Phoenixville Area School District

PA State Rep Warren Kampf’s Town Hall Meeting — Budget, Pension and Property Tax Reform, Liquor Privatization & the Legalizing of Marijuana

I attended State Rep Warren Kampf’s Town Hall meeting last night in Phoenixville.  Kampf opened the meeting with a 15-20 min. update on the budget, pension reform and status of legislation, liquor privatization, and property tax reform.  Following his presentation, the evening continued with Q & A from the audience members, with about 30 questions on a variety of topics.

In his discussion of the recently passed 2014-15 PA Budget, Kampf offered the following highlights:

  • The budget passed on time for the fourth straight year, with no tax increases to the residents.
  • Although there was a modest increase in the 2014-15 budget from the previous year, the budget increase remains well below the rate of inflation.
  • Pennsylvania received a $340 million cut in Medicaid Funds from the Federal government.
  • The budget includes an additional $250 Million to implement Affordable Care Act provisions;
  • The budget includes an additional $600 Million in increase in pension costs
  • The budget includes an additional $600 Million for Medicaid increase

There has been much discussion about Corbett cutting education spending but according to Kampf, the 2014-15 budget has education spending at an all-time high, and that the recently passed budget includes an additional $520 Million in educational spending.  This topic was one of much interest from the audience members.  We have all seen the campaign rhetoric with one side claiming cuts to education and the other side saying it is untrue

Kampf further clarified that Corbett’s budget includes $10.5 Billion on Pre K – 12 line items, stating it is the most ever committed.  The budget includes an additional $20 Million for Special Education.  The Pre-K Counts Program, which increases access to quality pre-kindergarten to PA children and their families with a priority in at-risk communities, received a $10 Million increase in the budget.

To help offset the cost of postsecondary education, the budget includes a new $5 Million ‘Ready to Succeed Scholarship’ that provides up to $2,000 to eligible students whose families earn up to $110K.

Pension costs and the need for reform continued to be a significant discussion point.  Kampf offered the example that the PSERS line item on the 2014-15 PA Budget increased from $375 million to $1.4 Billion this year!  As taxpayers, we know firsthand the effect that the skyrocketing pension costs have had on our own tax bill.  The pension costs have impacted the school districts statewide, forcing school boards to make difficult decisions and painful cuts.

Clearly, pension reform is needed sooner rather than later.  Kampf’s hybrid pension reform bill, HB 1353, which includes a traditional 401k type plan, was presented as a possible solution.  It was interesting to note that there continues to be confusion among some of the residents – the suggested pension reform bill, HB 1353 is for new hires; not those workers currently in the system.  Kampf believes that his plan would create $11 – $20 Billion in savings.

I was glad for a discussion on liquor privatization but it does not look like House Bill 790 is going anywhere anytime soon.  The House approved the bill 105-90 in March 2013 but according to Kampf, the Senate has not agreed to move the bill forward.   We hear the argument that the 600 states stores generate money and therefore the government should keep things status quo.  Pennsylvania loses millions annual to neighboring states because of the inconvenience of buying at states stores. What is it going to take to bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century – 48 other states enjoy convenience and choice, why can’t we?  Other than Utah and Pennsylvania, states don’t want to be in the business of selling alcohol.

On property tax reform, there were updates but little ‘new’ news. PA House Bill 76, the ‘Property Tax Independence Act’, remains in the House Finance Committee and has not moved forward for a vote. This legislation would eliminate school property taxes across the Commonwealth and replace those taxes with funding from a single state source.

Kampf voted yes on House Bill 1189, which would amend the Local Tax Enabling Act to provide school districts with the option to eliminate property taxes.  Although Kampf supports HB 1189, he added that the Senate has not taken action on this legislation.

Because the Town Hall meeting was held in Phoenixville, several audience questions were local to that area.  One question related to Phoenixville Area School District’s decision to acquire the Meadowbrook Golf Club via eminent domain and where did Kampf stand on the topic.  Kampf supported the legal right of the school district to take the property [using eminent domain] but suggested it should only be used when all other alternatives were exhausted.

On allowing illegal immigrant children in the US, Kampf deferred to the Federal government, stating that as a State Representative he was not in a position to cast a vote.

A couple of people asked Kampf for his personal opinion on legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania.  Although he was not aware of any currently proposed legislation in the House on the subject, he said he could support the legalizing of medical marijuana. He was not going to commit himself beyond the use of marijuana for medical usage, preferring to take one step at a time.

On June 27, the Senate Law and Justice Committee unanimously voted in support of the bipartisan Senate Bill 1182, known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, to ease the suffering of people with epilepsy or other ailments. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have approved medical cannabis programs, could Pennsylvania be next?

I give credit to any elected official who holds a Town Hall Meeting with no pre-screening of questions.  Last night numbers were distributed and the questions asked in numerical order; everyone with a question was given an opportunity to ask it. Nothing was off limits – only requesting that questions be asked by residents of Kampf’s legislative district.  As a registered Independent,  I am pleased to report that the evening contained no political party bashing by audience members or by Kampf.  Would love to see a similar forum in Tredyffrin Township.  Or how about a PA-157 State Representative debate between incumbent Warren Kampf and his challenger Marian Moskowitz?


Looking at Local School Districts, Does the Buck Stop with Taxpayers?

As Tredyffrin-Easttown School District works through the 2011-12 budget, it is interesting to watch how other school districts are handling their budget shortfalls, particularly in light of the public education cuts in Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget.

This week the Radnor School District and the Radnor Township Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a new teacher contract. The collective bargaining negotiations between the school district and the teacher union have been going on for over a year. Details of the contract will not be released until after the teachers union presents the contract to its members for ratification early next week.  As our school district neighbor, I wonder if their contract will have any influence on TESD teacher contract discussions.

Another neighbor to TESD, the Phoenixville Area School District (PASD) has major budget issues. As the dust settles from the cuts contained in Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget, a tax hike of 8.75% is needed to close the gap – twice as much as the district had anticipated.  Previously, the school district budget included a 4.43% tax increase but with the loss of state funding, they will require an additional 4.32% . . . a tax hike of 8.75%!

At the Pottstown School District meeting this week, their school board took a stand with three interesting votes:

  1. The school board rejected the idea of “forward borrowing” of $23 million without voter approval.  (The district has authorization for $28 million for work on the district’s elementary schools and the vote would have increased that borrowing amount by $23 million).
  2. The school board approved the extension of a contract for mid-level administrators and principals that freeze their salary for one-year. (Cost savings: $30K)
  3. The school board accepted an offer by the district’s three top administrators to freeze their salaries for one-year.  (Cost savings: $15K)

Prior to the vote, the school district was considering a 4-year contract for administrators and principals to include a minimum 1.5% salary increase plus potential merit pay increases. According to the district superintendent, following the announced funding loss from the state was announced, these employees volunteered to take pay freezes for one-year. Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget will provide $3.1 million less state funding to the Pottstown School District.

For comparison sake, I checked on the salaries of administrators in the Pottstown School District.  The top 10 highest paid administrators in the Pottstown School District earn in the range of $102K – $119K per year; their superintendent has a base salary of $152K.

The Pottstown school board hopes that the administration’s one-year pay freeze sends a message to the teacher union, Pottstown Federation of Teachers.  According to Pottstown Mercury, , Pottstown School District president thanked the administrators for the one-year salary freeze,  “I want to thank you for pulling your belts a little tighter for us, I hope some of the other school districts around here see what you’re doing for us, how you lead by example.” There is an unresolved contract between the district and the teachers union. The teachers are currently without contract and last month rejected the independent fact-finders report that the school board accepted unanimously.  Sound familiar . . . Unionville-Chadds Ford School District currently have a similar situation with their teachers union.

I guess TESD can take solace in knowing that we are not alone.  With school districts facing looming deficits in their budgets and increasing expenses, Corbett’s proposed budget does not offer much hope for help from the state. 

Corbett’s campaign promises included no tax increase but it seems to me that he has just pushed that job down to the local school districts.  School districts are expected to balance their school budgets, but how? Not much in the way of choices . . .  school boards are forced to make education cuts or they raise taxes. Does no responsibility lie in the shoulders of our elected officials in Harrisburg? How can they expect citizens to pay more in property taxes than they can afford? 

 Or . . .  does the buck just stop with the taxpayers?

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