the next generation of leaders in Pennsylvania.
I look forward to continuing to work as a member of the Higher Education Funding Commission to help better align graduates’ skills with the current needs of Pennsylvania’s economy.
Another priority of mine is to tackle the student loan debt crisis that threatens to bankrupt an entire generation of young people and create a ripple effect on every aspect of the economy.
In the near future, I plan to introduce a pair of bills that will ease the strain of this crisis on current students and recent graduates alike.
One bill would help recent graduates who have completed their degree, secured employment, and responsibly begun repaying their debts by allowing them to enter into Income Share Agreements, or ISAs, to refinance onerous loans.
The other bill would create a pilot program to study of the feasibility of using ISAs to allow current students to finance a portion of the cost to attend college in Pennsylvania.
Changing the way that college debt is financed will allow students and graduates to repay their loans and climb the economic ladder without being shackled to the lower rungs by excessive student loan debt.
Along with completing our work on teacher evaluations and finding new ways to grow our economy, these proposals will help us achieve our shared goal of building an opportunity society in which all Pennsylvanians can experience earned success and upward mobility.
No review of 2019 and preview of 2020 would be complete without discussing the issue that generates the most calls, emails, and letters to my district office every year – property taxes.
The people of Lancaster County have made their voices heard on this issue, loud and clear. I am dedicated to finding solutions that will fund our schools and local government services without overburdening taxpayers.
A bipartisan workgroup recently honed in on five potential solutions that range from only cutting property taxes for seniors, to eliminating all property taxes entirely.
Each of these plans deserves our due diligence, and the efforts of this group will play a critical role in focusing the conversation in 2020.
I look forward to tackling these and other challenges in the new year, with a goal of building stronger communities and offering new opportunities for all Pennsylvanians.
From my family to yours, I wish you a joyous holiday season filled with love and great memories with friends and family, and best wishes in the year ahead.