Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • New Law Stops Wolf Plan to Toll Interstate Bridges, Requires Transparency
  • The New State Budget: Clearing Hurdles to Jobs and Opportunity
  • Deana’s Law Increases Penalties for Repeat DUIs
  • More Than $1.6 Million in “Green Light-Go” Funds Coming to 25th District Communities for Traffic Safety
  • Recovery Grants Available for McKean County Municipalities, Small Businesses
  • Funding Available for Projects that Promote PA Farm Products
  • Federal Funding Available to Help State, Local Governments Address Rural Homelessness
  • Accessing Local and County Crime and Crash Data
  • New Suicide Hotline Available Starting July 16: Call 988
  • How to Conserve Energy and Manage Summer Power Bills
  • New Tipped Worker Rules Begin Aug. 5, 2022
  • Celebrating Parks and Recreational Opportunities

New Law Stops Wolf Plan to Toll Interstate Bridges, Requires Transparency

Legislation to stop the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) from imposing new tolls on existing bridges with a Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3) has been signed into law.

Act 84 of 2022:

  • Rescinds the PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative and limits the scope to the nine candidate bridges (instead of any major bridge in the state) without user fees.
  • Increases transparency by requiring PennDOT to publish a detailed analysis and requiring PennDOT to distribute a copy of the P3 Board’s resolution.
  • Incorporates public comments by creating a new 30-day public comment period prior to the P3 Board’s voting meeting.
  • Creates a checks-and-balance by reducing the scope of PennDOT’s power to optional user fees for new infrastructure and ensuring the General Assembly has more time to assess any transportation projects passed by the P3 Board.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who had threatened to veto the bill, reached a compromise following the Commonwealth Court’s two rulings against PennDOT’s plan.

This scheme was a new tax on motorists who already pay taxes for roads and bridges and on local communities facing new infrastructure costs caused by traffic diverted to their streets by drivers trying to avoid the new tolls. And it was done with virtually no public or legislative input. These reforms will ensure that the process is transparent, and motorists and legislators have a say in future P3 projects.

The New State Budget: Clearing Hurdles to Jobs and Opportunity

The new 2022-23 state budget does not include any broad-based tax increases and is structured in a way to minimize the risk of tax increases in the years ahead.

In fact, the budget actually cuts the Corporate Net Income (CNI) tax rate, which is now the highest in the nation. The new budget cuts the rate from 9.99% to 8.99% and creates a phased reduction to 4.99%, or sixth lowest, by 2031.

Not only will a lower rate attract new business, it also makes the state more attractive for businesses that already operate here and need to expand.

The budget also eliminates a disadvantage faced by Pennsylvania small businesses when competing with those in other states. Under federal tax law, a “like-kind” exchange under the Internal Revenue Code allows for tax deferral when property is exchanged for similar property. This long-standing federal provision allows employers to invest in the job-creating assets businesses need to remain competitive. Every state but Pennsylvania provides for a similar deferral on the state level.

The new spending plan also brings state tax law governing expense deductions in line with federal law, eliminating the unequal treatment of small businesses in Pennsylvania. The increase in limits makes it easier for employers to buy equipment and to invest, which promotes job growth.

Additional funding is also included for several tax credit programs that foster economic development in Pennsylvania communities, including Research and Development ($5 million increase), Film Tax Production ($30 million increase), Entertainment Economic Enhancement ($16 million increase) and Waterfront Development ($3.5 million increase).

Since first taking office I’ve been working to get these types of measures passed in order to stop our region’s top export being our working class kids.  The measures are being developed in a manner that will keep us from going off a steep fiscal cliff (if we had unwisely cut things like the CNI tax in half all at once) while providing existing businesses, out-of-state businesses looking to move here and future entrepreneurs with the assurance of a steadily improving climate for doing business.

These changes will make Pennsylvania more competitive with surrounding states and send a strong message to employers that our Commonwealth is open for business.

Deana’s Law Increases Penalties for Repeat DUIs

The Senate recently passed legislation that is now law to increase penalties for multiple DUI offenders.

Act 59 of 2022, Deana’s Law, would require consecutive sentencing, instead of concurrent, for fourth DUIs and above. It would also increase penalties for drivers with multiple DUI convictions involving high blood alcohol content levels.

The law is named after Deana Eckman, 45, who was killed in a 2019 crash involving a six-time DUI offender.

More Than $1.6 Million in “Green Light-Go” Funds Coming to 25th District Communities for Traffic Safety

Seventy communities across the state will receive over $37.8 million to support traffic signal upgrades, increasing safety and mobility across Pennsylvania’s communities through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) “Green Light-Go” program.

Of those communities, four are in the 25th Senatorial District:

  • City of Dubois (Clearfield County) – $488,000 for modernization of the traffic signal at Liberty Boulevard (US 219) and Park Avenue.
  • Sandy Township (Clearfield County) – $383,621 for modernization of the traffic signal at Maple Avenue, Shaffer Road, and 14th Street.
  • City of Lock Haven (Clinton County) – $351,719 for modernization of the traffic signal at Route 150, Second Avenue and Barton Street; and $346,558.40 for modernization of the traffic signal at Route 120 and North Fairview Street.
  • Ridgway Borough (Elk County) – $32,000 for addition of a protected/permitted left turn phase and detection upgrades at the intersection of Main Street (Route 219/948), North Broad Street (Route 219), and South Broad Street.

Green Light-Go grants are provided as reimbursements to municipalities for updates to improve the efficiency and operation of existing traffic signals. Grant funding through the Green Light-Go program may be utilized for a range of operational improvements including, but not limited to, light-emitting diode (LED) technology installation, traffic signal retiming, developing special event plans and monitoring traffic signals, as well as upgrading traffic signals to the latest technologies.

Recovery Grants Available for McKean County Municipalities, Small Businesses

The McKean County Commissioners have developed a Recovery Grant Program utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that were distributed as State and Local Federal Recovery Funds (SLFRF).

McKean County received approximately $7.8 million in SLFRF and the new grant program using those funds is focused on providing one-time infusions of financial resources to eligible organizations to meet pandemic recovery needs and to rebuild the local economy.

According to county officials, the funds are not just to address revenue loss or to cover regular operating costs, but, more importantly, to invest in programs or projects that can demonstrate measurable, sustainable, collaborative, and lasting improvements for small businesses, municipalities and the lives of McKean County residents

Municipalities and small businesses can find more information about the Recovery Grant Program on the county’s website, www.mckeancountypa.org, on the COVID-19 Resources & Information tab, or by contacting Ann Robinson, ARPA Coordinator, at ARP-MCKEANCO@mckeancountypa.org.

The letter of intent forms from small businesses and municipalities are due to the county by Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.

Funding Available for Projects that Promote PA Farm Products

Nonprofits can apply now for grants for projects that promote Pennsylvania farm products and grow export markets.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture will award up to $303,000 in matching funds to nonprofits to reimburse up to 50% of costs for promotional and educational projects intended to increase consumer awareness and sales.

Eligible projects in 2022 can promote anything from wine to wool, hardwoods to honey, fruit, vegetables, herbs, meat, poultry or dairy — any agricultural product produced in PA.

Complete guidelines for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Product Promotion, Education and Export Promotion Matching Grant Program are in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Grant applications must be submitted online through the Department of Community and Economic Development Electronic Single Application. Applications are due by Aug. 5.

Federal Funding Available to Help State, Local Governments Address Rural Homelessness

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced a first-of-its-kind package of resources to help communities implement coordinated approaches for assisting people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, including funds set aside specifically for vulnerable people in rural communities. 

According to the department, the Initiative for Unsheltered and Rural Homelessness includes grant funds along with additional vouchers intended to enhance communities’ capacity to humanely and effectively solve unsheltered homelessness by connecting vulnerable individuals and families to housing, healthcare and supportive services. 

HUD has indicated the program will strongly promote partnerships between health and social service providers and public housing authorities. 

The deadline for submitting grant applications to HUD is 8 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2022. Applicants must complete and submit their applications in e-snaps at https://esnaps.hud.gov/grantium/frontOffice.jsf.

Accessing Local and County Crime and Crash Data

When crimes and crashes are investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police, the statistical data is available online through the Community Access to Information Dashboard (CAID).

CAID allows the public and the media to access and search data collected from traffic enforcement and crashes for both commercial and noncommercial vehicles, including Incident maps. There’s also data concerning various crimes, with mapping for counties and municipalities.

The dashboard allows the user to choose what data is displayed. Searches can be refined with custom date ranges, locations and categories. Queries can be made in the dashboard with statistical information from as far back as 2019. The dashboard contains no information that could be used to identify the individuals involved.

New Suicide Hotline Available Starting July 16: Call 988

Beginning July 16, the 988 dialing code will be available nationwide for call (multiple languages), text or chat (English only) for anyone in need of suicide or mental health-related crisis support.

Until then, those experiencing a mental health-related or suicidal crisis, or those looking to help a loved one through a crisis, should continue to call the Lifeline at its current number, 1-800-273-8255.

Starting July 16, when someone calls 988, they will first hear a greeting message while their call is routed to the local Lifeline network crisis center, based on the caller’s area code. A trained crisis counselor will answer the phone, listen to the caller, understand how their problem is affecting them, provide support and share resources if needed.

If the local crisis center is unable to take the call, the caller will be automatically routed to a national backup crisis center. The Lifeline provides live crisis center phone services in English and Spanish and uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 additional languages for people who call 988.

Text (English only) will also be available through 988 starting July 16, 2022. When someone texts to 988, they will be responded to by a group of Lifeline crisis centers that respond to chat and text. This service will expand over the next few years to increase local and state level response. Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen to you, work to understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support and share resources that may be helpful.

Chat (English only) is available through the Lifeline’s website https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. People seeking chat services will be provided a pre-chat survey before connecting with a counselor that identifies the main area of concern. If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear.

How to Conserve Energy and Manage Summer Power Bills

As hot weather settles in, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) offers tips on conserving energy and keeping summer power bills manageable.

  • Check your thermostat. The smaller the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill.
  • Clean and replace air conditioner filters regularly and make sure air circulation paths are clear.
  • Turn off non-essential appliances and lights to reduce power use and unwanted heat.
  • Close off unused rooms and adjust air vents or thermostats to avoid unnecessary cooling expenses.
  • Seal cracks and openings to prevent warm air from leaking into your home.

You can find more tips here. For consumers struggling with paying utility bills, the PUC continues to encourage them to call their utilities to discuss the many different affordability options available.

New Tipped Worker Rules Begin Aug. 5, 2022

On Aug. 5, 2022, updated rules affecting tipped workers and salaried workers who work a fluctuating work week schedule will go into effect.

A summary of the tipped worker portion of the regulations can be found here.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is hosting a webinar next week – on Tuesday, July 19 at 11:30 a.m. – to review these updated regulations. Registration is required to participate in the webinars – you can register here.

Celebrating Parks and Recreational Opportunities

Parks and recreational opportunities are key components of healthy communities. I hope you get to enjoy the great outdoors this summer.

The new state budget includes $56 million in state funds to create a new State Parks and Forests Infrastructure Program and $100 million in federal funding for state parks and outdoor recreation.

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