Harrisburg – August 15, 2019 – State Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said today that he welcomed Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to change Pennsylvania’s charter school law and institute reforms through administrative action.
“The governor has proposed a significant effort both through executive action and changes in law to make charter schools more accountable and their activities more transparent,” Brewster said. “As someone who has, for years, sought changes in the charter law to protect taxpayers I am pleased that the governor has become fully engaged.”
Earlier this week, Wolf proposed a comprehensive approach to charter reform. The governor said that he was initiating executive action to have the state Department of Education develop regulations to increase access, transparency, funding equity and accountability.
Among many elements, the governor’s plan includes: developing greater oversight over charter school management companies; ensuring that charter board members do not have conflicts of interest; establishing a process so charters do not overcharge districts and taxpayers.
Brewster said the governor is also seeking charter school reform legislation that includes student performance standards, a cap on enrollment in low performing cyber-charters, Right-to-Know and Ethics Act coverage and fair and equitable funding.
Brewster has sponsored charter reform legislation over the last several sessions. His legislation includes provisions to enhance financial reforms, produce greater accountability and alter the charter appeal process. He reintroduced his charter reform plan this year as Senate Bill 457.
Though unsuccessful, the McKeesport lawmaker has forced votes on a series of charter reform proposals during Senate Appropriations Committee consideration of related legislation.
“There are reasonable provisions in both my legislation and the governor’s plan to align charter schools, so they complement, not compete, with traditional public schools while protecting taxpayers,” Brewster said. “I think the governor’s approach is a solid way to ensure that there is greater access, accountability and transparency.”
Brewster said he looked forward to working with the governor and senators on both sides of the aisle to develop a far-reaching and comprehensive package of reforms.
Harrisburg – February 1, 2017 – State Senate Democrats said that Gov. Tom Wolf should call a special session of the General Assembly to ensure that legislation that results in significant property tax relief or total elimination is passed and signed into law this session.
At a news conference today at the state Capitol, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said taxpayers of Pennsylvania have waited too long for relief from escalating tax bills.
“We believe there should be a full, complete and transparent discussion of any and all tax relief or elimination proposals,” Costa said. “A special session provides the kind of platform that is needed for citizens and lawmakers to understand specifics about each proposal.”
Leading the call for the special session, state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) said, “Relief from property tax needs to be addressed without delay.”
In the letter to the governor, the Democrats stated, “Our taxpayers have waited far too long for action on this important issue. They want lawmakers to set aside partisan agendas and enact a significant property tax reform or elimination measure–NOW.”
Working families are struggling to pay mortgages and save for college for their children while seniors have to scrape resources together to make ends meet; property taxes add to their burden, the letter said.
Boscola, who has been a long-time advocate of property tax elimination and relief, said that “my goal is to pass legislation that will eliminate the property tax and replace it with a better system to fund public education. Our homeowners deserve it and our children need it.”
Another strong proponent of calling the special session is Senate Democratic Whip Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware).
“Addressing property tax relief or elimination needs to be a top priority, but is critical that we look at all the plans closely and find common ground,” Williams said. “A special session will force the General Assembly to focus on the issue, act assertively and come forward with a proposal that is balanced and equitable.
“Our property taxpayers have waited long enough.”
Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) endorsed the call for a special session.
“The issue of property taxes has been a top priority for Pennsylvanians, many of whom have seen significant tax increases over the past few years,” Hughes said. “This special session would serve as an opportunity to thoroughly examine how we can provide the sustainable property tax relief that Pennsylvanians want and deserve while ensuring that our school districts are still properly funded.”
Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) said that a special session will allow lawmakers to fashion a plan that strikes a balance between property tax relief and reliable state support for public education.
“For many Pennsylvanians – particularly our seniors and lower income property owners – there is a very real school property tax crisis. I remain committed to a responsible solution that can significantly reduce and, if possible, eliminate the property tax burden on these lower income property owners,” Blake said. “I believe strongly that a special session on property tax reform can finally allow the legislature to strike the appropriate balance between property tax relief and the assurance of sufficient, predictable and reliable state financial support for public education.”
Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said he hoped a special session will spur lawmakers to act.
“For too long our taxpayers have watched while the General Assembly has tried to deal with reducing property taxes,” Brewster said. “There are many plans now being drafted or considered and lawmakers need to come together on a plan that provided real relief or elimination. Taxpayers have waited too long.
“A special session is an excellent forum for all plans to be discussed, including the plan to totally eliminate property taxes.”
Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) said that there are several approaches to address tax reform, but lawmakers need to be thoughtful about how tax elimination impacts schools.
“If we’re going to get serious about providing property tax relief or elimination, we must do it thoughtfully. We certainly can’t hastily approve an elimination plan at the expense of our public schools,” Street said. “There are several approaches to addressing property taxes, so a special session would provide us with a clearer path toward true relief.”
Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), who has long been an advocate of property tax elimination, said school property tax is a complicated issue.
“One large source of revenue for school funding must be replaced with multiple other sources, and we must do this fairly and uniformly,” Schwank said. “Let’s use this special session to strike a balance between relieving the heavy burden property owners face, while also providing our schools with a reliable source of investment.”
Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) said that property tax reform is a complex issue, but one that must be addressed.
“Property taxes remain an important issue to address. I still maintain that the appropriate solution will prove complex. We must dedicate time and effort to ensure the solution is successful,” Haywood said.
“The property tax is no longer sustainable as the sole source of funding for public education. It is high time for us to come together in the spirit of bipartisanship to develop and enact new and lasting solutions to the ongoing burden of rising property taxes on Pennsylvania homeowners,” Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee said. “This is a process that must involve both school districts and direct input from taxpayers and homeowners.”
The governor is empowered to call a special session of the General Assembly under the provisions of Article II, Section 4 and Article IV, Section 12 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Harrisburg, Mar. 23, 2016 − State Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) issued the following statement regarding the announcement today that Gov. Tom Wolf will allow a supplemental appropriations bill (House Bill 1801) that would fund schools, agriculture and other budget lines to become law without his approval.
Brewster said that while House Bill 1801 is short-sighted, it can be used as a conduit to speed funds for schools and other programs that are facing a shut-down as a result of a the budget impasse.
Brewster’s statement follows:
“The governor announced today that he will allow the supplemental appropriations bill to become law, without his approval. This will result in the release of key funding for schools and other critical programs. The action today will allow policymakers to back away from the brink of school closings, talk of program shut-downs and other difficulties that have developed as a result of the impasse.
“I had a great concern over a continued budget impasse, the hardship that had been created, and its impact on schools and others who rely on state funding. We needed to move beyond the political back-and-forth and find common ground.
“The governor is right when he criticizes this Republican budget plan for being out-of-balance and failing to appropriately fund schools. However, with this action by the governor, schools, agriculture and other key lines will be funded.
“Throughout this budget impasse, many legislators have worked diligently to find ways to responsibly fund schools and push out funding for important services and programs that have been caught up in politics — and end the impasse. Hopefully, this action today brings closure.”