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In this Update:
Coleman Introduces Legislation to Open Up NIZ Finances to Public Scrutiny
This week, I introduced Senate Bill 534 to open up the finances of Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) to public scrutiny. The measure would repeal the changes made to the Fiscal Code in 2021 that shielded many details of the Allentown NIZ from taxpayers.
In June of 2021, the fiscal code was changed to stop the public from learning how tax dollars are moving through the NIZ. Accessing this information is vital to understanding whether the NIZ functions as advertised and sold to the public. Has it been an engine of economic development or real-estate development? Those two things don’t always line up. If we’re going to answer that question, then we need access to specific financial details.
The original fiscal notes, or calculations of cost to the Commonwealth, indicated that there wouldn’t be any negative impact to tax revenues. That conclusion assumed that activity in the NIZ was new activity. There are questions about whether that is what happened. Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue have been attributed to the NIZ. Questions surrounding the implementation of the NIZ law and its impact on the overall financial health of the Commonwealth can only be answered if we have access to this information. Taxpayers have a right to know if their money is being spent wisely.
Senate Bill 534 was sent to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.
Senate Reviews Proposed State Budget
The Senate Appropriations Committee held the first of three weeks of public hearings about the proposed 2023-24 state budget.
Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a $45.8 billion budget that would increase spending by $1.3 billion. Based on projections, it would nearly wipe out the state’s $5 billion Rainy Day Fund in five years.
State Treasurer Stacy Garrity urged lawmakers to make greater investments in Pennsylvania’s Rainy Day Fund and reduce the structural deficit to improve the state’s credit rating. She testified that the commonwealth has a choice: spend modestly now or face a possible fiscal cliff as federal funds dry up and the Rainy Day Fund is depleted.
Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel confirmed that Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in new energy taxes. Higher electricity costs could be on the horizon if Shapiro advances a carbon tax.
Find the hearings schedule, livestreams of budget hearings, daily recaps and video from prior hearings at PASenateGOP.com.
Check the Status of Your Tax Refund
As families struggle with rising costs and inflation, many are anticipating their tax refund. Anyone who would like to check the status of a Pennsylvania Income Tax refund can do so by calling 1-888-PATAXES or clicking here. There is also an opportunity to verify your tax refund to expedite processing.
Improving Access to Unemployment Compensation System
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry extended indefinitely a program that enhances Pennsylvanians’ access to the Unemployment Compensation (UC) system by offering in-person appointments to claimants.
The program, now called UC Connect, offers in-person services for UC claimants who do not have proper technology, equipment or technical skills; individuals without access to home Internet or broadband; and individuals with limited-English proficiency.
To schedule an appointment, claimants should contact a PA CareerLink® center directly.
Share Your Feedback on PennDOT’s Winter Services
PennDOT is accepting winter services feedback through an online survey. The public can take the survey here through April 6.
The 17-question survey asks how often respondents travel during poor weather, how they rate PennDOT’s winter service and how they rank snow-removal priorities. Respondents are also asked how they receive PennDOT roadway information and whether they use the state’s 511PA traveler information services.
During the winter, https://511pa.com offers its standard traffic and incident information while adding PennDOT plow-truck locations, winter roadway conditions and other services.
Veterans: Protect Your Pension
Veterans and their beneficiaries who are potentially eligible for VA pension benefits must beware of pension poaching. While pension poaching can impact any veteran, poachers primarily target older veterans. Pension poaching comes in several forms, from selling financial products of questionable value to charging a fee to restructure assets to make the veteran or beneficiary meet income eligibility criteria. Read about other pension poaching methods here.
Avoid becoming a victim of pension poaching by never paying:
If you suspect or experience a scam or financial exploitation related to any veteran benefit, including a VA pension, file a report immediately with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Military and Veterans Affairs section by calling 717-783-1944, emailing PAvets@attorneygeneral.gov or filling out this online form.
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