(12/2016) A legislative cycle has concluded and it is time to start planning ahead for 2017-2018. As I reflect over the past 24 months, tough decisions were made and difficult votes were cast. At the end of the day in Harrisburg, 26 votes are needed in the Senate, 102 are necessary in the House, and the bill must receive the governorís signature. Any bill that was not
taken up for vote by either chamber, or failed to advance out of committee, must start from scratch in 2017-2018.
Over the preceding two-year legislative cycle, there was significant legislation that reached the governorís desk and obtained his signature. Highlights included the legalization of medical cannabis, liquor reform, and a fair education funding formula.
The medical cannabis legislation was an emotional issue for many families and children, and their message struck a chord with me. Those children are now receiving the help they need. With the passage of Act 16 in 2016, Pennsylvania doctors are now able to use medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and children suffering from seizures, amongst other conditions.
Our stateís liquor laws are archaic and weíve slowly been making changes to bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century. For example, Act 39 and Act 166 of 2016 take the first steps in getting the Commonwealth out of the liquor business, by providing for the private sale of wine at restaurants and grocery stores, as well as other changes that will hopefully result in
increased customer convenience.
The new education fair funding formula was a result of a bipartisan commission that studied inequities in the school distribution formula. While the new formula isnít perfect, it is more fair than the previous system in its allocation of the stateís financial resources.
All local school districts in Adams County received an increase in funding as a result of the formula. Additionally, the stateís spending plan for 2015-2016 provided a $200 million increase for basic education funding, and the 2016-2017 budget boosted the stateís share of K-12 funding by $665 million to a historic high of $11.7 billion.
We also passed legislation to allocate $15 million to combat heroin and opioid addiction, including funds for emergency addiction treatment and behavioral health services.
Iím honored to announce that I recently received support from colleagues in retaining my role as Senate Majority Caucus Secretary. It is an important leadership position, as Iíll continue to oversee all executive nominations submitted to the Senate for confirmation.
I'll coordinate background checks on all nominees, and review their background and experience. This research will help ensure that proper documentation is submitted for each candidate and that our nominations process is conducted in a way that is both efficient and transparent.
Moving forward, my number one priority is addressing the stateís pension system. Senate Republicans led passage of a plan to reform Pennsylvaniaís costly state pension system, and we cast tough votes to make it more viable in the long-term, while also reducing liabilities and preserving benefits for current employees. As I've stated countless times on this editorial page,
the state's current pension plan is not sustainable. Passing a comprehensive reform package is an absolute necessity.
Our two state pension systems, the Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) and the State Employee Retirement System (SERS), are in trouble as the debt has exceeded $60 billion. By continuing to ignore the problem, we rack up millions of dollars of debt every day. This problem will not go away on its own. We have to fix our pension system, period, or it's going to
continue to escalate. There have been numerous proposals presented by various legislators, but so far, no solution has been agreed upon.
For example, legislation (SB1) passed the Senate and House but was vetoed by the governor. In the spirit of compromise, we passed SB1082 that also contained aggressive reforms aiming for a more sustainable course to long-term fiscal solvency, by addressing the systemís uncontrolled, unmanaged risk, but the House failed to adopt this bill. This problem is complex as the
legislature in Harrisburg is tasked with finding both short and long-term solutions.
We will also continue to address the electronic recycling issue. I know this has been a difficult matter for local municipalities, but there is no easy long-term answer. Forty-eight other states have found ways to address their e-waste problems by implementing their own unique solutions. Although Pennsylvaniaís issues are complex, we hope to soon have a solution of our own
that works for everyone. I hope to put forth a comprehensive proposal in the upcoming legislative session.
Finally, ever since taking office in 2009, I've made it a priority to streamline expenses and make difficult cuts wherever applicable. Pennsylvanians are making difficult decisions during unstable economic times, and many citizens throughout the Commonwealth live paycheck to paycheck.
I feel legislators should lead by example.
During my eight years in office, I've reduced expenses in my district and Capitol offices, and in the Senate Republican Caucus. I also refuse to take per diems, something that I think all legislators should do.
As you can see, there are a number of priorities the legislature must address as we head into the new two-year legislative cycle. They won't be easy, but we're elected to make tough choices and move our Commonwealth forward.
As always, I encourage you to visit my website (www.senatoralloway.com) for legislative updates, news and state programming information.
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