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A Look Back at 2011

The end of the year is a good time to look back and reflect on what was accomplished and where we came up short.  It also gives us a moment to look forward with hopes of what we may be able to achieve in the future.

Budget Fails to Preserve Important Programs, Enact a Marcellus Shale Tax

Senator Yudichak discusses the budget
I joined my Democratic colleagues in the Senate and House to discuss the need for an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

In the General Assembly, we were tasked with a daunting job – to do more with fewer resources.  At the beginning of 2011, Governor Tom Corbett introduced an incredibly lean budget and later that year, the legislature passed a drastic $27.15 billion spending plan chalk full of stiff budget cuts that fell well short of preserving programs and services vital to Pennsylvania’s economic recovery.  It also did not include revenues from a Marcellus Shale impact fee.

In light of the economic downturn affecting much of the nation, it is understandable that with fiscal distress comes the need for a bit of belt tightening.   However, it was unfortunate that the well-being and future of Pennsylvania was sold short with a budget that weakens job growth and fails to enact a responsible energy severance tax.

It was often frustrating and difficult to see many of the serious issues affecting Pennsylvania to be largely ignored and overlooked by the Republican majority in favor of wedge issues that were deeply divisive and partisan this year.  The enactment of a natural gas impact fee, addressing education reform and improving Pennsylvania’s transportation network of roads and bridges are just a few of the issues that the legislature failed to tackle this year.  Another huge problem mishandled by the majority was Congressional reapportionment, which deeply affected politics here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

We had several opportunities to enact a fair, responsible, comprehensive Marcellus Shale severance tax that would boost Pennsylvania’s economy and job creation efforts, protect the environment and hold the industry accountable.  Instead, we have a plan being considered that comes up woefully short on many of the critical issues with natural gas drilling - preserving environmental protection efforts, protecting local government powers and implementing a reasonable impact fee.

The Republican majority is squandering our best chance to create new job opportunities for infrastructure, energy and economic investments.  Instead, it has pushed an embarrassingly low tax rate that does not meet the needs of Pennsylvania’s citizens. 

Without the stronger environmental protection provisions in place and a more robust impact fee holding the industry accountable, the environment and the health of our citizens will suffer.  My fear is that the taxpayers – much like in the era of coal mining - will be left footing the bill for hazard mitigation efforts. 

This shale plan simply does not make the cut.  We are left with yet another missed opportunity for a real, quality Marcellus Shale impact fee.

Another missed opportunity was the chance to address education reform in Pennsylvania schools.  School district budgets in the region had to deal with severe cuts. These districts were forced to cut vital educational programs and layoff teachers and households will inevitably see a spike in property taxes.  Then there was a misguided voucher proposal that faltered in the legislature and no plan from the administration on how or if education reform will ever be addressed.

So, students in poor performing schools are left without hope that their academic experience will ever improve.  We cannot continue to overlook the needs of these vulnerable students who represent the future of Pennsylvania.

Transportation Infrastructure Issues Must Be Addressed

Discussing Exetor floods
Talking to Exetor Borough officials officials and residents during a tour of areas effected by flooding damage in April.

It was also unfortunate that we have yet to address Pennsylvania’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.  The need for repair to Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges is imperative, yet the governor and his administration have remained silent on a plan.

There are 5,906 bridges in Pennsylvania that remain structurally deficient and require immediate attention.   All over Pennsylvania, 22.8 million vehicles cross bridges and roads that are literally falling apart and our mass transit systems, which get over 1 million riders per day where they need to be are badly in need of operating revenue.  The citizens of Pennsylvania are left in danger with every passing day we do not act on transit infrastructure.

Reapportionment Plan Hijacked by Partisan Politics

A matter that ignited considerable debate and frustrations was the blatant partisanship which has governed the 2011 redistricting process – and has now resulted in the dismantling of Congressional districts.

The 2011 Congressional Reapportionment Plan seeks to uproot long-standing legislators from regions most familiar to them.  Of primary concern to me is the splitting of communities.  It does a tremendous disservice to voters, especially in the region that I represent here in the legislature -- Northeastern PA. 

In this new plan– major portions of the region – entire cities like Scranton and Wilkes-Barre – have been siphoned off. Their citizens would now be represented by legislators unfamiliar with their needs and issues.  Long-term congressional seats, historically centered in the heart of Northeastern PA, would be sacrificed for political gain.

It is unfair to expect constituents to vie for the attention of their elected officials.  These constituents are already spread thin by the demands of work, family, and just trying to make ends meet.  Now, because their districts have been stretched and contorted, the bar has been raised and a greater effort will be required to approach their elected leaders for help.  That is unacceptable.

This partisan, self-serving process, played to the extreme by those responsible for this map, doesn’t hurt the Democrats. It hurts the democratic process.

September Floods Devastate Communities, But Resiliency Prevails

Announcement of flood relief package
My colleagues and I announce a relief package for
the individuals and businesses affected by
the September floods.

In September, this region was devastated by flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  I applaud this community for their resiliency in recovering from such immeasurable loss. 

Northeastern Pennsylvania families and businesses have incurred millions of dollars in damages and are still struggling to cope. Townships, boroughs and cities lack funds to rebuild and are in need of reimbursement dollars to pay for rebuilding efforts.  I know that this community and its people will join together to continue cleanup and rebuilding efforts and we will emerge stronger than before.

To assist in these efforts, I am pleased that the $4 million Luzerne County Small Business Loan Fund is available to the nearly 200 flood-impacted small businesses throughout Luzerne County.  The loan program, funded through Luzerne County’s share of gaming revenues, will allow businesses to apply for loans of up to $100,000 with a 1 percent interest rate over 60 months.

Once flood-impacted businesses are no longer in need of the loan fund, it will continue as a market-driven revolving loan fund to foster continued local business development and job creation.

Businesses interested in applying for the Luzerne County Small Business Loan Fund should contact Lisa Kenny at MetroAction at 570-342-7711 or 570-341-0270. MetroAction will work with the Greater Wilkes-Barre Industrial Fund, Greater Hazleton CANDO, Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce and South Valley Chamber of Commerce to administer the loan program.

Months ago, I joined with a bipartisan coalition of legislators whose own communities had been devastated by flood waters.  We had a common goal – to help these communities rebuild.  Our shared desire to make sure that rebuilding and rebounding from this natural disaster would be swift led to the creation of a package of bills aimed at making critical and targeted investments for flood relief for these effected communities.

It is unfortunate that this package of bills is now languishing in the House, with no intentions of being acted upon, while these families, businesses and localities continue to suffer.  Recognizing that time is of an essence, it is my hope that the House will finally act upon these critical bills and provide much needed relief to the region.

Legislature Effectively Addresses Juvenile Justice Reform

On a positive note, it was a great accomplishment to finally address juvenile justice reform, in light of the “kids for cash” scandal, which rocked the region.  I was glad not only to see the judges in this case get the punishment deserve and the families get the justice they were entitled to.  I was also pleased to have a package of bills in direct response to this scandal that I co-sponsored pass the Senate.

This is the first step to repair the public’s trust in the juvenile justice system and begin to heal the wounds and bring peace to the families who endured the wrath of corrupt judges and restore the integrity of our courts.  I thank and commend my colleague and friend Senator Lisa Baker for taking the leadership on this issue. 

Many of my colleagues in the State Senate crossed political and geographic boundaries to unite behind sensible reform measures that strike at the heart of the public corruption scandals that have rocked Pennsylvania in recent years.

Looking Ahead to 2012 

With the end of 2011, we can look ahead into 2012 with renewed determination, confidence, and hope that we can do better.  I recognize that we are still facing incredible fiscal difficulties, but I also realize that these difficulties should never stop us from providing the best possible representation for all our citizens.  We must have the right resources to meet the challenges before us.  I will continue to fight for the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania and throughout the commonwealth.

As always, feel free to reach out to me via my district offices, Harrisburg office, and website.  I am also available on Twitter at @SenJohnYudichak and via Facebook.

Thank you for all your hard work and support. I wish you all the very best for the new year ahead!

Facebook Stay Connected

For updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me on the Internet through my website or on Facebook.

June 22, 2011 - Senate Democrats to Discuss Marcellus Shale Fee Amendment June 26, 2011 - Senate and House Democrats joined today to urge Republican leaders to “do the right thing” and pass a responsible severance fee on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.