Archive for the ‘News Releases’ Category

Sen. Hughes Calls for State Investigation Into Crumbling School Infrastructure

Demands an immediate change in education policy to better support schools; Urges PA Department of Education to audit School District of Philly schools

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 29, 2016 – After touring an elementary school that had been forced this month to send students home due to failed heaters, Sen. Vincent Hughes, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ordered state-level hearings to better understand the breadth of the crumbling school infrastructure problem in Pennsylvania.

Hughes toured Locke Elementary in Philadelphia this morning before telling reporters that he wanted elected officials to do more to help schools reverse a scary trend.

“Children cannot fear for their lives. They can’t learn in freezing classrooms, worry if a boiler might explode, and they can’t sit with 40 other classmates in classrooms designed for 25,” Hughes said.

“Yet more and more schools are in danger of tragic consequences because the policies of the past five years, coupled with the declining support of our schools by the state, are walking them towards that gauntlet.

“This is an outrageous situation and I know the schools in my district are not the only ones suffering right now. We must have a better idea of how many schools are hurting and we cannot wait another minute to find out.

“These are our children.”

Hughes said he wants his Senate Appropriations Committee to lead a public inquiry next week, and he said he welcomes participation from other interested lawmakers. Also, he said he wants the Pennsylvania Department of Education to audit School District of Philadelphia buildings.

Earlier this month, a boiler exploded in a Mount Airy school (Franklin S. Edmonds) during the school day. No students were injured but an employee was critically wounded.

Hughes said school infrastructures have been crumbling for generations, but only now is it reaching epidemic proportions.

“While the safety of our kids is of paramount importance, not giving our schools the resources to better care for their heating and air conditioning systems, their plumbing, and their playgrounds is robbing students of the quality education they deserve and everyone should demand,” Sen. Hughes said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee chairman said the School District of Philadelphia is strapped with a $5 billion backlog of maintenance and repair orders.

The 21st Century School Fund said schools, nationwide, had an estimated $271 billion list of deferred building and grounds maintenance in 2011.

“When the school structure falters, administrators are forced to choose between repairs or new textbooks. Studies have shown that adverse building conditions lead to increased absences, lower grades and a poorer outlook on life and their chances,” Hughes said. “That’s not what Pennsylvania is about. This must change.”


Follow Sen. Vincent Hughes via Twitter, Facebook or his website.

Gorgas Park to Receive $188K State Investment for Upgrades

Harrisburg, Jan. 28, 2016 – A renovated ball field, smoother walkways and new landscaping are headed to Roxborough’s Gorgas Park with the awarding of a $188,000 state grant, Sen. Vincent Hughes announced today.

The investment is from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and comes in the form of a Community Conservation Partnership Program grant, or C2P2.

“From the harvest festival to the summer concerts, Gorgas Park offers something to enjoy for just about everyone,” Sen. Hughes said. “Soon, it will be even better for everyone to visit.

“Our quality of life improves when we have great outdoor spaces to enjoy. Gorgas Park is one of these community jewels and I am grateful for the local efforts to make sure this grant was approved so work can begin soon.”

Hughes said the $188,000 grant will help to pay for the construction of stormwater management structures, a pedestrian walkway and parking area; renovation of the ball field; installation of fencing; ADA access, landscaping, site amenities, project sign and other related site improvements.

DCNR awarded $28 million in C2P2 grants today.


Sen. Hughes: Philly School’s Boiler Explosion Represents Why We’re Fighting for $350M in Ed Funding, Why We Can’t Comprise

Harrisburg, Jan. 21, 2016 – A boiler explosion in a Philadelphia elementary school coupled with previously unheard of examples of a crumbling infrastructure in the district have Sen. Vincent Hughes, the Democratic chairman of the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee, urging state budget negotiators to quickly return to Harrisburg to adopt critical education investments.

The explosion last week at F.S. Edmonds School in East Mount Airy seriously injured one worker.

“Our prayers are with this worker as he fights to recover from the burns he suffered when the school’s boiler blew up,” Sen. Hughes said. “While we don’t yet know the exact cause of the explosion, the message it should clearly deliver to Harrisburg is that it needs to pay better attention to what’s happening in more and more of our school districts.

“This is not just a Philly problem. Because Republican lawmakers have willfully chosen to not invest any more money in our students, teachers, and classrooms over the past five years, school districts across Pennsylvania are being forced to pay for repairs instead of to invest in the education of our children.

“Too many schools have been forced into the impossible position of having to prioritize the maintenance of their infrastructure because they don’t have the money to do anything else. Like in Philly, school officials will do their best to maintain their mechanicals but what they must do is replace many of these systems,” Hughes said.

In addition to the boiler incident, Hughes noted recent published reports of crumbling infrastructure that underscore his concern and argument.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Jan. 12 how the school district has watched its list of teacher vacancies grow from 107 last year to 162 this year.

Hughes also noted an incident this past September that closed Solis-Cohen Elementary. Just before the start of the school year, a district employee discovered a crumbling and structurally unsound foundation at the building.

That employee’s efforts averted catastrophe at the 1,300-student school, the senator said.

“These things are happening because too many public officials have turned a blind eye to what’s really going on in schools across Pennsylvania,” Sen. Hughes said. “This is a fool’s errand. The School District of Philadelphia has a $5 billion maintenance and repair backlog because too many lawmakers have run away from doing what is right.

“It’s tragic that one person was injured trying to maintain an elementary school boiler, but that explosion happened when kids were in school. How much longer do these types of things have to happen before we have our own Sandy Hook-style catastrophe because too many lawmakers don’t want to do what’s right by our children and the classrooms they have to learn in every day?”

Hughes said the so-called framework budget that negotiators from all caucuses agreed to should be the guidepost for completing the 2015-2016 spending plan.


Follow Sen. Vincent Hughes via Twitter, Facebook or his website.

Sen. Hughes: President Obama’s ‘Common Sense’ Orders on Guns Good 1st Step

Says PA legislature should follow his lead

Harrisburg, Jan. 5, 2016 – State Sen. Vincent Hughes, one of Pennsylvania’s leading advocates for common sense gun reform, today applauded President Barack Obama for issuing executive orders designed to better control the flow of firearms in America.

“The president is to be commended for passionately stepping up in the face of continued Congressional opposition to begin providing the protection that Americans need to live a life of liberty,” Hughes said.

“Gun advocates have been wrong for a long time about common sense proposals for reforming state and federal gun laws. No one is proposing to take away any gun from any gun owner.

“We are working to make it next to impossible for criminals and terrorists to get the weapons they need to wipeout unsuspecting – and innocent – groups of people, whether they be Pennsylvanians or residents of any other state.”

Sen. Hughes proposed a measure in December (Senate Bill 1049) that would bring universal background checks for the sale of all firearms in Pennsylvania, including those sold at gun shows.

Other Hughes’ proposals would expand the list of criminal convictions that disqualify a person from possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, selling or transferring a firearm (Senate Bill 312), require an individual to complete a firearms safety or training course as a condition of receiving a concealed carry permit (SB 311), and would impose strict civil and criminal liability on any person, licensed importer, licensed dealer or licensed manufacturer who knowingly and intentionally sells, delivers or transfers a firearm that is used in a crime.

“Poll after public opinion poll supports what President Obama is ordering today and what I and many other Pennsylvania lawmakers have proposed,” Hughes, the Democratic Appropriations Committee chairman, said.

Two Quinnipiac University polls in December found that a majority of Americans think it is too easy for someone to buy a gun, and that nearly 90 percent support expanded background checks.

“People going to church, buying a movie ticket or going to work should not ever expect to have their lives shattered or end by gunmen who arm themselves with illegal weapons,” Sen. Hughes said. “The time to act is now.”


Follow Sen. Vincent Hughes via Twitter, Facebook or his website.

Senate Democrats React to Budget Line-Item Veto

Harrisburg – Dec. 29, 2015 – Senate Democrats provided the following reaction to Gov. Tom Wolf’s line-item veto of a Republican budget plan. The governor released six months of emergency funding for schools and human service programs, or $23.39 billion of the House Republican’s original $30.3 billion proposal.

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa’s (D-Allegheny) remarks follow:

“The governor’s action today will hopefully force House Republican lawmakers back to Harrisburg to finish work on a responsible spending plan. Legislators need to return to business and work toward the passage of the $30.8 billion budget framework agreement.

“The House Republican budget was $500 million out of balance. It does not address the $1.3 billion structural deficit that has hobbled state government and simply continued Corbett-type budgeting for another year. After the House Republicans walked away from a responsible budget plan last week, the governor had few options.

“The governor’s release of six-months of emergency funding for schools and human service programs pushes money to schools and programs that are confronted by serious financial challenges.”

Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) on the line-item veto:

“The purposeful decision of House Republicans to repeatedly stonewall the agreed-to framework budget has left Pennsylvania’s school system on the brink of collapse, so I applaud the governor’s decision to approve emergency funding for school districts throughout the commonwealth.

“Our schools have gone above the call of duty to keep their doors open. They cannot continue to do that, nor should we allow that to happen.

“Pennsylvania’s financial situation remains an urgent one despite the governor’s action today. Members of the House GOP need to get back to Harrisburg as quickly as they left and approve the agreed-to framework 2015-2016 budget because this is short-term help. Schools will close if the leadership in this lone caucus continues its bad behavior.”

Senate Democratic Whip Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) provided the following statement on the governor’s action:

“The organizations that operate in the shadows of Pennsylvania life are closing their doors because of House Republicans are willfully and callously ignoring their plight.

“Our human service agencies needed a relief valve from the unfair financial burden being placed on them by one of the four legislative caucuses, and Gov. Wolf rightly gave it to them.”


Contact: Stacey Witalec
Sen. Jay Costa

Senate Hearing Focuses on Budget Impasse’s Impact on Schools

Harrisburg – October 28, 2015 – At the request of state Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Phila.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a hearing on the devastating impact that the state’s 120-day budget impasse is having on schools across the state.

“While many of the budget dispute points remain unresolved, what is clear is that the consequences of this impasse are far-reaching,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the committee. “This hearing gives lawmakers a sense of how schools are handling the funding shortfall, and what problems they’ll face if this stalemate continues to drag on.”

Hughes added, “A growing number of schools have been cornered into borrowing money and taking out credit lines just to keep their doors open. Hopefully, this hearing’s focus on this worsening statewide financial crisis will encourage greater urgency, cooperation and compromise in the ongoing budget negotiations.”

During the hearing, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale testified that at least 27 school districts have taken out loans totaling more than $431 million. He projected that interest payments will total $30 million if the stalemate reaches mid-November.

Those who testified decried how the impasse has harmed students, depleted reserves and how taxpayers will be needlessly saddled with paying the interest on the growing number of loans and credit lines that schools are obtaining to keep their doors open.

Erie Public Schools Superintendent Jay Badams lamented that his district will need to borrow $30 million just to get through January.

“That’s $114,000 in wasted interest money that could have been used for so many badly needed educational expenses,” Badams said.

Dr. Joseph Roy, who serves as superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District in Northampton County, added that “choices at the state level continue to hammer school districts.” He said the diversion of funds to charter and cyber schools and a “punitive” approach to public education has blown up school expenditures.

Dr. Rula Skezas, who serves as superintendent of the McKeesport Area School District in Allegheny County, noted that even if the district receives its proposed funding it would still fall short of what it received during the 2011 school year. She said McKeesport has taken out a $5 million line of credit to make it to December. She said the district has already eliminated 110 staff positions to try and make ends meet.

Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, said public, charter and private schools are already reeling from years of being underfunded. He noted that the Philadelphia School District has already borrowed $275 million during the impasse. Fran Burns, who serves as chief operating officer for the School District of Philadelphia, testified that the district has struggled to contend with a “structural deficit.”

Lamenting the impact on local working families who fund schools through property taxes, Boscola pointed toward an educational survey conducted earlier this year showing that nearly 75 percent of districts were planning to impose property tax hikes, 30 percent were planning on making additional program cuts, and 41 percent were making more staff cuts. She said the state has withheld approximately $3 billion in school funds since the budget impasse began in July.

Joining Boscola and Hughes at the Capitol committee hearing were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny), Andrew Dinniman (D-Montgomery), Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.) and Sean Wiley (D-Erie),

Those testifying included:

  • The Honorable Eugene DePasquale
    Pennsylvania Auditor General
  • Fran Burns
    Chief Operating Officer, School District of Philadelphia
  • Joseph Gorham
    Superintendent of Schools, Carbondale Area School District
  • Dr. Joseph Roy
    Superintendent of Schools, Bethlehem Area School District
  • Dr. Jay D. Badams
    Superintendent, Erie Public Schools
  • Dr. Rula S. Skezas
    Superintendent, McKeesport Area School District
  • Marjorie Neff
    Chair, School Reform Commission
  • Anthony Pirrello
    CEO, Montessori Regional Charter School of Erie, and Vice President of Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools
  • Matt Przywara
    Member, PASBO
    Chief Financial and Operations Officer, School District of Lancaster
  • Bill LaCoff
    President, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
  • Susan Gobreski
    Education Voters of Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Pearl English
    School Nurse, School District of Philadelphia

# # #

Senate Democrats Ask Treasurer to Withhold Payment to Charters

Harrisburg – Oct, 20, 2015 – State Senate Democrats today called on the Pennsylvania state treasurer to “stop payment” on a scheduled disbursement of property tax revenue headed to charter schools. They have sent a letter to state Treasurer Tim Reese formally asking for the withholding of the money.

“Charter schools are seeking gaming tax relief funds based on one legal interpretation, while public schools and many public officials have a different view of the law,” state Sen. Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said today. “The treasurer should not release one dime until there is legal clarity and outstanding issues have been resolved.”

Charter schools contend that they are due disbursement from funds generated from gaming revenues. Typically, when a state budget is adopted, charter school funding is deducted from basic education subsidies.

Due to the budget impasse the normal funding stream is not available. The charters say that the law stipulates that since those funds are not available, the funds are then deducted from other state payments. The state is expected to make a $45 million payout to charter schools on Oct. 22, with 312 school districts diverting funds to charter schools.

“All of our schools, including traditional public schools and charters, need to be appropriately funded by the commonwealth,” Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) said. “However, we cannot provide special assistance to charter schools while many other school districts are suffering.

“I urge the state treasurer to hold off making payments to charter schools until the budget impasse has been resolved and all schools have funding in place.”

Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) called for the suspension of the payment to charter schools late last week. Brewster said “public schools are facing incredible difficulties because of the lack of a state budget.

“Now, the funding they are getting outside of the basic subsidy is being hijacked and that is wrong.”

Brewster pointed to the situation involving two of his school districts in the Monongahela Valley as examples of inequity. He said that while McKeesport is due $1.2 million in reimbursements, they will only receive $41,000 after charter school funds are deducted. He said that Clairton will have to send its entire $230,000 reimbursement to charters and receive nothing.

“Since so many of our schools are hurting due to the budget impasse, we need to answer important legal questions regarding these funds before they are distributed later,” Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “The bottom line is that both public and charter schools are in need of these supplemental gaming funds – funds that do not go through the normal budget process.”

In the letter to the treasurer, Senate Democrats said they do not believe that gaming fund reimbursements constitute “state payments” and that the state law dealing with disbursement of funds never contemplated a budget impasse.

They say that the statute involving the generation of faming funds and property tax relief define the use of funds disbursed from the property tax relief fund. Senate Democrats say that there is no discretion to shift funds earmarked for tax relief to pay operational costs at charter schools.

“Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act and the Taxpayer Relief Act must be read together in order to establish the General Assembly’s intent for the use of the money in the Property Tax Relief Fund,” the letter says.

Costa said that under the Fiscal Code the state treasurer has the authority to withhold payments from the state treasury.

“No payment can be made without the state treasurer’s warrant and approval,” Costa said. “This is a clear case when the law is murky and public schools are being treated inequitably by laws that did not anticipate a long budget impasse.”

Brewster, who met with the secretary of education and budget secretary yesterday about the issue, said he is very concerned about the short-term financial health of school districts if the funds are diverted.

“Many school districts across the state will bear the burden if these funds are released and they are not compensated,” Brewster said. “Given the outstanding legal issues, the responsible course of action is to stop payment until the conflicting interpretations of the law are reconciled.”


Senator Hughes Responds to Pennsylvania House Vote on Governor Wolf’s Proposed Revenue Package

HARRISBURG- October 7th, 2015 – State Senator Vincent Hughes, Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, released the following statement in response to the Pennsylvania House’s negative vote on Governor Wolf’s revenue package:

“Republican lawmakers have once again showed their unwillingness to compromise. Governor Tom Wolf has compromised on every issue but that is not enough for GOP lawmakers. It’s clear that the extremist wing of the Republican Party has taken over in Pennsylvania. Now, the GOP’s unreasonableness threatens to shut down Pennsylvania state government just like in Washington, DC.

“Governor Wolf has offered a plan that would increase education funding, restore funding for human service programs, provide a small tax on Marcellus Shale to provide some level of tax fairness, and implement a historic tax reduction and expansion of the rent rebate program. His plan also fixed the multi-billion dollar structural deficit that was inherited from the previous administration. However, the Republicans have decided to use another budget gimmick to keep Pennsylvania going down the same path that has led us to financial ruin.

“Let’s be clear: Today’s vote was an insincere effort by the Republicans as they refused to allow for a spending plan to be offered. It’s very hard to get votes for a tax plan when lawmakers are not also given the opportunity to vote on how the money would be spent.

“This is unacceptable. Republicans must come back to the negotiating table and compromise to get a fair budget done as soon as possible.”

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.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Contact: Stacey Witalec
Telephone: 717 877-2997

Contact: Bill Patton
Telephone: 717 787-3566


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.



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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Phone: 717.787.7112
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