PA week in review: Tax breaks discussed on Tax Day


By PA Independent Staff

This week brought Tax Day proposition to give tax breaks to small businesses, more pension woes for a Pennsylvania city and the story of a family hoping to win the lottery when it comes to their daughter’s education.

Here’s a look back at the week’s coverage:

Tax breaks for small business proposed on Tax Day

As people across the country rushed to file their tax returns on time Tuesday, a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers offered up a package of legislation that could make the process more palatable for small business owners in the future.

The bills would offer tax relief to small businesses, though supporters of the legislation have framed it differently.

LOOKING BACK: Lawmakers pondered tax breaks for small business and one family shared their story about hoping to get lucky with their child’s education.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business supports the package of legislation, with Executive Director Kevin Shivers painting the proposals as tax simplification measures that would allow business to invest more time and money in their entrepreneurial pursuits instead of tax preparation.

“If we reduce the burden that these small job creators face, we believe that we will generate more tax revenue because these small businesses will be more profitable,” Shivers said.

Not everybody is sold on the proposals — especially in a tough budget year — or Shivers’ take that they are not tax breaks.

“It’s not tax simplification. These are tax cuts,” said Michael Wood, research director at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank.

about the proposal here.

Johnstown handing out big pensions while in big debt

The city of Johnstown is dealing with $24 million in unfunded pension debt, but the city is handing out pensions that are in excess of what state law allows.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale uncovered the unlawful pension arrangement during a recent audit, but the city had been warned about the situation previously. City officials say they are working to make changes to bring the pensions in line with state law.

The bigger problem is the city’s $24 million debt, which ranks among the worst in the state on a per capita basis. Johnstown’s tax base has eroded in over the past few decades as deindustrialization has caused the city to lose nearly two-thirds of its population since 1960.

“We are extremely concerned about the funded status of the individual plans,” DePasquale wrote in a memo to city leaders.


Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up

Tension is heightening between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers over the suspension of seniority rules.

In a state Supreme Court filing last week, the district asked for a speedy decision from the high court on whether it would be able to suspend those rules, against the wishes of the PFT, which represents 16,000 educators. The two sides are facing off in court after the district and the School Reform Commission, which is its governing body, announced it would end the practice of “last hired, first fired.”

“The time for debating necessary changes in work rules and practices has run out,” argued the district and SRC in a filing with the court on April 7.

Read the full story here.

Corbett’s GOP challenger on ballot … for now

Bob Guzzardi, the conservative Republican activist who is challenging incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett in next month’s primary election, on Tuesday won the right to remain on the ballot.

Four Republican voters challenged the legitimacy of signatures on Guzzardi’s nominating petitions in a legal effort backed by the state GOP. They also challenged his spot on the ballot because Guzzardi’s mandatory ethics disclosure form was filed late and contained inaccurate information, which the candidate later amended.

But Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt ordered Wednesday that Guzzardi remain on the ballot.

Leavitt said the state election code should be interpreted in a broad way “so as not to deprive an individual of the right to run for office or the voters of their right to elect a candidate of their choice.”

The Pennsylvania GOP plans to appeal the ruling the state Supreme Court, so Guzzardi’s place on the ballot for the May 20 primary election may yet hang in the balance.

Read the full story here.

Philadelphia family makes difficult choice for daughter’s education:

Jennifer Bonds purchased a home on the street where she grew up in Philadelphia with the recognition that sending her daughter to the district elementary school wasn’t an option.

The Bonds family was personally affected by the frightening climate at district schools when Jennifer’s 12-year-old niece was assaulted by bullies at her neighborhood school.

“It was brutal,” she said.

It was Bonds’s preference to send her daughter to a Knowledge is Power Program charter school, but the closest one was a 30-minute commute. The family made the financial sacrifice to send their daughter to a private Christian school where she is now a third-grader.

Tuition at that school exceeds $8,000 this year.

Read the full story here.

State rep, administration feuding over drilling plan

State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, wants answers about Gov. Tom Corbett’s plans to expand gas drilling underneath state forests and park land. Answers that he says haven’t been forthcoming.

“It is clear that the Corbett administration knows far more than it is telling about its drilling proposal and wants to keep the public and the (Legislature) in the dark for as long as possible,” Vitali, the Democratic chairman of the House Environment Resources and Energy Committee, said this week in a news release.

Vitali’s latest salvo against Corbett’s plan — expected to net the state $75 million in next year’s budget — came after the Department of Conservation denied most of a Right-To-Know request the lawmaker filed seeking more information about the expanded drilling. DCNR contended the request was overly broad.

Patrick Henderson, Corbett’s chief energy adviser, said the administration has tried to work with Vitali to get him the information he wants, but to no avail.

As for any belief from Vitali that there could be a hidden plan ready to implement and operators lined up and ready to go, Henderson said there’s no conspiracy.

“That’s just absolutely not true,” Henderson said. “It just doesn’t exist.”

about the open-records dispute here.