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PA Senate Approves ‘Historic’ $3B Tax Cut Bill Over Dem Objections

The GOP-controlled Pennsylvania Senate has approved the largest tax cut in Keystone State history, slashing taxes by $3 billion.

The proposal is a Republican rebuttal to Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro, whose proposed $48.3 billion state budget would increase spending by $3.7 billion or 8.4 percent over the current year.

Senate Bill 269 passed the Senate in a 36-14 vote over the objections of Democratic leaders, though eight Democrats broke ranks to back the GOP proposal.

It would reduce the Personal Income Tax (PIT) rate from 3.07 percent to 2.8 percent, lowering the income tax to its pre-2004 rate.

“If you work and pay taxes, you deserve a tax cut. People should keep more of their own hard-earned money,” said Delaware Valley Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-Bucks). “This plan could jumpstart Pennsylvania’s economy by putting $3 billion back into the pockets of taxpayers, who then could spend or invest it in our communities.”

It would also eliminate the gross receipts tax on energy, effective on January 1, 2025, providing relief from high energy costs. The 4.4 percent gross receipts tax on profits of private electric utilities is passed along to consumers.

“Cutting income taxes and the tax on energy bills is a much better option than the governor’s plan for new government spending,” said Montgomery County Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R). “The Senate Republican Caucus plan invests $3 billion into all Pennsylvanians, by lowering their utility bills and adding more money to their paychecks – not by massive expansions of government programs.”

The state’s free-market think tank also supports the bill.

“We applaud the Senate for putting taxpayers first and passing SB 269,” said Commonwealth Foundation Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield. “Voters overwhelmingly express concerns with the rising cost of living. Simultaneously, they believe Gov. Shapiro’s proposed budget spends too much and want lawmakers to reduce wasteful government spending.

“In contrast to Shapiro’s massive, unending deficit spending and proposed energy taxes, the Senate plan would keep more money in the hands of working families while reducing energy costs,” Benefield said.

The two sides are debating what to do with the $14 billion in excess revenue Pennsylvania will have in reserve as of July 1. Shapiro has proposed major spending increases, including an additional $1 billion in public school spending. He says the GOP proposal is a sign that “Senate Republican leaders are … acknowledging that we must invest in Pennsylvania’s future,” according to a statement from his office.

Tomeka Jones-Waters, president of AFSCME Local 2587 says the tax cuts would be bad for government workers and the Pennsylvanians who rely on them for services.

“A $3 billion tax cut to public services would be detrimental for workers and their families, and to families in need of these services to survive,” Jones-Waters said. “Instead of giving tax cuts to the wealthy, invest that money in those who need it most.”

But Republicans retort that if the taxpayers have overpaid for government, that money should go back to them — not spent by politicians in Harrisburg.

“Given the state’s current financial position, I believe the most responsible thing we can do today is to give this money back to the hard-working families and small businesses I represent in Berks and Montgomery counties,” said Pennycuick.

Making the Cut: More PA GOP Women Running for Office

For many years, Springfield resident Nichole Missino was a nonpolitical person who registered as an independent and only voted in presidential election years.

“I thought my vote didn’t matter,” she said.

The 2020 pandemic changed that.

Missino owns Giovanni’s Media Barber Shop, which she named for her son, now 13.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, we had to shut down,” Missino said. She wanted to access relief funding so that the people who worked at the barber shop, who are independent contractors, could pay their bills.

She asked state Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-Springfield) for help but got nowhere.

“The state did not open that portal until the end of April,” said Missino, so her workers had no income starting when the Wolf administration ordered her to shut down in March.

“There was no real help from my Democratic legislator,” she said.

“I felt I could do better than she does,” said Missino, now a Republican and running against O’Mara. “I just want to help people.”

Jessica Florio

Missino is one of many Republican women running for office in 2022. Some 45 percent of the Pennsylvania Republican state Senate candidates are women, and 30 percent of the GOP House candidates are women.

“The state legislative candidates nominated by Pennsylvania Republicans are a true testament to the Republican Party’s commitment to electing more women leaders to public office who reflect their respected communities,” said RSLC Deputy Communications Director Mason DiPalma. “These candidates will act as a strong line of defense against Joe Biden’s destructive agenda. The only way to defend and expand our majorities is to elect diverse candidates like these so we can get our country back on track. We are excited and confident that these candidates will be successful in pushing back against Pennsylvania Democrats in Harrisburg.”

Jessica Florio is running for the state Senate, challenging Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery).

“As a special education teacher, Honey Brook Borough Council president, volunteer, and leader in my community, I have seen the good that can be accomplished when we work together and put aside the political differences that separate us,” said Florio. “I decided to run for state Senate because too many people in Harrisburg, including my opponent, choose politics over doing what is right for their constituents. It is partisan and divisive when she should be finding common ground.

“Currently, the residents of the 44th District are facing the very same issues that have deeply concerned persons throughout the country: wallet-crushing inflation, a stagnating economy, rising crime, and an education system that could, and should, be doing more for our children.

“I believe in the promise of America, and I believe Pennsylvania is a great state in which to live, work and raise a family,” said Florio. “The solutions to these issues won’t be found in partisan bickering but will be found through a leader who carefully listens to and works with those on both sides of the aisle to develop solutions that address the problems we all face.

“As state Senator, I will prioritize the needs of families, small businesses, and workers trying to make ends meet and will support legislation that will improve the lives of all Pennsylvanians,” she said.

Rep. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Harleysville) is another woman with her eye on a state Senate seat. Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/Berks/Montgomery) is retiring and endorsed Pennycuick.

Rep. Tracy Pennycuick

She said that she loves being in the legislature and serving her constituents. An Army combat veteran, she initially enlisted as a medic. Pennycuick earned a degree in business and a commission in the U.S. Army. She served as a Blackhawk pilot, including three combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm, where she was awarded the bronze star.

Pennycuick retired as a lieutenant colonel after 26 years of service. She was a platoon leader, operations officer, company commander, aviation group safety officer, brigade human resources officer, executive officer, Department of Defense efficiency expert, and foreign liaison to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Pennycuick and her husband, Rick, who also served in the armed forces, settled in Harleysville when he was in command of the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) Philadelphia. The couple has four grown children, three serving in the military, and two grandchildren.

In the House, she has focused on education, as well as “providing our frontline heroes, families, seniors, workers, and small businesses with the support they need through the pandemic while also pushing forward important legislation that protects some of our most vulnerable populations and vital government reform.”

Missino is also a fighter.

In early May, she was going to reopen her barber shop but received threats from the police and state. So she held a rally outside it to call on the state to allow small businesses to reopen.

She put up Plexiglas dividers, stocked up on personal protective equipment (PPE), and decided to reopen her shop on May 20. The Media police chief told her he would pull her occupancy permit. She did anyway, and when a state inspector came to check out Giovanni’s, he found that she had gone over and above the state rules.

“I’ve never been on unemployment,” she said. “I’ve always been a worker.”

Missino was also active in the school district, attending board meetings to oppose requiring students to wear masks. She spoke at school board meetings and ran for the school board in Springfield as a write-in candidate.

“I’ve gotten help from the Republican Party,” she said about her run for state representative.

DiPalma said, “The diverse slate of state legislative candidates nominated by Republicans in Pennsylvania embodies the mission of the RSLC’s Right Leaders Network. Through the RSLC’s Right Women Right Now and Future Majority Project initiatives, the committee over the past decade has recruited, trained, supported, and elected thousands of diverse state Republicans across the country, many of whom went on to serve in statewide and federal offices.”

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Corman: Fetterman Brought ‘Chaos’ to State Senate

Life isn’t always easy with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman presiding as president of the state Senate, one of his two mandated jobs as lieutenant governor. The other is to chair the Board of Pardons.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican, said a couple of days exemplify the level of “chaos” Fetterman brought to the body. He believes they highlight the disposition of the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.

One in 2019, early on in his term. The other was in January 2021.

“It sort of goes with his personality, an anarchist, right?” said Corman. “‘I follow my own rules. I don’t follow the rules of society.’ And in my 24 years, it was the worst two days on the floor of the Senate…The institution is the most important thing and so for those two days, that institution did not have a good look and chaos ensued. And both of those days were because of him because he refused to do his job, which was being the presiding officer, to enforce the rules of the Senate.

“There’s nothing close that ever happened,” said Corman. “We’ve had arguments, we’ve had debates. We had people get upset but never where chaos presented.”

After the first incident, the Senate leadership wrote a letter to Fetterman about his behavior.

“We have rules that are adopted unanimously,” said Corman. “And obviously the job of the presiding officer, whether it be (Fetterman) or one of the members, is to follow the rules. And to make sure the rules are followed.”

The members have a chance to discuss bills and then vote on them.

“There were two different incidents where the lieutenant governor decided not to enforce the rules and apply his own sense of fairness,” said Corman. “Which then led us into chaos.”

That day there was “a motion in question,” he said. Instead of normal discussion and voting, Fetterman allowed a Democratic member to continue talking. Corman, who was the House leader, called out “Point of order.”

“When someone calls ‘point of order,’ you have to recognize that person and he (Fetterman) refused,” said Corman. “And it was just chaos because he didn’t follow the rules.”

“He is the presiding officer but he is not a member of the Senate,” said Corman. “Therefore he needs to follow the parliamentarian.”

In that letter, the senators tell Fetterman “your role…does not entitle you to usurp legislative power assigned to the members.”

They added, “Your self-righteous defiance of the Rules has scarred the institution.”

The letter also accused Fetterman of lying about the incident afterward, with the transcript belying his statements.

Another time Fetterman cast aside his duties to preside over the Senate in a nonpartisan fashion in a fit of partisan pique and tried to seat a Democrat while the election results remained under appeal.

“There was an appeal going on to resolve the matter,” said Corman. “And the Democrats wanted to seat Jim Brewster. Ultimately, there was going to be a vote in the Senate to see whether we would or would not (seat him). And the ultimate decision was to wait until the federal court ruling was rendered.” Otherwise “it would be a mockery on the Senate floor.”

But Fetterman insisted and allowed a Democratic member to keep speaking, “despite the majority saying (Brewster) should not be seated.”

“The rules of the Senate determine how we move forward and he just wouldn’t have it,” said Corman. The members voted to remove Fetterman as presiding officer for that day, he said, after he “continued to scream from the rostrum that Brewster should be seated…Sen. Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) was kind enough to walk away and say he would wait for the court ruling.”

“At that point (Fetterman) was ultimately escorted off the floor, at his request, by the sergeant at arms,” said Corman.

“We took the unprecedented move to remove him as presiding officer,” said Corman. “The presiding officer is supposed to follow the rules. He doesn’t get to make the rules. Whether he likes it or not, he doesn’t get to make the rules.”

Other governors have assigned duties to their lieutenant governors, but Gov. Tom Wolf has not “to my knowledge given him any responsibilities.”

For example, under Gov. Tom Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Crawley “was at every budget meeting. He was a very big part of the administration.”

But Fetterman “was never a part of anything like that.”

Fetterman did not respond to requests for comment.


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Fetterman Still Absent From State Senate Duties

Where is the big guy when you need him?

That’s what state senators on the State Government Committee are asking about Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Committee members seeking to rewrite the 1974 law detailing what happens when the governor or lieutenant governor is disabled hoped to hear from him. Fetterman, who is also the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, did not respond to a letter from that committee asking for his input. Fetterman went on leave after suffering a stroke in April.

Fetterman originally notified the General Assembly he was disabled and unable to perform his duties when he had surgery to implant a defibrillator and pacemaker. He has since sent notification that he was no longer disabled after the statutory six days, said state Sen. David Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill).

The committee, chaired by Argall, held a hearing on the topic on July 14. But Fetterman was a no-show.

In a letter, Argall asked Fetterman to give his input by Aug. 1, allowing the committee to move forward with possible changes to the law, which is so antiquated that it mentions telegrams.

“Your perspective on this issue would be very instructive to our committee’s review of this issue,” Argall wrote. “Specifically, we would like to know more about what procedures your office followed in terms of notifying the Governor’s Office in the immediate aftermath of your hospitalization on May 13, including the timing and means of notification. This information is subject to the state’s Right to Know Law, but I hope you would provide this information voluntarily in the interest of full transparency in advance of any testimony you may provide.

“We would also be interested to learn whether your condition during your period of hospitalization warranted the disability procedures being invoked at that time. You were quoted in news reports as saying you almost died, which speaks to the gravity of the situation. In addition, given your unique perspective on this matter, your recommendations on how the law could be improved would be welcomed and appreciated,” Argall wrote.

In a recent interview, Argall told DVJ he had not heard back from Fetterman.

Although he offered Fetterman the option of talking to the committee over Zoom instead of in person and they asked Fetterman to pick the date or place. Still no response.

“We were being very, very accommodating,” said Argall.

Fetterman’s chief of staff, Christina Kauffman, did not respond to a DVJ request for comment or explanation. And as of this writing, Fetterman has not returned to his duties as state Senate president, “as is his constitutional duty,” Argall said.

Fetterman was “missing for 18 days of voting at the height of our budget season,” said Argall.

It was unclear if Fetterman had attended the June Board of Pardons meeting, which he chairs as part of his responsibility as lieutenant governor. Argall said those meetings are no longer on video, which is “a serious concern.”

But the Senate committee did hear from former Acting Gov. Mark Singel, who took over for then Gov. Robert Casey Sr. in June 1993 when Casey underwent a heart and liver transplant.

“My recollection of that moment in Pennsylvania history is that there was a reasonable amount of good faith and bipartisanship in both the executive and legislative branches that made the transition possible,” Singel wrote.

He believes the statute does not need to be changed.

“The language in the constitution and in the statutes is, in my opinion, sufficient to ensure a peaceful transition of power should either the governor or lieutenant governor become disabled. Additional requirements like establishing reporting timelines on notifications or other alterations would only add to the stress of what is, by definition, a challenging time for the public officials involved and for the Commonwealth itself.

“I would caution against ‘fixing’ a process that does not seem to be broken,” Singel said.

Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), the committee’s co-chair, said Fetterman gave notice of his absence and “the process is working.”

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A Fighter Runs for State Senate in Philadelphia

When Sam Oropeza was competing in mixed martial arts and professional boxing, he relished the underdog role.

“I always loved being an underdog,” he said, “because it always made me fight with that feeling that I had nothing to lose. And when you have that feeling that you have nothing to lose, I always thought that brought out the best version of myself.”

That tenacity could be an asset as Oropeza, a Republican, seeks election to the Pennsylvania State Senate from the Fifth District, encompassing much of Northeast Philadelphia. He and Democrat Jimmy Dillon will square off in a special election on May 17 to fill the unexpired term of Sen. John Sabatina Jr., who resigned in November after being elected to a judgeship on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

The winner will serve through 2024.

Oropeza lives in the River Wards with his fiancé and two children and works as a real estate salesman. He says his quest to seek public office is fueled by a desire to help city residents upgrade their quality of life. When time permits, he mentors aspiring young fighters.

“I always had aspirations of running,” he said. “Working in the Harrowgate neighborhood in Philadelphia for the past three-and-a-half years is really where I developed a vision for Philadelphia.

“You also see how policies keep people down and keep neighborhoods back. And all that mixed with moving my family here four months before the start of the pandemic and watching the quality of life get destroyed, I would say really was the biggest deciding factor in me running.”

When asked about issues that are most meaningful to Fifth District residents, Oropeza pointed to public safety and education.

“I’d say number one is public safety. Philadelphia is so dangerous right now. There’s no reason why anybody would want to open a business, raise a family, or send their child to a school in Philadelphia. So, public safety, I’d say, is the number one issue.

“Number two is education. We are the fifth-largest city in the United States, and we have the highest poverty rate. And it bothers me when I see kids who are living a life of poverty, and you see the lifestyle that they live, the habits that get reinforced into them. It’s heartbreaking to see children who are going to continue that cycle of poverty.”

Oropeza, who is one of six children, lost his father at age 10. “I grew up without my father and I understand that the habits and the choices that we made and the habits that we have will make a big difference in the outcome of our lives,” he said. “Education is so important to me and our quality of life. You can’t even call 911 anymore. The phone just rings. So, we don’t really get the services for the taxes that we pay.”

Oropeza acknowledges he has an uphill fight to win the election, given the Democrats’ registration advantage. But just like Rocky Balboa, he is not conceding defeat.

Sam Oropeza boxing

“When you look at (the 2021 Philadelphia District Attorney’s race) Peruto versus Krasner, and when you look at Donald Trump versus Joe Biden, and you look at the Fifth Senate District and the way the votes went, it is the only Senate district in the city of Philadelphia where a Republican has a chance to win.

“I have been doing exactly what I should be doing, which is getting out in the community, knocking on as many doors as possible, and my message is very well received. People are fed up. When you see the current state of Philadelphia, and also when you see the current leadership we have in this country. When I say, ‘Hi, My Name is Sam Oropeza, and I’m running for the state Senate, and I’m the Republican candidate,’  you see a sigh of relief in people, and it does give me hope. People are excited. People want to support me.”

DVJournal asked Oropeza if he felt a connection to Trump.

“I’m the youngest of six kids raised by a single mother,” he said, “so I really can’t identify with Donald Trump. But what I can identify with are the people of Philadelphia. I’m somebody who has lived the life that I would say the majority of Philadelphians have lived.

“I earned the hard way, and I earned it through hard work, so I really don’t connect myself with Donald Trump. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like him, and it doesn’t mean that I do like him. It’s just  that my message is for those from that blue-collar, working-class background that we have here in Philadelphia.”

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GOP Rep. Tracy Pennycuick Runs for State Senate

State Rep. Tracy Pennycuick is running for the state Senate seat now held by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/Berks/Montgomery), who is retiring.

Pennycuick (R-Harleysville) says she loves her current job serving her constituents, but since Mensch is retiring, she decided to run for the Senate “so there will be a continuity of services.”

Pennycuick wants to “maintain the integrity of the area, the values of our area. I really love the job.”

If she is elected to the Senate, Pennycuick says she would work to change Pennsylvania’s onerous tax laws that are causing senior citizens to lose their homes and driving businesses to other states.

Pennycuick grew up near Boston. An Army combat veteran, she initially enlisted as a medic. She earned a degree in business and a commission in the U.S. Army. She served as a Blackhawk pilot, including three combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm where she was awarded the bronze star.

Pennycuick retired as a lieutenant colonel after 26 years of service. She was a platoon leader, operations officer, company commander, aviation group safety officer, brigade human resources officer, executive officer, Department of Defense efficiency expert, and foreign liaison to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Pennycuick and her husband, Rick, who also served in the armed forces, settled in Harleysville when he was in command of the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) Philadelphia. The couple has four grown children, three of whom are serving in the military, and two grandchildren.

“I’m excited by the opportunity to expand my service to our communities in the state Senate,” said Pennycuick. “As state representative, I’ve focused on providing our front-line heroes, families, seniors, workers, and small businesses with the support they need through the pandemic while also pushing forward important legislation that protects some of our most vulnerable populations and vital government reform.

“Additionally, we’ve made sure our schools have the resources they need to provide excellent education, so our students succeed despite the adversity presented by the pandemic.  The outpour of support thus far has been humbling, and I look forward to campaigning for every vote this year,” she said.

Mensch, meanwhile, has endorsed Pennycuick.

“I’ve worked with Tracy in Harrisburg and her district over the past couple years, and when I decided to retire, I could think of no one who would work harder for the residents of the 24th state Senate District.  Clearly, Tracy is a fighter. Her years of service in the U.S. Army and work in the private sector have prepared her for this job which is why she has been so successful in the state House. I’m happy to lend my support to her for state Senate,” stated Mensch.

If she is elected, Pennycuick says she wants to make Pennsylvania “more attractive for businesses to come and do business.”

“We have a declining population,” said Pennycuick, noting the state has lost congressional seats. By making the state more attractive for business and manufacturers, it will be more likely that “our kids stay in the area,” she said.

She would also like to “fix the school tax and real estate taxes,” so that senior citizens can afford to stay in their homes.

“That’s a big issue,” she said, and something homeowners always complain to her about.

As for reducing school taxes, Pennycuick would like to have smaller districts join larger districts so there is “an economy of scale” and districts would not be paying so many administrators. There are currently 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, she noted.

Cuts to real estate taxes could be paid for through increasing the sales tax and the personal income tax, she said. But she would like the money to stay local, rather than going to the state.

“We can do it better and have great schools,” she said. “We owe it to our seniors.”

“We’ve got to think outside of the box and be more fiscally responsive,” said Pennycuick, who favors educational choice. “We need to give our kids an opportunity to be successful. No parent ever wakes up and says, ‘I want my kid to go to a failing school.”

She would also like to see more transparency in state government as well.

Pennycuick, who said she prioritizes constituent services, was elected in the House in 2020. She has supported first responders, workers, and victims of violence. She helped pass a budget that “fully funded” schools and for reforms in state lobbying practices. She also practices bipartisanship and tries to have a Democrat as a co-sponsor of her bills, when possible.

“I’m a firm believer in fixing problems,” said Pennycuick. “We have to work together.”

After the military, Pennycuick started a small business in the aviation services industry and employed 17 people. She learned firsthand the difficulties businesses face dealing with government red-tape and regulations. That was why she has worked to support small businesses in the face of the pandemic as they fight to survive and continue to meet payroll each week.

Pennycuick served as the director of Veterans Affairs for Montgomery County for three years and continues to serve on several veteran non-profit boards.

When she is not working, Pennycuick enjoys traveling, snowshoeing, refurbishing old furniture, and rehabbing houses. Most recently, she went to Alaska, where one of her daughters is stationed and “petted a moose.”

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