York County lawmakers tout their work at legislative luncheon
About half of York County's lawmakers discussed topics ranging from the state budget impasse to pension reform during the York County Economic Alliance's legislative luncheon on Thursday. The luncheons, held twice a year, aim to keep members of the York's business community abreast of issues being discussed in Harrisburg.
Five York County legislators — Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township; Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township; Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township; Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City; and Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, Dauphin and York counties — took part in the forum.
The luncheon was held at the Wyndham Garden hotel in West Manchester Township. The other half of the county's delegation to Harrisburg took part in a luncheon held in the spring.
Each lawmaker was given a topic to talk about. Here's a look the topics they discussed:
Budget impasse: Grove is calling on Democrats to cross the aisle to join GOP efforts to override Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's budget veto.
A Republican-led effort to override certain aspects of the governor's veto, which would have provided funding for human services, education, health and others, failed for lack of the needed two-thirds majority in August. Wolf vetoed the GOP-drafted $30.2 billion budget package in June.
Grove also is calling on lawmakers to start work on the 2016-17 budget now since the impasse is impinging on the time when officials start work on the following year's budget.
"Welcome to the 2016-17 budget year," he said.
Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for the Wolf administration, said Republican leadership needs to start focusing on the 2015-16 budget before they can turn their eyes to the next year's budget.
Hotel tax: Gillespie said his measure, House Bill 794, which would allow county commissioners, including the three in York County, to increase the hotel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, has a good shot at landing on Wolf's desk this session. The bill is in the Senate
An increase of the tax rate, levied on people who rent hotel rooms, would increase revenue by $700,000 — bringing the total to $2.6 million yearly for the county. That money would be used to boost tourism.
Lawmakers have been trying to get similar measures to increase the tax passed for some time to no avail.
"Watching legislation is a lot like watching sausage being made," Gillespie said. "You might like the end product, but you may not like the process."
Pension reform: Pennsylvania is staring down $53 billion in debt from pensions it provides to state workers, Phillips-Hill said.
"Look, we have a pension crisis in Pennsylvania," she said, noting she didn't sign up for a state pension after she was elected to the House last year.
A measure, Senate Bill 1, passed the Senate and House earlier this year but was vetoed by Wolf.
Despite the setback, Phillips-Hill said passing pension reform is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
Education funding: Schreiber said there's bipartisan support to change the state's basic education funding formula.
Updating the formula would likely mean more state funding for York County school districts. The current formula is based on early 1990s population figures, and the county's population has increased since then, meaning districts here stand to see an increase in funding.
Schreiber was the lone Democrat to speak at the luncheon and took the stage after the Republican representatives spoke.
"Thanks for letting me bat cleanup," he joked. "I'll now refute a few things."
Property taxes: Folmer said eliminating school property taxes is a measure that must gain approval from lawmakers.
To fully eliminate the tax, levied by each district in the state, the state must come up with $12 billion in new tax revenue. One measure, Senate Bill 76, would do that by broadening and increasing the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. It also would raise the personal income tax.
Eliminating school property tax would help spur on economic development and increase home ownership, he said.
"This bill work. It could help neighborhoods survive," Folmer said.
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.