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Treasurer Garrity, Sen. Hutchinson, Rep. Briggs Back Bill to Reform the Board of Finance & Revenue

(From a press release)

Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity, Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Butler/Clarion/Erie) and Rep. Tim Briggs (D-King of Prussia)  announced bipartisan, pro-taxpayer legislation to streamline and improve the process of resolving disputes with the Department of Revenue (DOR).

The legislation, to be introduced this month, will allow the Board of Finance & Revenue (BF&R) to accept late-filed applications in certain circumstances and create a new settlement process for taxpayers as an alternative to the formal and lengthy court appeals process. The BF&R handles taxpayer appeals involving Pennsylvania’s Department of Revenue.

The bill is supported by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the NFIB, the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), and the Pennsylvania Society of Enrolled Agents.

“Far too many Pennsylvania taxpayers have found themselves stuck in an unforgiving, bureaucratic tax appeal process – and it’s time for us to give them a way out,”  Garrity said. “Some of the current rules are inflexible for no good reason. The legislation being introduced by Sen. Hutchinson and Rep. Briggs will result in a process that’s speedier and far less burdensome. This will be a huge step forward for taxpayers.”

“This legislation is a taxpayer protection proposal, pure and simple,” Hutchinson said. “Sometimes our state’s tax collection agency gets a little overzealous in how it interprets applicable law. Our bill gives taxpayers more time and options when responding to assessments by the Department of Revenue. In fact, earlier this month I spoke with a small business owner from Oil City who would have likely benefited from the increased flexibility that this proposal would give to BF&R. Instead, he was stuck with a heavy-handed and, I believe, unfair decision by the Department of Revenue.”

“For far too long, many of us in the Legislature have heard from constituents who get caught in the tax appeals process,” Briggs said. “These bipartisan reforms will not only help taxpayers amicably and expeditiously resolve tax disputes but will also benefit the commonwealth by resolving tax issues sooner, collecting tax liabilities quicker and directing valuable resources towards more complex cases.”

“The Pennsylvania Chamber advocates for tax reforms that embody the principles of competitiveness, predictability, fairness, and simplicity,” said Luke Bernstein, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “This bipartisan proposal will make needed reforms to the tax appeals process and lead to a quicker and fairer resolution to disputes, which is in the best interest of taxpayers and the Commonwealth. We thank Treasurer Garrity, Senator Hutchinson, and Representative Briggs for their leadership on this important legislation.”

“NFIB is happy to see this bipartisan proposal take shape,” said Greg Moreland, NFIB State Director. “Far too often small business owners find themselves involved in complicated bureaucratic processes which take time, energy, and money away from their core business. NFIB thanks Senator Hutchinson, Representative Briggs, and Treasurer Garrity for this thoughtful proposal.”

“PICPA appreciates the opportunity to work with the team at Treasury and BF&R on this important, taxpayer-friendly legislative initiative,” said Jennifer Cryder, CPA, CEO of PICPA. “I also want to thank the members of the PICPA State Taxation Steering Committee for their effort to advance this initiative. We believe this legislation will help taxpayers who may not have a professional tax adviser by helping them get a more rapid settlement to their case.”

“We welcome the fact that Treasurer Garrity, Sen. Hutchinson and Rep. Briggs listened to the small business community, and acted on our concerns,” said Warren Hudak, President of the Pennsylvania Society of Enrolled Agents. “This kind of certainty will allow us to serve our clients better and work to come to quick resolution on sometimes very complicated matters.”

Taxpayers who disagree with a final decision made by DOR currently have a strict 60-day deadline to appeal the decision to BF&R. That often leads to cases being dismissed on a technicality rather than being decided on the merits. The proposed legislation allows BF&R to accept late-filed applications if good cause is shown by the taxpayer and the reason permitting the late-filed appeal is agreed to by any other party.

This legislation also empowers BF&R to create a formal settlement process, which will allow more tax disputes to be resolved without a final Board decision – thus reducing litigation costs for taxpayers. Under current law, BF&R has no authority to direct a settlement process.

BF&R receives approximately 4,200 appeals annually. The Board must resolve each appeal within six months of its filing; otherwise, the underlying DOR decision is upheld. Currently, only about 13% of eligible appeals are resolved through settlement prior to an appeal before the Commonwealth Court.

BF&R is an independent administrative tax tribunal responsible for the second and final level of administrative appeal (with minor exceptions) before appealing to court. The Board consists of three members – two are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate; the third is the state Treasurer or her designee and serves as chair.

STEVENS: We Need to Address Our Border Crisis

We are a nation of immigrants, and, in many ways, this is one of our greatest strengths. But today, we are struggling to understand how we should address the flood of immigrants coming into the country. This is not the first time we have wrestled with this issue; if we are honest with ourselves, we have always had trouble dealing with immigration.

It is absolutely essential that we figure things out this time. We like to think of ourselves as a nation of promise, a nation that stands for freedom and a good life. And many in the world see us this way. But today, our immigration policy is in shambles. And Democrats and Republicans have failed to offer us a path to success.

In the last year, more than 2 million people were arrested while trying to enter the U.S. illegally. In addition, more than 1 million people have been released by authorities, pending a hearing on their requests for asylum. And only 10 American cities have a population that large. When will these hearings take place? This is a serious issue. The system is overwhelmed, and in the meantime, people keep streaming in. Every country has a responsibility to control its borders, and it is clear that we are not doing that.

Except for a few fringe activists, Democrats do not favor open borders, but few of them have not made the border crisis a priority. They amuse themselves by condemning the Trump administration’s policies, but that is not a solution.

Republicans, on the other hand, falsely claim that Democrats actually want to bring undocumented immigrants into the country to increase the number of non-White, non-Christian, Democratic voters. This may appeal to the Republican base, but it isn’t a solution either. Democrats seem to be hoping the problem will just disappear, and Republicans like using the problem to stoke fear. Democrats champion mercy, and Republicans champion toughness. We are in a dark place.

The answer is not to ignore the problem, and the answer is not to condemn and vilify immigrants. Although this is a multi-faceted and complex issue, a new vision has to address three major issues:

—Secure the border. Democrats hated Trump’s push for a wall, and I don’t think a wall is a solution, but the border must be secured before anything else is done. If we grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants before the border is secured, it will only encourage others to enter illegally.

—Redefine the meaning of asylum. Most of those trying desperately to enter the United States are not looking for asylum in the traditional sense; they are not personally under the threat of persecution by their government. They want a better life, and America should be excited about welcoming people who want to join us, work hard and make a better life for themselves. But if they have to try to prove something untrue, that they are seeking political asylum, then they will be forced to lie or hide from officials.

We need a broader definition of asylum, one that recognizes those fleeing terrible poverty, vicious gangs and rampant unemployment — places where there is no hope of a decent life. If we make this change, it will incentivize people to enter the country legally and welcome the legal process that lies ahead of them. They will not feel the need to act outside of the law. They will not live for years in the shadows, afraid of being exposed and vulnerable to being exploited by unscrupulous employers.

—Work consistently over several years, perhaps decades, to support economic and political improvements in the countries from which people are most likely to flee in the first place, such as Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. It should be a priority for us to partner with the governments in these countries to help them become better places to live. If people in these countries have no reason to flee, the number of those coming to our border will decrease significantly.

We really need comprehensive immigration reform, but this will be impossible until we have a political leader who can articulate a clear, compelling vision of what it should be. The American people need to know that we control our borders and welcome the stranger seeking a better life. We need a vision of the future that combines toughness and mercy.

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Point: We Should Reform, Not Defund, Necessary Institutions

EDITOR’S NOTE: For another view see: Counterpoint: Let’s Cut the Military Budget, Just Don’t call it ‘Defund’


Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. While Newton was describing this phenomenon in relation to physics, the basic principle also applies to society in general.

For instance, after the death of George Floyd in 2020, many municipalities in the United States took action to “defund the police” to some degree or another. Of course, this action produced an equal and opposite reaction: crime spiked as criminals became emboldened due to a reduced police presence.

Since the summer of 2020, the “defund movement” has expanded, with some calling for the defunding of ICE, the IRS and even the FBI. Although I am somewhat sympathetic to calls for defunding the IRS, I’m also well aware that if the IRS were to be “defunded,” the U.S. economy would likely collapse.

In other words, the police, ICE, FBI and IRS are vital institutions that must exist for society to function and thrive. Without these institutions, anarchy and chaos would likely ensue.

However, that does not mean that these institutions should be free from scrutiny and that their often-bloated budgets should constantly increase. Much has been made in recent years regarding these institutions’ malfeasance. But, the message that the solution is to “defund” these and several other institutions is a harebrained idea that would do much more harm than good.

On the other hand, many valid arguments can be made from all sides of the political spectrum that many of these institutions are in dire need of reform. For example, in 2022, the IRS budget totaled $13.2 billion, more than a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Yet, the performance of the IRS over the past year has been downright abysmal.

Consider: During the 2022 tax season, the IRS answered just 10 percent of taxpayer calls. The IRS also has a huge problem processing tax returns on time. As CNBC recently reported, “As of June 10, there were 11 million pending individual returns, including filings received before 2022 and new 2021 returns, according to the IRS.”

Essentially, the IRS is woefully unable to do its job. But, defunding the IRS is not the solution. Neither is throwing billions of dollars in new funding into the agency, as the Biden administration and congressional Democrats recently did.

A much better approach would be a comprehensive review of the agency, performed by a bipartisan commission, to make the agency more efficient, customer-service oriented, technologically up to date, and so on.

A similar strategy could be applied to all institutions that have become sclerotic and cannot serve their purpose.

Yet, many on the left and right are calling for the “defunding” of institutions not only because they are clumsy and inefficient. A large portion of people rally around the “defund” movement for purely ideological reasons. When addressing their concerns (or lack thereof in some cases), we must be diligent in defending these institutions if and only if they serve a vital societal function.

Such is why calls to defund the police have been at the forefront of the defund movement debate. It is absurd to think that a town, city, state or any jurisdiction could function without a proper law enforcement presence. One of the primary roles of government is to protect the public by ensuring that law and order are maintained.

Another method we ought to consider in the effort to reform institutions that have strayed from their mission or have become unaccountable is to insist on making them as localized as possible. The more an institution is removed geographically from the people it is supposed to serve, the less likely it will be responsive to those people.

Finally, it is imperative that these institutions, especially those funded with taxpayer money, remember that their principal duty is to serve the American people fairly and forthrightly. We the People are the ones funding their salaries, pensions, offices, etc. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the leaders of these institutions to ensure that our interests are being rightfully served.

Instead of calling for the widespread “defunding” of whatever we don’t like, which is an intellectually lazy approach, it would behoove us all to call for a systemic reformation of any rogue institutions that are central to a well-governed society.

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MENSCH: Restoring Public Trust in State Government

For years, there have been calls from both inside and outside the Capitol from people asking that more be done to curb the influence of lobbyists and political consultants in Harrisburg. Government, which is supposed to serve the will of the people, can unfortunately be swayed by outside sources.

Pennsylvanians deserve to have faith in their government. They deserve to trust that government officials are acting in their best interests, rather than on behalf of others whose influence is shrouded.

That is why some of my colleagues and I came together to rise to the challenge that Sen. Jake Corman laid out in his first speech as Senate Pro Tempore in January.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill of York County, Sen. Lisa Baker of Luzerne County, Sen. Tommy Tomlinson of Bucks County and I introduced a package of bills that would subject lobbyists and political consultants to new transparency and ethical standards that limit their level of influence in state government.

My legislation, Senate Bill 801, would require lobbyists to register any clients seeking state financial assistance or grants. It would also prohibit kickbacks and inducements for referrals or performance bonuses for a successful application for taxpayer-funded grants.

Senate Bill 802, sponsored by Sen. Phillips-Hill, would prohibit any state entity from hiring an outside lobbyist or political consultant to lobby any branch of government. The bill would also prohibit former lobbyists who become employees of the General Assembly from being lobbied by their previous colleagues for one year after separation from employment. This would prevent the revolving door of individuals leaving a lobbying firm to join the legislature and immediately being influenced by their former coworkers.

Senate Bill 803, sponsored by Sen. Baker, would prevent lobbyists from also being registered as political consultants and would prohibit a political consultant from lobbying a state official who was a client for the remainder of the term for which consulting services were provided.

Senate Bill 804, sponsored by Sen. Tomlinson, would require all registered lobbyists to complete mandatory annual ethics training developed by the Department of State.

Legislation passed earlier this summer, Act 70 of 2021, requires lobbyists to disclose any equity they hold in any entity for which they are lobbying. While passage of this bill was a good start to stifle the influence of lobbyists and political consultants in Harrisburg, more work remains to make our government serve its people in more transparent and effective ways.

We will continue to work legislatively to bring openness, transparency and improved ethical standards to the Commonwealth’s lobbying industry so public trust in state government can be restored.