Pickett answers questions from Grange members
State Rep. Tina Pickett met Saturday with members of the Bradford-Sullivan Pomona Grange to discuss issues currently facing the state.
Grange members prepared a series of questions beforehand for the representative, who joined the group's open meeting Saturday at the Wysox Presbyterian Church. Pickett answered the questions, including those related to agriculture, the natural gas industry and the state's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, during a session that lasted over an hour.
One popular question Saturday was whether it would be possible for the state to replace property taxes with sales or income taxes to fund schools. Because the property tax does not adjust to one's income, those in the agriculture industry who have a tough year may have difficulty paying the tax, Pickett said.
"Property taxes are one of the toughest bills people have to pay," she said.
However, by replacing the property tax system, state officials would have to find another way to replenish the $10 billion dollars it spends annually on education, Pickett said.
While a sales tax would be directly proportionate to citizens' spending, more items would need to be taxed at a higher rate to replace the revenue generated by property taxes, Pickett said. Income taxes, currently at 3 percent, would also likely need to be increased to meet the need.
Pickett reminded senior attendees at Saturday's meeting that they may be eligible for a property tax or rent rebate through the state. In addition, money generated through the state's gaming industry also helps to offset property tax bills as well, she said.
"The gaming industry in Pennsylvania is doing well," Pickett said, adding that it is "bringing in more dollars than I thought it would."
Pickett also clarified a recently passed law regarding small games of chance run by non-profit and charitable organizations. The law now allows higher payouts for those games in order for them to compete with state lottery jackpots, Pickett said.
The law, which Pickett said requires extra accounting for the raised funds, does not apply to bingo games run by volunteer fire departments. The state's bingo law is separate, she said.
Pickett told grange members that she was unsure yet whether county fairs would receive additional funding in the upcoming state budget. The fairs, which have taken funding cuts in recent years, may receive some money that could be redirected from a fund for the horse racing industry to agricultural programs, she said.
In addition, as of Saturday, funding for state food dollars and farmer's market coupons will remain steady in the budget for the upcoming year, she said.
Pickett also fielded several questions about the natural gas industry. An injunction against a portion of Act 13, the recently passed impact fee legislation, continues, she said.
The municipalities that filed the injunction against the zoning portion of that act, which provides statewide regulations on oil and gas zoning and limits restrictions municipalities can place on oil- and gas-related development, have until mid-August to build their case, Pickett said. At that time, a judge will decide whether the case against the act will continue.
Pickett said she was in favor of the zoning regulations, which she said help to maintain consistency among neighboring municipalities. She also said she continues to lobby natural gas companies to provide more information regarding royalties to landowners in lease agreements.
Pickett and other legislators have also worked to loosen regulations regarding the cleaning of creeks, an issue she said has been popular since flooding in September caused damage in her district and statewide.
The state's Department of Environmental Protection has too many regulations regarding creek cleaning, and obtaining a permit to do so can be difficult, Pickett said. However, creek maintenance is important to prevent flooding from happening and to preserve the farmland being whisked away by stream bank erosion, she said.
Pickett also said that a proposed reduction of the state's House of Representatives by 50 members could have an adverse impact on rural areas such as her district. A bill to cut the House from 203 members to 153 and the Senate from 50 members to 38 passed the House in April.
The change will cost lawmakers money because their larger districts will require them to hire more staff, she said. In addition, rural representatives will continue to be outnumbered by their counterparts in urban areas, making it difficult for rural interests to be heard.
The change will require several years to take effect, however. Because changing the number of state representatives and senators requires a change in the state constitution, any proposed adjustment would have to be thoroughly vetted by both the Senate and the House, Pickett said.
After the Senate and House approve the bill, which must be worded exactly the same in both houses, the governor must approve it. Finally, it will have to go to a public vote, she said.
Following the three to five years Pickett said that process would take, redistricting would not be able to take place until after the next census, since representation is based on population.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.