Pols on The Street: State Budget Lacks Minimum Wage Bump, Ed $

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As the state budget continues on a remarkable glide path toward timely passage in Harrisburg – legislators in both chambers have agreed to the outline and Gov. Tom Wolf has issued a statement that he would sign the package in its current iteration – from Philadelphia’s vantage point, the monies glass is decidedly half full.
First and foremost, despite relatively flush times that have led to a rare surplus and paved the way to relatively rancor-free negotiations, the GOP-led Legislature again managed to abdicate its sense of fiscal fair play by refusing to include an increase to the state’s minimum wage for the first time since 2009 – or as Sen. Tina Tartaglione, one of the most vocal advocates for the raise, puts it, 4,735 days. The continued lack of action to help lift Pennsylvanians out of poverty will win Republicans no fans from the millions of residents who would benefit from raised wages and who can cast their eyes across state lines to eye significantly higher wages in neighboring states.
Despite an increase in funding for schools, the need to address the numerous dangers inherent in Philadelphia schools has led to many of the city’s officials to join with the Fund Our Facilities Coalition to call on Harrisburg to allot $170 million to clean up clear and present dangers that include lead, mold, lack of heat, lack of air conditioning, crumbling structures and more. As State Sen. Vincent Hughes put it, “We cannot continue to mandate our children spend 180 days in toxic conditions any longer. There is still time to do what is right and fund emergency repairs in our schools.” City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker added that “There is nothing more important to the future of the Commonwealth than the health and safety our children. I urge members of the General Assembly to vote ‘no’ on any budget package that does not include additional funding to address the urgent and critical needs of our school facilities.” And PA House Democratic Caucus Chair State Representative Joanna McClinton noted that “We have a historic opportunity to invest in and upgrade schools in Philadelphia. Our coalition is dedicated to doing everything we can to ensure that we fund our facilities as part of this year’s budget.”
Open Primaries:
One Step Closer
The State Senate approved with overwhelming bipartisan support (42-8) a landmark bill that would allow 785,000 independent Pennsylvanians to vote in spring primary elections, a significant step forward in moving away from the Commonwealth’s closed primary system. The proposal, Senate Bill 300, was introduced by Senator Joe Scarnati earlier this year and would amend state election law to allow unaffiliated voters to choose a party primary — Democratic or Republican — in which they could vote for candidates. The bill was voted out of the Senate State Government Committee on June 18, also with bipartisan support.
“We’re thrilled to see the tremendous progress made on primary reform” said David Thornburgh, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan better government advocate. “Our closed primaries were never fair to the voters who were shut out of these important elections, and the consequences of partisan bases gaining a disproportionate impact on who enters public office and their agendas has also been harmful to the effectiveness of government as a whole.”
The Committee of Seventy is one of several civic organizations that established Open Primaries PA, a nonpartisan coalition focused solely on reforming primary elections to ensure representative and accountable government. The other founding members include Common Cause PA, Commonwealth Commonsense, League of Women Voters of PA, Independent Pennsylvanians, and Philly Set Go. The coalition has noted the striking interest from Pennsylvanians in the issue, highlighting strong support from editorial boards across the state. The Commonwealth remains one of only nine states that still uses closed primary elections.
“Now all eyes are on the House,” said Thornburgh. “The Open Primaries PA coalition and our supporters look forward to engaging in a constructive debate around the merits of the primary reform with representatives across the state and with leadership.”
Senate Dems to Wolf: Declare Gun
Violence Disaster
Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus, including the city’s Senate delegation, jointly sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf requesting a disaster declaration for gun violence in the Commonwealth.
“We believe it is necessary to raise the public’s awareness of the massive loss of human life and the suffering inflicted on affected family, friends and neighbors where this tragedy is unfolding daily,” they wrote. “Just as you have signed six disaster declarations to provide every tool at the Commonwealth’s disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the death toll and impact from illegal guns should merit immediate and coordinated attention.”
Specifically, a disaster declaration could do the following:
Establish a task force led by the Department of Health to create and implement a public health framework for addressing gun violence
Establish a command center in the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate state and local law enforcement response
• Enhance the Joint-Local State Firearm Taskforce through additional personnel and funding to take illegal guns off the street
• Expand information gathering and sharing between all levels of law enforcement and community groups
• Increase law enforcement presence, both local and state, in targeted areas where gun violence is most prevalent
• Expedite and expand grants and other funding sources for community groups and nonprofit associations with a proven record of violence reduction and prevention
• Provide additional state resources for behavioral and mental health
• Bringing to bear the significant wealth of knowledge and experience in the Departments of Health and Human Services to provide de-escalation and de-confliction training throughout the community
• Require the Pennsylvania Department of Education provide training and professional development on trauma-informed education

BRB Energizes Solar for Residents
In its last session before the summer recess, City Council passed legislation introduced by Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown (At Large) that will launch a Solar Rebate Program for Philadelphia commercial and residential properties.
The Philadelphia Solar Incentive Program gives all property owners an additional incentive to install a solar photovoltaic system and would be in effect from January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2024. Any projects installed after July 1, 2019 will be eligible to apply for the incentive when the program opens at the start of 2020, making it possible for select projects contracted in 2019 to access both the 30% tax credit and the Solar Incentive Program. The proposed incentive is $0.10/watt for commercial projects and $0.20/watt for residential projects, meaning that a typical homeowner would receive an average rebate of $1,000 after installing solar on their home.

“Philadelphia can now serve as an example for residents and local businesses transitioning to clean energy. This Solar Incentive Program puts us one step closer in combating the impact that climate change is having on our planet,” said Reynolds Brown.
The bill allocates $500,000 for the Solar Incentive Program to be allocated on a first-come first-serve basis, with a potential prioritization of low-income households. The Office of Sustainability and the Philadelphia Energy Authority will work together to develop an application process to access the new Incentive.

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