Archive for the ‘News Releases’ Category

Senator Hughes Slams Republicans for Trying to Hold Education Funding Hostage to Force Unpopular Liquor Privatization Proposal

HARRISBURG – (July 28, 2015) – Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement in response to Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai’s recent comments on state budget negotiations:

“I am disappointed by recent comments made by Rep. Mike Turzai, who once again tried to link the issue of education funding to the privatization of our highly profitable state liquor store system. Republicans refuse to seriously address education funding or property tax relief, two of the most important issues. We know that test scores are dropping, critical educational programs are being cut, and over 20,000 public school employees have been laid off across the state. It’s unacceptable to hold our school children hostage for an ideological agenda that is a bad deal for the people of Pennsylvania. Republicans simply cannot run from the basic fact that education funding is the top priority for the people of Pennsylvania.

“It’s also a complete fantasy that there are Democratic votes in the Senate to override Governor Wolf’s veto of the phony Republican budget. Senate Democrats stand united to fight for a state budget that fully funds the needs of Pennsylvania, including public education. The Republican budget fails that test by only providing $8 million in additional funding for public schools. Frankly, the assertion that there are enough Democratic votes to override the Governor’s veto is as phony as the gimmicks in the Republican budget.

“It’s time for Republicans to come back to the negotiating table and start talking compromise. Together, we can find a path to a state budget that addresses the many needs of Pennsylvania in a way that works for the entire Commonwealth. However, that agreement must include significant new dollars for public education to win any Democratic votes. That’s not the Republican budget passed on June 30th. It’s also not a deal that holds education funding hostage for liquor privatization. We need a real budget agreement and we need it now.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Contact:
Ben Waxman, Press Secretary
Office: 717-787-7112 / Cell: 215-266-4598

Senator Hughes Kicks Off “Read to Succeed” Summer Enrichment Program with Over 500 Students

Philadelphia, (July 13th, 2015) – State Senator Vincent Hughes today kicked off “Read to Succeed,” his annual program that provides students with opportunities to increase their reading skills. Over 500 students have enrolled in intensive reading classes, which are completely free for students. Last summer, over 300 students between 1st and 5th grade participated in Senator Hughes’ summer reading program.

“We know from numerous studies that reading at grade level is critically important,” said Senator Hughes. “About 40% of Philadelphia school students are not reading at grade level. 74 percent of students who don’t read at grade level by the end of third grade have trouble in later grades and often dropout without earning a high school diploma. This program is designed to address this issue and make sure that students are prepared for success throughout life.

“If there is one thing that we can do for our school children, beyond getting the necessary funding so that they can have 21st Century schools, it is to get them to read at grade level. From an academic perspective, it is the most fundamental and most important key to their success, not just in school, but in life,” said Senator Hughes. “Every bit of research shows that when children are reading at grade level by the 4th grade, their academic career soars throughout the rest of their life.”

“Our program is designed to be aggressive and intensive toward that goal,” said Senator Hughes. “The summer is here when many of our children have almost nothing to do, and the teachers are here who are willing to passionately teach our kids. It is so simple and so obvious. Not doing this, is our failure, not that of our children.”

For four weeks, students will participate in free reading classes taught by certified volunteer teachers . “Read to Succeed” has expanded to five schools. The program is in partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia, School District of Philadelphia Wills Eye Hospital, Wyncote Foundation, Wells Fargo, Neubauer Family Foundation, Stoneridge Investments, Children’s Literacy Initiative, and the Philadelphia Eagles Youth Partnership.

“I’m grateful to the dozens of sponsors, volunteers, and staff who are making this program possible,” said Senator Hughes. “Together, we are sending a clear message that our community cares about literacy.”

In addition to the reading program, students will also have access to critical services that are vital for academic success. Every participant will receive a free eye exam courtesy of Wills Eye Hospital and two pairs of free glasses. Students will also be served a free breakfast and lunch every day. Families will also be connected with any relevant social services that may be identified as necessary by program volunteers and staff.

“I know that our children need real opportunities to improve their reading skills, especially in July and August where we can also prevent the loss of learning which is commonly called, “the summer slide,” said Senator Hughes. “That’s why I have organized this intensive free reading program for children across Philadelphia.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Senator Hughes Blasts Republican State Budget Priorities, Says “It Would Move Pennsylvania in the Wrong Direction.”

HARRISBURG, June 30th, 2015 − Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement on the Republican legislative priorities, including state budget, liquor privatization, and pension overhaul:

“I am deeply disappointed with the actions of my Republican colleagues in the General Assembly. Tonight, the majority party in both chambers decided to ignore the will of the votes and pursue an ideological agenda that moves Pennsylvania in the wrong direction. The people of our state were clear in the last election: They want more funding for education, property tax relief, and investment in proven strategies to create jobs in our Commonwealth.

“However, that is not path chosen by either Senate or House Republicans. Instead, they passed a budget proposal that increases education funding in our classrooms by just $8 million. That’s less than $4.00 for every child in Pennsylvania. Clearly, that’s not enough to reverse the devastating impact of former Governor Corbett’s $1 billion cut to education Part of the reason there is so little funding is because the Republicans refused to pass a responsible severance tax on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

“The same budget also fails to adequately fund higher education, social services, and job creation initiatives. It is built on a fiscal house of cards riddled with gimmicks and one-time revenue that would lead to a $3 billion deficit over the next two years and undermine our Commonwealth’s financial stability.

“Finally, the Republicans decided to ram through two extremely misguided pieces of legislation on liquor privatization and pensions. The vote to privatize the liquor system will cost 4,700 middle class jobs and eliminate an income producing asset that has generated billions for the state. The pension bill saves no money in the current fiscal year and has not been fully vetted to determine the financial impact. It is simply unconscionable that the Republican majorities are rushing such far-reaching and consequential bills without adequate deliberation.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senate Democrats: Eliminate Property Taxes for 2 Million Pennsylvanians

$1,990 rebate to taxpayers; property taxes eliminated for nearly 2/3 of property owners

PaHomeRebate_learnMoreHarrisburg – June 24, 2015 – A new property tax plan that would eliminate school property taxes for 2 million homeowners, reduce property taxes by $1,990 for another 1.2 million homesteads and provide a $500 rent rebate for more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians was unveiled today by Senate Democrats.

Under the PA Home Rebate plan, property taxpayers would be eligible for a 100 percent rebate of their school property tax bills up to $1,990 while renters would receive rebates of $500 provided their income is less than $50,000.  The rebates would be available annually.

“The plan is simple, straightforward and substantial,” Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), the Senate Democratic leader said today. “It eliminates school property taxes for 2 million homesteads, makes deep cuts for more than a million more and helps renters.

“Seniors, working men and women and virtually all taxpayers and renters benefit from this approach.”

Costa said the plan drives out more than $4.4 billion in tax and rent relief by shifting the tax burden from a heavy reliance on the property tax to a mix of the Personal Income Tax, Sales and Use Tax and tobacco taxes.

“The plan provides significant tax and rent relief that Pennsylvanians have wanted,” Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, (D-Philadelphia) the Senate Democratic Appropriations chair said.  “The $1,990 in relief is based on the average property tax bill in Pennsylvania.

“This is a fresh approach and a departure from the plans on the table because it is not based on a distribution formula and it provides uniformity in relief.”

Gov. Tom Wolf offered a property tax plan as a part of his budget address in March.  The House of Representatives advanced their own plan (HB 504) which passed the House earlier this year.  Each of those efforts include a complex formula to redistribute revenues.

The Independent Fiscal Office studied the Senate Democratic plan and reported its findings in March.  In a letter to Costa and Hughes, the IFO indicated that the average property tax bill In Pennsylvania was $1,990 and the median was $1,608.

“This plan takes an important first step in shifting more funding responsibility for schools to the state and away from the local property taxpayer,” Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) said. “While I still support complete elimination of school property taxes, plans like this provide relief to those struggling to pay ever-increasing property taxes.

“Many of us have sought total property tax elimination as our goal, but until that plan can get the necessary votes this is an excellent step forward.”

“For many seniors this is an exceptional approach because it would provide dramatic school property tax relief combined with relief from county or municipal taxes,” Hughes said.

Costa and Hughes said the Senate Democratic Caucus plan includes protections against sharply escalating school district taxes to further protect taxpayers from spikes in local taxes.

Because the plan provides a 100 percent rebate up to $1,990, taxpayers will be inoculated from future school district property tax increases until their tax bill reaches that threshold. In addition, current Act 1 spending caps, which require voter approval of spending above an inflation index, would remain in place.  The amount that school districts could keep in reserve would be capped at four percent.

Finally, once Act 120 pension increases plateau and the school funding gap created by Gov. Tom Corbett’s drastic cuts in school funding is filled, school districts will not have to repeatedly raise local taxes to cover costs, they said.

Other elements of the plan include making the relief available as soon as possible via a Short Term Investment Program loan from the state Treasury.  Taxpayers would be able to receive the rebate of up to $1,990 by check once they submit documentation that they paid their taxes. The process would be similar to the one that is used to process the rebates for senior citizens under the Property Tax Rent Rebate program, the Democrats said.

Hughes said the plan allows Philadelphia to fashion its own tax relief scheme because it uses a significantly different tax menu to fund its schools.

He said the plan allows flexibility for Philadelphia to lower a combination of taxes.  The city currently uses a combination of a high wage tax, cigarette tax revenues, local sales tax and property taxes while most other school districts balance their books using local property tax revenues.

The proposed tax mix that generates the $4.4 billion to pay for the rebates uses a .78 increase in the Personal Income Tax, a 0.6 increase in the Sales and Use Tax and new levies on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Costa and Hughes both noted that the levies in the Senate Democratic plan are similar to or lower than both the tax menu presented in HB 504 and the Governor’s proposal.

The senators said that they are open to discussing the proper mix of revenues to fund significant property tax relief for all Pennsylvanians.

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Senator Vincent Hughes Statement Thanking the Senate Judiciary Committee for Passing His Anti-Swatting Bill

HARRISBURG, June 23th, 2015 – Senator Vincent Hughes issued the following statement in response to the passage of Senate Bill 296 by Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Today, the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send Senate Bill 296 to the Senate for full consideration. I am thankful that both sides of the Committee came together to take a stand against swatting, which is a term used for making a fake 911 emergency call in order to draw a response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team, or emergency service personnel.”

“I would especially like to thank Senator Stewart Greenleaf and Senator Daylin Leach, the chairs of the Judiciary Committee for their hard work on this critical issue. It is now time for the Senate to fully consider SB 296 and pass the bill.”

“Police, firefighters and other first responders are being needlessly put in danger by rushing to the scene and through potential altercations with unsuspecting residents who may try to defend themselves. I believe strengthening the provisions of our law will provide greater protection to our communities by creating a greater deterrent for those who may seek to engage in this activity.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senator Hughes and Governor Tom Wolf’s Chief of Staff Katie McGinty Announce Funding for Summer Jobs

Philadelphia, June 19th, 2015 – State Senator Vincent Hughes and Governor Tom Wolf’s Chief of Staff Katie McGinty today announced funding for a summer jobs initiative that will include $7.5 million in new funds to create over 3,700 new jobs statewide. The program will receive $3.5 million in federal funding and $4 million in TANF funds through local Workforce Investment Boards.

“Jobs that pay are important to all residents of the commonwealth, including our youth,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “I’m proud to support summer youth employment. A job teaches our youth responsibility, gives them something to do of value, earns them a paycheck and provides valuable experience that will serve them well as they enter adulthood and a full-time workforce.”

The funding includes $3.5 million in federal funds through summer jobs programs in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This pilot program, administered by WorkReady Philadelphia, will focus on low-income, high poverty neighborhoods and result in more than 1,400 new summer positions in Philadelphia.

“We must provide summer job opportunities for young people in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Hughes. “I am pleased that today we took another important step to make investments so that our youth have every opportunity to gain valuable experience in the workforce.”

The remainder of the funds will be distributed through local Workforce Investment Boards, creating over 2,100 new positions across the state, including 1,100 positions in Philadelphia, 200 in the Pittsburgh area, 230 in Northwest PA, and 100 in the Harrisburg area. There will also be positions created in various state agencies, including DCNR, PennDOT, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, staff, the Philadelphia Youth Network and other partners of Philadelphia Works, we thank Governor Wolf and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for this generous support of summer youth employment opportunities,” said Mark Edwards, President and CEO of Philadelphia Works. “Our summer youth employment program, WorkReady Philadelphia, is an internationally recognized model for providing paid work experiences to young people. With this grant funding, we will be able to provide a significant number of new summer internships for city youth. Philadelphia Works is extremely grateful for this support.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Senator Hughes Statement on the Recommendations of the Basic Education Funding Commission

HARRISBURG, June 18, 2015 − Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement on the recommendations of the Basic Education Funding Commission:

“First, I want to applaud the work of the Commission members and the effort they put into this critical issue. It’s encouraging that a group of bipartisan lawmakers from both chambers in the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office can work together on such a vital issue as funding our schools. I fully support the Commission’s proposed funding formula, which represents an important step toward closing the staggering education funding inequalities that exist in our state.

“Pennsylvania’s public education system recently received national media attention for being the most inequitable in the nation. This is intolerable and must be addressed. That’s why we must first restore the cuts that were leveled at our poorest school districts in 2011 before implementing this formula. That means enacting Governor Wolf’s proposed education budget to set an appropriate foundation for these districts to close the equity gap.

“Pennsylvania must make continued investments in our students in an equitable fashion to provide all of our students the opportunity to learn and succeed. The combination of an equitable formula and the Governor’s plan for ongoing investments in our schools can be historic steps towards fixing the sorry state of education funding in Pennsylvania.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Senator Hughes Statement on the Defeat of Marcus Brown’s Nomination for State Police Commissioner

HARRISBURG, June 8, 2015: Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement on the defeat of Marcus Brown’s Nomination for State Police Commissioner:

“I am extremely disappointed that my colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate have failed to support such a qualified nominee as Colonial Marcus Brown. This is a man who is undoubtedly qualified to lead the Pennsylvania State Police and would have taken the agency in a positive direction. I expected more from my Republican colleagues in the Senate on such a key position.

“Let us not forget that Marcus Brown started as a beat cop in San Jose and rose to eventually become the Baltimore Chief of Police, which is considered one of the toughest cities in the world. He went on to lead the Maryland State Police. Col. Brown has impeccable credentials that include numerous advanced educational degrees, including one from our own Penn State University. He has been recognized by numerous non-profit organizations and charities for his good works outside his role as a law enforcement official. Frankly, Marcus Brown may be one of the most qualified cabinet appointments in Pennsylvania history.

“My support for Marcus Brown is also based on his strong record on the issue of diversity. The Pennsylvania State Police has a troubling history on this issue, including a consent decree requiring more minority hires that was put in place by a Federal judge. I worry that the Senate Republican rejection of Brown may put Pennsylvania down the wrong track. When it comes to making sure that the State Police reflect the population they are policing, we must move Pennsylvania forward and not backwards.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Senator Hughes Praises Hillary Clinton’s Support for Universal Automatic Voter Registration, Highlights Growing National Support for Legislation

Philadelphia, June 5th, 2015 – State Senator Vincent Hughes today praised Hillary Clinton for joining the growing movement to make automatic universal voter registration a reality. Senator Hughes recently announced Senate Bill 806, which would change Pennsylvania’s voter registration system from an “opt in” system to a “opt out” system, automatically registering all eligible voters whenever they interact with state government.

ClintonMs. Clinton endorsed this concept yesterday, calling for all Americans to be automatically registered when they turn 18 as part of a package of voting reforms to increase electoral participation.

“I am absolutely thrilled that a national leader like Hillary Clinton has endorsed the idea of automatic universal voter registration,” said Senator Hughes. “This is a clear indication that there is growing momentum behind this concept. I’m proud to be one of the first lawmakers in the nation to offer this type of legislation and hope the national attention that this proposal is receiving will not go unnoticed by my colleagues in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.”

Clinton made her remarks during a speech at Texas Southern University in Houston. She said that universal registration was the antidote to recent partisan attacks on the right to vote. Clinton specifically cited so-called “Voter ID” legislation that has been passed by Republican-controlled legislatures in numerous states, including Pennsylvania.

“Everyone, every young man or young woman, in every state in the union should be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18—unless they actively choose to opt out,” said Clinton. “I believe this would have a profound impact on our elections and our democracy.”

Senator Hughes’ bill, which was announced on the 50th Anniversary of the introduction of the Voting Rights Act, would automatically register any eligible voter whenever they presented proper paperwork or identification for any other interaction with state government. This would include obtaining a drivers license, hunting permit, or accessing various types of social services.

“We know that there are needless barriers to participation built into our electoral system,” said Senator Hughes. “My legislation for automatic universal voter registration would be a major step in correcting this problem. It’s a great step forward that someone with the stature of Hillary Clinton has endorsed the idea.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Democrats Press for Shale Tax to Fund $1 Billion Education Investment

Harrisburg – June 2, 2015 – Legislative Democrats gathered in the state Capitol for a news conference today to highlight the broad and deep support in the General Assembly for legislation that would create a new $1 billion natural gas extraction tax for education.

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia) along with House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny), Democratic Whip Mike Hanna (D-Clinton) and Democratic Appropriations Chair Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) in concert with Democratic members of both the Senate and House called on Republicans to move the education investment plan.

In his March budget address, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a new Marcellus Shale gas extraction tax of 5 percent, with a 4.7 cent tax on volume.  The plan contains a provision to ensure that the distribution of Act 13 fee revenue to communities is maintained.

“There has been far too little talk and too many delays in considering a gas extraction tax plan that would raise $1 billion for education,” Costa said.  “The Republicans in both the Senate and House seem hesitant about addressing the substance of the governor’s proposal and uninterested in examining responsible education investment proposals.”

The governor’s plan would generate an estimated $1.015 billion in fiscal 2016-17.

“The severance tax proposed by the governor is reasonable and responsible and it is in line with the tax rates of the top 10 gas producing states,” Dermody said.  “Republicans have sidestepped the adoption of a reasonable energy tax to fund education investments and have instead moved political issues that do nothing to help students.”

The lawmakers said the $1 billion in new revenues would be used to invest in basic and higher education and help replace dollars slashed by former Gov. Tom Corbett.

“The governor’s plan helps backfill the revenues that were lost when school funding was cut during the Corbett administration,” Hughes said.  “Students, teachers, administrators, parents and taxpayers need help now and will receive a boost if the new investment plan for education is approved.

“The support for moving a plan in both the Senate and House is wide and deep and is illustrated by the number of members of both chambers who turned out today to publicly support using energy taxes for education.”

The plan maintains the Act 13 fee distribution to communities impacted by drilling, at the highest level to date ($225 million).

“A natural gas extraction tax is a substantive, meaningful way of providing for education, while maintaining the payments to communities that are affected by energy extraction,” Markosek said.  “The additional investment for education would be paid by an industry that is engaged in a very profitable activity.”

Costa and Hughes both said that they believe that there is a will in the state Senate to consider a shale energy tax that is earmarked for education.

The senators said that there is far too much disinformation concerning shale extraction being distributed by the industry and threats by the industry to pull out of the state if a reasonable tax were to be imposed are counterproductive.

“We need an industry that is healthy and productive enough to sustain robust job growth,” Costa said.  “The responsible tax that the governor has proposed will not hobble gas extraction.”

Hughes said that the gas drilling is very lucrative.  Last year, he said, the value of gas severed from Pennsylvania wells was $11 billion up from $4 billion in 2011.

“The major gas producers in Pennsylvania have indicated that they expect substantial growth this year,” Hughes said.  “This doesn’t sound like an industry that is ready to vacate.”

Hanna said that members of the House Democratic caucus have been strong advocates of an energy extraction tax because they, like their constituents, “see the relationship between an energy tax on a Pennsylvania-based resource to invest in Pennsylvania’s most valuable resource, our children.”

The current Act 13 fee is insufficient, according to Markosek and needs to be adjusted.  The Act 13 fee is the equivalent of a rate of less than 2 percent.

“Our current impact fee is stagnant. The commonwealth is not sharing in the growth of the natural gas industry,” Markosek said.  “Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve a better, more responsible, approach that is fair to the industry and funds key investments in education and environmental protection.”

The Democrats said that they are willing to consider all responsible proposals.  They said that members of both the Senate and House have offered plans that would be good starting points of discussion but insisted that the lion’s share of funds generated from any of the plans considered be earmarked for education.

They said that they would insist that a reasonable energy extraction tax be included during upcoming budget discussions.

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Contact: Stacey Witalec
Telephone: 717 877-2997
Email: switalec@pasenate.com

Contact: Bill Patton
Telephone: 717 787-3566
Email: BPatton@pahouse.net

 

Senator Vincent Hughes Introduces Bill to Provide Historic $3.8 billion in Property Tax Relief

Harrisburg, May 14, 2015 – Today, State Senator Vincent Hughes announced he has introduced SB 118, Governor Wolf’s proposal to provide $3.8 billion in property tax relief for Pennsylvania’s homeowners as part of the 2015-2016 State Budget.

SB 118 would totally eliminate school district property taxes for approximately 270,000 senior citizens. Renters with incomes of up to $50,000 will also be eligible for a $500 rent rebate. Certain school districts will also be able to provide millage rate reductions to reduce property taxes across the board.

In Philadelphia, residents would see historic reductions in the city’s wage tax in addition to property tax relief. The city would also receive funding to eliminate its local cigarette tax and provide relief from its 8% sales tax.

“If enacted, this proposal will cut school property taxes by $3.8 billion,” said Senator Hughes. “That would result in a 50 percent reduction in property taxes for the average homeowner and allow a large number of school districts to totally eliminate school property taxes for homeowners and business. I am proud to be offering Governor Wolf’s property tax relief plan in the Pennsylvania Senate.”

“We know that property taxes have skyrocketed in the past four years,” said Senator Hughes. “Thanks to former Governor Corbett’s massive cuts in state education funding, over 90 percent of local school districts have been forced to raise property taxes. This package is the relief that Pennsylvania’s homeowners desperately need.”

“This legislation should attract bipartisan support in the Senate,” said Senator Hughes. “While the House of Representatives acted on a plan yesterday, I believe the Wolf Plan is superior. I look forward to the upcoming debate on this issue as we work to provide historic school district property tax relief to the people of Pennsylvania.”

The property tax cuts would be achieved through changes to personal income tax and sales tax to be passed by the General Assembly. The proposal would also keep in place Pennsylvania’s existing limits on school property tax increases and enact further restrictions on when school districts can raise property taxes.

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Senator Hughes Statement on Passage of Illegal Pension Bill       

HARRISBURG, May 13th, 2015 − Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement on the passage of Senate Bill 1:

“The Republican controlled Pennsylvania Senate today passed pension “reform” legislation that has historically been ruled illegal and unconstitutional by Pennsylvania courts for more than 30 years. The simple truth is that this bill is illegal and will be thrown out by the Courts if it becomes law.

“The process has also been deplorable. Senate Bill 1 was introduced on Friday, May 8th at 4:30pm. The bill—which is more than 400 pages long and incredibly complex—has now been voted on final passage after just five days. The actuarial firm hired by the Senate to evaluate pension legislation acknowledged that they did not have time to even read the whole bill.

“Finally, Senate Bill 1 punishes current state employees. It penalizes them by reducing benefits for both current and future employees. Under the Senate Republican plan, many future public sector employees will be left with a retirement benefit that places them below the federal poverty line. This is unacceptable.

“Senate Bill 1 should not have passed today. We need a real conversation about facing the Commonwealth’s budget challenges, not an unconstitutional bill rushed through the process.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Senate Democrats Call for PERC to Create Fair, Open, Transparent Process to Consider Pension Legislation

Harrisburg – May 13, 2015 – A leading group of Senate Democrats today wrote to the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) to express grave concerns about the process surrounding Senate Bill 1, a massive overhaul of the pension system for public employees.

PERC itself raised red flags about the expedited legislative schedule, which rendered them unable to fully examine the proposal.

Milliman, the actuarial firm hired by the commission to review Senate Bill 1, included the following note in their analysis:

“Due to time constraints dictated by the Commission for providing this actuarial note, we are providing this letter without a complete review of all facets of the legislation nor all actuarial cost projection information used by the system actuaries in their analyses.”

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) joined with Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), and Democratic Finance Chairman John Blake (D-Lackawanna) to call on PERC to use the authority granted to it to provide recommendations to the General Assembly to improve transparency and provide a timeline when considering legislation related to public pensions.

“Senate Republicans have abandoned the principals of an open and transparent government to ram through an illegal bill that could radically diminish retirement benefits for hundreds of thousands of state and school district workers,” said Sen. Costa. “We need to identify a better process than considering a 410-page bill with only 72 hours notice.”

The timeline for Senate Bill 1 has been extremely rushed, lawmaker said.

There was a hastily called Finance Committee meeting on Monday, May 11, where the bill passed along party lines. Senate Bill 1 was then considered by both PERC and the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 12.

“It now appears that this bill—which legal observers believe is unconstitutional and illegal—may be voted on final passage today,” said Sen. Hughes. “It’s simply unconscionable to consider something of this magnitude on such a fast timeline.  When you have Milliman acknowledging problems with the process, that should be enough to stop the wheels of destruction from moving forward.”

PERC was created to ensure that lawmakers can make informed decisions about pension legislation. That is why Senate Democrats have called on the commission to make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to guarantee that future legislation is considered in a more transparent manner.

“We have an obligation to the public to fully consider all legislation, especially something as complicated as pension reform,” said Sen. Blake. “I hope that PERC will respond to our request and create a process worthy of the importance and consequences of any legislation affecting our public pension systems.”

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View Letter to PERC →

View Letter to Senate Republicans →

Senator Hughes Statement on Protecting Philadelphia’s Paid Sick Leave Law

HARRISBURG – (April 14th, 2015) Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement on the need to protect the right of local municipalities to pass paid sick leave legislation:

“Two months ago, Philadelphia stood behind working families by providing over 200,000 workers the opportunity to earn paid sick days. Now Philadelphia’s historic legislation and others like it are threatened by some state lawmakers in Harrisburg. Today, the Senate is poised to consider Senate Bill 333, which will override Philadelphia’s paid sick leave ordinance and prohibit other municipalities from adopting similar legislation in support of working families.

Several supporters of Senate Bill 333 cite the need for uniformity, yet offer no statewide solution to ensure essential paid sick leave for working Pennsylvanians. Recognizing these concerns, I’ve introduced legislation to establish statewide parameters for local ordinances providing employee paid sick leave. Under my bill, which I also will offer as an amendment to Senate Bill 333, local officials may authorize workers to earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Make no mistake; this is about economic justice for working families. It’s simply unconscionable that so many people—many of them making very low wages—are forced to come to work when they are sick, endangering themselves and others. The Pennsylvania Senate should support Philadelphia’s efforts, not deny hard working employees the opportunity to earn paid sick leave.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Hughes Issues Statement on Racially Insensitive Comments on State Trooper Nominee

Harrisburg – March 26, 2015 —Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) today released the following statement concerning racially insensitive comments printed in the Allentown Morning Call. Senator Hughes’ Statement follows:

“According to the article, retired Trooper Anthony DeLuca referred to an African-American member of Col. Marcus Brown’s staff hired to handle diversity and recruitment as a “bootlicking ToTo.” DeLuca, as a trooper, was responsible for protecting the peace for every citizen in this commonwealth while holding this reprehensible mindset.

“This is outrageous and disgusting. It is this kind of negative rhetoric that takes us as a society back decades and perpetuates the struggles that unfortunately still exist.

“To refer to any person in such a derogatory manner is beyond ignorant and offensive; but this is the voice of the opposition to Colonel Marcus Brown. It is a voice of hate and intolerance and represents a way of thinking that should offend everyone, not just those to whom the comment was directed.

“The question is simple — Will the Senate Republicans do the right thing and confirm Marcus Brown or will they give life to the hateful comments of the ignorant leader of the anti-Brown group.

“I am calling on all elected officials to repudiate these types of comments and recognize it is sentiments like these that are driving the smear campaign and rabid opposition in an attempt to destroy Marcus Brown. It is clear now that the opposition is against not only Marcus Brown but also diversity and that is unacceptable. We, as people, are better than this.

“This type of hate speech heightens our concerns and demonstrates why we need someone with the experience, integrity and commitment to diversity like that of Col. Marcus Brown.”

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Senator Hughes Offers Support to Acting Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Marcus Brown

Dear Governor Tom Wolf:

The recent report of a racist letter left anonymously at Acting Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Marcus Brown’s home causes me great concern,  not only because of the substance (The use of the “N” word) of the letter but also because of the troubled history of the Pennsylvania State Police around the issue of race.

As you know, the Pennsylvania State Police has a poor record regarding issues of racial diversity and hiring practices. It is long and troubling. In fact, a lawsuit was filed and a Federal consent decree was ordered to improve the hiring practices of the agency. The lawsuit was filed in 1974 by William Bolden and resulted in the “Bolden decree” which was in place until 1999.

Here are the facts: After the Federal decree was put into place and there was regular monitoring by a federal judge for over 20 years, diversity among hires increased significantly. In fact, 20 percent of all state troopers were people of color and they served at every level of the state police organization. That caused the decree to be lifted, which resulted in the percentage of non-white troopers to drop down to a dismal 6.25 percent. As of December 1st, 2014, only 280 members of 4,479 state police force were minorities.  That is where we stand today. This does not reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania’s population and is a throwback to an era when people of color were shut out of employment opportunities in state government, especially in the fields of law enforcement.

The letter delivered to Mr. Brown’s house also harkens back to those times. It also shows that some people who oppose his nomination are motivated by trying to keep the Pennsylvania State Police from becoming more diverse. Clearly, they are scared of Mr. Brown’s history of exemplary success in creating a diverse law enforcement agency in the communities where he has worked.

Needless to say, your support of his candidacy should be unwavering now more than ever. We have a choice. We can stand with someone who is an excellent officer and promotes a diverse and qualified workforce or we can stand with those who promote hate and intolerance through anonymous acts of cowardice.

I am choosing to stand with your nominee.

Sincerely,

Vincent J. Hughes
State Senator, 7th District

 

Sens. Hughes, Schwank to Propose Expansion of New ‘Revenge Porn’ Law

Measure would punish publication of “hacked” or stolen pictures

HARRISBURG, March 19, 2015 – To better protect Pennsylvanians from the unsolicited and embarrassing publication of their private, intimate pictures, state Sens. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said today they will introduce a proposal, similar to the recently enacted so-called “revenge porn” law, that would make it a crime for someone to steal and publish unauthorized images of strangers and others.

“The theft and distribution of naked or sexual pictures of someone other than a partner or former partner is much less common than the ‘revenge publishing’ of photos against a former partner, but last fall’s hacking of celebrity photos and videos shows that it happens,” Sen. Schwank said. “So, perhaps, might the recent events at the Penn State fraternity.”

Schwank said the new proposal would apply the same civil and criminal penalties as the law passed last year – which applies only to situations involving sexual or intimate partners – where the victim and perpetrator have no such relationship.

“We need to make sure we have strong enough sanctions to deter someone from unreasonably taking such pictures or making them public without the victim’s consent,” she said.

Sen. Hughes, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he is joining Sen. Schwank in this proposal because it’s the right thing to do.

“We must make sure that our laws evolve with technology,” said Hughes. “It is now incredibly easy to share photographs, videos, and other forms of media electronically. This is generally a positive thing, especially for staying in touch with our loved ones over long distances. However, we have to ensure that the public is protected from individuals who would use technology for nefarious purposes.”

If approved by the legislature, Schwank’s and Hughes’ proposal would make these acts a crime under the Invasion of Privacy law.

Under the “Unlawful Dissemination of Intimate Images” law passed last year, posting sexual images to annoy or harm a partner or former partner carries potential penalties of up to two years in jail when an adult is the victim and up to five years when the victim is a minor.

Offenders are also financially responsible for the injuries they cause their victims, through civil suit.

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Senator Hughes to Introduce Universal Voter Registration Legislation to Automatically Register All Eligible Citizens to Vote

PHILADELPHIA- (March 9th, 2015) Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement about his intention to introduce legislation that would dramatically increase voter registration in Pennsylvania to include all eligible citizens:

“50 years ago, thousands of people marched in Selma, Alabama, to fight for the right to vote for ALL Americans. Many gave their lives in that struggle. We have made much progress as a nation since then, but the dream of universal access to the polls is something that is still yet to be obtained. To honor those who marched and died in Selma, I will be introducing legislation that will make it easier for individuals to register to vote in Pennsylvania. The idea is simple: State government will streamline the voter registration process by automatically registering all eligible individuals to vote when they use the services of a state agency.

“The legislation, based on a similar law in Oregon, would essentially change our voter registration system from an “opt-in” system to an “opt-out” system. Under current law, citizens are given the option to “opt-in” by filling out a voter registration form when they apply for a public benefit, service or license through the Department of Transportation or other state agencies currently authorized to assist with registering voters. Under my proposal, a state agency would automatically collect an individual’s relevant voting-related information with the application and send it electronically to the Department of State and to the counties for purposes of registering the voter. Prior to completing the registration, a voter would receive a notice allowing them to select a political party affiliation or to decline registration. If the individual does not “opt out” within 21 days, they will be added to the voter rolls.

“It is estimated that Oregon will add more than 300,000 new voters to its rolls in just a single year by implementing this system. This is something that Pennsylvania should be looking to copy and expand upon. Increasing voter participation should not be a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, but an American issue. We must honor the memory of those who died at Selma and for the right to vote by passing this legislation.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
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Senate Democrats: Wolf Budget Proposal Bold, Responsible, Necessary

Plan includes historic tax relief, business tax shifts, education, and job initiatives

Harrisburg – March 3, 2015 – Senate Democratic leaders today said that Gov. Tom Wolf’s first budget proposal is a “bold, responsible and necessary” plan designed to address issues confronted by middle class families and it is so compelling that it will command the full attention of lawmakers.

The spending plan was detailed by the governor today before a joint session of the General Assembly.

“The governor deserves credit for proposing an aggressive approach aimed at solving Pennsylvania’s most pressing problems,” Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said about the $29.88 billion spending plan. “It is bold; it is responsible; and, it is necessary in light of the structural deficit that exceeds $2 billion, the gaping education funding hole and jobs deficit that Pennsylvania faces.

“This is not a plan built on gimmicks – it is an honest, substantial plan that comes with tough policy choices and revenue options that lawmakers will have to carefully weigh.”

The plan calls for $3.8 billion in property tax relief, $1 billion in education investments, $1.675 billion for job creation and restoration of social safety net program dollars all within the context of a modest 2.7 percent increase over the current year budget.

“This is not an incremental budget; it’s a transformational budget and a marked departure from the flim-flam sham budgets of the Corbett years,” said state Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This is a significant proposal that includes welcomed and long-overdue policy initiatives in education, health care, jobs and fiscal management.

“We are at the start of the budget process, but the governor has laid down a big bet and a significant marker. Passivity and knee-jerk negativity should be checked at the door when negotiations begin in earnest.”

The new initiatives are paid for by adjustments in the Personal Income Tax, Sales and Use Tax, the imposition of a new gas severance tax, the elimination of tax exemptions and new efficiencies. It also includes tax shifts aimed at helping business such as a slashing of the Corporate Net Income tax and eliminates the Capital Stock and Franchise tax. The governor also called for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

Hughes said that if the plan is adopted it will immediately change the direction of Pennsylvania and make critical investments. He said the plan has the potential to jump-start job creation, education achievement and health-care choices while restructuring the tax menu for individuals and business.

Costa said that the $3.8 billion in property tax relief coupled with $1 billion more for schools is “historic” and will push Pennsylvania past 50 percent in funding local school costs. The expected average tax relief for property taxpayers will exceed $1,000 per homestead and that the average homeowner will see their tax bill reduced by 50 percent.

“For years, citizens have asked for property tax relief, business leaders have called for cutting the corporate net income tax and schools officials have had to deal with deep cuts in school funding that have resulted in local tax increases, job loss or program elimination,” Costa said. “This budget addresses all those concerns.”

The Democratic leader said that while the plan is bold, it does come with costs and tax changes that must be evaluated in their proper context before final decisions are made.

“The governor’s plan invests in schools, relieves tax burdens, helps businesses and makes critical investments that have been found wanting over the last several years,” Hughes said.

Hughes said that the new $1 billion in education will replace dollars lost to deep Corbett-era cuts. He said that the new spending plan includes $120 million for pre-kindergarten and Head Start, $140 million more for higher education, cyber-charter reforms and a commitment to utilize a new basic education funding formula now being developed by an independent commission.

The Democratic appropriations chair said that many of the pieces of the governor’s plan have been sought by Senate Democrats through their “PA Works” plan and other initiatives.

“The governor has outlined policy proposals that would responsibly invest $1.675 billion in job creation programs,” Hughes said. “Using already approved bond authorization to fund transportation or water and sewer projects makes sense.”

Costa said that he is pleased that the governor has proposed using efficiencies to help balance the books and that his proposal to merge the Department of Corrections with Probation and Parole, transition to traditional Medicaid expansion and phase-in Medicaid long-term care will free up more dollars for even greater investments. The boldness of the plan should be of no surprise to anyone who followed the governor’s thinking, he said.

Wolf proposed using revenues generated from combined reporting to reduce the CNI to 5.99 percent on Jan. 1, 2016 and to 4.99 percent in Jan. 2018 from its current 9.99 percent. His plan calls for increasing the PIT from 3.07 to 3.7 percent and the sales tax from 6 to 6.6 percent plus closing a laundry list of exemptions, but not touching food, clothing or prescription drugs. The plan also calls for reconciling the state’s sales tax rate with Philadelphia’s local sales tax for schools so that the effective rate of the increase will remain uniform.

The budget plan will now be closely reviewed during upcoming hearings by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The deadline to adopt a budget is June 30.

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Senator Hughes Statement on Governor Wolf’s Appointment of Majorie Neff to Chair the School Reform Commission

HARRISBURG, (March 1st, 2015) − Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement in response to Governor Tom Wolf’s appointment of Majorie Neff to be Chair of the School Reform Commission:

“I want to offer my support for Governor Wolf’s decision. It is a good thing to have an experienced and well respected educator in charge of the School Reform Commission and the education of our children. I also believe that Governor Wolf has a right and responsibility to put together a team that reflects the landslide victory delivered by voters in November. This team must reflect the will of the electorate. The people in Philadelphia clearly and unequivocally said they wanted a new direction at the School Reform Commission. The appointment of Ms. Neff accomplishes this goal.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senator Hughes is Available for More In-Depth Comment.

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Senator Hughes Statement in Support of Governor Wolf’s Decision to Impose a Moratorium on the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, February 13, 2015 − Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement in support of Governor Tom Wolf’s decision to impose a moratorium on the death penalty:

“I want to commend Gov. Tom Wolf for taking the brave step of declaring a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania. This is something that I have supported for many years. I have deep concerns about how the death penalty is being applied, especially as it concerns both racial and economic bias.

There have been numerous studies that question the fairness in the capital punishment system. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Pennsylvania had one of the highest percentages in the nation of people of color on death row. The same study found that African-American defendants were 38 percent more likely to face the death penalty.

Another study by the Innocence Project found that too many defendants face barriers where trying to access tools like DNA testing. This is best epitomized by the case of Nick Yarris, who served 21 years on Pennsylvania’s death row for a crime he did not commit. Like many defendants, he did not have access to technology that could have proved his innocence much earlier.

I believe that it is completely appropriate for the governor to exercise his powers in this regard as he is the one who must sign the death warrant and ultimately implement this final punishment. I look forward to continued reforms to ensure the Pennsylvania criminal justice system really does deliver justice for all of our citizens.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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