State senators seek to boost passage of cigarette tax

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen joined other legislators on letter to tobacco companies. — Photo courtesy the website of State Sen. Shirley Kitchen

Except for a special House session scheduled for next month, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has dispersed for the summer. But that didn’t stop the Philadelphia Senate delegation from sending a letter late last week to executives with tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and the Altria Group (formerly Phillip Morris), imploring big tobacco to not interfere with the proposed $2-per-pack cigarette tax.

The group of state senators — Vincent Hughes, Christine Tartaglione, LeAnna Washington, Mike Stack, Larry Farnese, Shirley Kitchen and Anthony Williams — also requested the tobacco companies meet with the Philadelphia Senators to discuss the merits of the tax.

“Once enacted, this tax was projected to generate approximately $45 million this year and $83 million next year. Nevertheless, the current projection for next year is now reduced to $69 million because of the delays,” read a portion of the letter. “After much hard work over the last two years, we were very hopeful that this legislation would finally pass both in our state House and Senate. However, it has come to our attention that you and your agents have been meeting with our colleagues about this legislation, without involving the Philadelphia Delegation members.”

Philadelphia schools Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr. has said that if the legislation is not passed, schools will not open on time and many essential personnel will be laid off. “Every week that this tax is not enacted, the School District of Philadelphia loses $1.6 million,” the Senators said. “The clock is ticking and every day that this is delayed is critically consequential.”

The Senators sent the letter as House Bill 1177 — which includes language to authorize the sales tax — stalled in the general assembly. Last week, the State Senate sent an amended HB 1177 back to the House for a concurrence vote; House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-28th) called for a special Aug. 4 House session to consider the bill, but it is unclear at this point if the cigarette tax legislation will come up during that session.

 

Push to rename 30th St. Station after late Bill Gray

Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey have formed a working relationship on a host of issues, and now the pair of veteran senators are partners in co-authoring legislation to rename 30th Street Station in honor of late Congressman William H. Gray III. Both Casey and Toomey credited Gray for not only becoming the first African American to chair the House Budget Committee, but for also focusing on transportation during his decades-long political career.

“Throughout his life, Bill Gray was a minister and shepherd for his congregation, his constituents, historically Black colleges and all Americans in need of a strong voice,” Casey said. “Renaming 30th Street Station in his honor is a fitting way to recognize the vital contributions he made to southeastern Pennsylvania, our entire nation and the world.”

Toomey concurred, noting that Gray’s leadership “left an indelible mark” on a generation of public servants.

 

Politico magazine focuses on Philadelphia

Political news outlet and magazine Politico has released an in-depth look at Philadelphia through Politco’s engaging “What Works” series. In the series, Politico looked at three distinct views: “West Philadelphia, Reborn and Razed,” “Can A Mayor Be Too Honest?” and “Can University City Transform A City?” The entire package can be found online at http://www.politico.com/magazine/what-works/#.U8a1Mla4lSU.

Politico’s report offers several sobering takes on Philadelphia. For example, on the West Philadelphia piece, Politico described Mantua as an “area of trash-strewn empty lots and rundown brick houses [that] has long been an unsolvable blot on the Philadelphia map, separated from the city’s grand Museum of Art district by the Schuykill River and a swath of commuter railroad tracks … by 1970, the area was almost completely African American, and most of its residents made half as much money each year as the average Philadelphian. By the ’80s and ’90s, Mantua was besieged by drug dealers, gangs and the crime that accompanied them.” That particular entry also takes a look at the colleges and universities in the area, along with several complicated zoning issues that continue to plague the neighborhood.

 

Congress passes Gillibrand-Fattah jobs bill

U.S. reps. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Chaka Fattah hailed the recent passage of their Urban Jobs Act, which fortifies the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act — federal legislation geared toward training and employing at-risk youth and young adults.

The Urban Jobs Act in particular authorizes federal funding for nonprofit agencies to serve this at-risk group.

“By focusing on the unique and specific job training and skills development needs of America’s youth, we are putting them on a stronger path to longterm employment. In turn, we are creating healthier, more sustainable communities,” Fattah said, noting the national youth unemployment rate is 13 percent, and the minority youth unemployment rate is a staggering 24 percent. “The future of our economy depends on an educated, skilled workforce that encompasses all individuals, even the most disconnected and at-risk.”

Funding would be used for educational programming, remediation, educational enrichment and GED preparation, along with a host of post-secondary education and workforce training.

 

Gov. signs bill outlawing revenge pornography

The act of sending intimate or sexually provocative photos with the subject’s consent is now a state crime, as Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed Act 115 of 2014, authored by State Rep. Thomas Murt. The legislation creates the offense of unlawful dissemination of an intimate image within the Crimes Code; the offense is graded as a misdemeanor of the third degree and carries a penalty of a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to six months, or both.

Act 115 began as House Bill 2107.

Prosecution would be allowed if either the victim or perpetrator is located in Pennsylvania. That way if the person who sends these images is from another state, but the victim is from Pennsylvania, local prosecutors would be able to reach into the other state and charge that person.

“This is a disgraceful practice that must be stopped,” Murt said. “What we are talking about is cyber extortion and cyber humiliation, and it must end.”

 

Rep. Kampf presses on pension reform

Still stinging from Gov. Tom Corbett’s rebuke of the General Assembly for not taking up pension reform to the governor’s liking, State Rep. Warren Kampf isn’t budging from his stance that pension reform shouldn’t be rushed. Kampf, who has scheduled a town hall meeting with constituents for July 30 at the Phoenixville Area High School Auditorium to brief residents on the issue, has recently penned a fiery opinion piece that blasted Corbett and the recently-signed state budget.

“Buried deep inside the budget that was just passed in Harrisburg is a ticking time bomb that, if not soon dismantled, will demolish our financial well-being,” read a part of Kampf’s opinion piece. “While the $29.1 billion budget balanced without any tax increases, we failed to fix two massively underfunded public pension system that, unless reformed, will leave Pennsylvania far worse financially than when we began budget negotiations in the spring.

“Without changes, students and taxpayers will suffer; without changes, the problem will only continue to grow,” Kampf added. “The only way to prevent the coming crisis for our state and our schools is to reduce the size of the financial burden forced on taxpayers.”

 

Contact Staff Writer Damon C. Williams at 215-893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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