Time for a new beginning

The recent inauguration of our new governor, Tom Wolf, provides the commonwealth with the chance to reconsider where we have been and how to get to a better future for all Pennsylvanians.

I look forward to working with the Governor and the Republicans in the House as well as the members of the Pennsylvania Senate to enact the policies voters overwhelmingly endorsed in the November election: restored funding for education, supporting businesses and creating more jobs, while ensuring all who are working are earning a living wage and making our government more efficient, effective and transparent.

One only needs to look at the Philadelphia school district to see what is wrong with our most recent educational philosophy:

It is time to acknowledge that charter schools are not the perfect solution for every problem in our city schools. There is no doubt that there are many good charter schools but according to a 2013 study from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, Pennsylvania charter school students were, on average, 29 days of learning behind in reading and 50 days behind in math.

For every student who transfers from a public to a charter school, the local public school system is required to pay the charter school the entire cost of educating that student in the public school, regardless of the actual per-student cost at the charter school. That taxpayer money is gone from the public school system, yet the basic costs of running the school district remain – the costs of the buildings and maintenance, teachers and staff, even transportation. This imbalance becomes even more unfair when you consider the number of cyber charter school students who are not even attending a bricks and mortar school.

To make the charter school situation worse, in 2011, then-Gov. Corbett and the Republicans in the legislature made huge cuts to specific educational grant programs; among them a grant which helped to reimburse school districts for the money lost to charter schools. That cut alone meant the Philadelphia School District lost more $200 million in 2011 alone, and that funding has not been restored. If that grant funding had remained, the Philadelphia schools would not be facing the issues they are today: part-time nurses and guidance counselors; no money for books or supplies and the loss of many qualified teachers leading to more crowded classrooms.

Article III, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution requires:  The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

We must work together to ensure every student gets the quality education they deserve, and we are mandated to provide.

Quality education is essential for preparing our next generation for the future jobs market, a jobs market we must develop now in order for Pennsylvania to compete in the world economy. The key to rebuilding Pennsylvania is to develop more manufacturing in Pennsylvania.

We can support our businesses by lowering the corporate net income tax from the current 9.99 percent yet make up the revenue by closing the Delaware Loophole, which allows many corporations to move their Pennsylvania income to Delaware which does not tax income of a Delaware-incorporated Limited Liability Company (LLC) which has no business operations in the state. In other words, by creating a straw company in Delaware, a business can move income out before being taxed where it is earned. In fact, as of July, 2012, more than two-thirds of the companies in the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an affiliation of Marcellus Shale energy companies based in Pittsburgh, listed corporate addresses in Wilmington, DE, most at one specific address, 1209 N. Orange St.

We must close that loophole which allows too many corporations, both large and small, to avoid paying their fair share of corporate income tax here in Pennsylvania. By reducing their ability to move profits around and gaming the system, we would have the ability to lower the corporate net income tax rate by up to 25 percent.

We must also guarantee that those who are working can support a family on their wages. Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would provide an immediate boost for up to one million Pennsylvania workers, most who are 20 or older, and a majority of those who would benefit are women. We must also increase the minimum wage for tipped wait staff. By setting the tipped staff minimum wage at 70 percent of the minimum wage, a base of $7.70 could immediately lift 4,000 women out of poverty. Most importantly, leading economists, by an almost 4 to 1 margin, believe that the benefits of raising the minimum wage far outweigh any costs. We must start this process now.

Finally, I am thrilled that our new governor is serious about creating a more open form of government. He announced last week that his schedule will be posted to the web for any who care to see what he is doing and who he is meeting with. He has already issued an executive order banning any and all gifts to executive branch officials.

His staff has already had a briefing on the state's Right-To-Know law which was led by the original director of the Office of Open Records.

When you read about the abysmal approval ratings for those in Congress and the disgust and contempt many have for their elected officials, I am looking to follow Wolf's lead and push for a more open government for all.

Remember, we are only five weeks in to the new legislative session and only two weeks into the governor's term. I foresee a good future for Pennsylvania and all Pennsylvanians.

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