OPED Folmer: New year brings new goals
I have a number of goals for the next two years of the 2017 — 2018 Legislative Session, beginning with implementation of Act 16 of 2016 — my medical marijuana initiative.
The program is off to a fast start as in less than a year since becoming law, the Department of Health has released application forms for grower/processors and dispensaries. With hundreds of applications and thousands of pages of information expected, I look forward to continuing to work with the administration and a bipartisan, bicameral group that is seeking to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of medical marijuana in our Commonwealth.
Additionally, I have reintroduced my Taxpayer Protection Act (Senate Bill 7). This legislation seeks to limit the growth of state government spending to the change in incomes over the last three years or to the average inflation rate plus population changes over the last three years (with exceptions for extraordinary circumstances).
The Taxpayer Protection Act would also require: 25 percent of all money over these limits be returned to taxpayers, 25 percent be allocated to the Rainy Day Fund to help balance state budgets during trying economic times, and 50 percent to help pay unfunded liabilities of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) and the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS).
In 1970, Pennsylvania had a population of 11.8 million and a state budget of $2.6 billion or $222 per person. More than 46 years later, Pennsylvania’s population has increased 8.36 percent to 12.8 million while state spending has increased 1,104 percent to $31.5 billion or $2,466.04 per person. I believe we need to better protect taxpayers as Pennsylvania state government has grown faster than its ability to pay.
At the same time, I will continue to advocate for passage of Senator Argall’s Senate Bill 76 to eliminate school property taxes through expansion of the Personal Income Tax and the Sales Tax. These much needed and long overdue reforms fell just one vote short in 2015 and I believe our continued work to refine this measure will allow us to pass it in the Senate.
To better protect property owners, I will reintroduce my civil asset reform legislation as Senate Bill 8. A similar measure overwhelmingly passed the Senate last Session, but died in the House due to a lack of time.
I believe these recommended reforms represent major improvements over current law as the status quo provides few protections for property owners.
Under this plan, Pennsylvania property owners would see significant and unprecedented changes to asset forfeitures, including: higher burdens of proof for the Commonwealth, protections for third-party owners, improved transparency in auditing and reporting, required hearings to prohibit certain seizures, and an extra level of protection for those acquitted of related crimes in trying to get their property back.
I also hope the State Government Committee, which I chair, will review 2016 Election issues for possible corrective action, including integrity of Pennsylvania voting and Electoral College issues (faithless electors, proportional voting, etc.).
I also believe the committee should continue discussions to better protect religious freedoms and liberty of conscience as we have seen the expansion of rights for sexual orientation, gender identity or expression across the country.
Finally, I believe the State Government Committee should work to advance a number of legislative and political reforms — beginning with possible changes to Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act, the Civil Service system, and the Procurement Code.
I was pleased with my accomplishments during the last Legislative Session and I look forward to advancing more reforms in the months and years ahead.
— State Sen. Mike Folmer represents the 48th Senate District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Reach him at www.senatorfolmer.com.