The community room at the Exeter Library was filled with concerned citizens interested in hearing about topics that will be affecting their area. Senator Judith Schwank, of the 11th District, spoke to citizens of Exeter Township and the surrounding communities at a town hall meeting held on April 4. Schwank spoke about topics of transportation, liquor and lottery privatization, changes being made by the Corbett administration, Medicare and Medicaid, senior nutrition programs, property taxes and pension reform.
Schwank informed citizens what the privatization of liquor and lottery means for them, and how it will impact the Commonwealth. She explained that through liquor privatization, 3,500 PA Liquor Control Board employees and 20,000 distributor employees may lose their jobs. Revenue of up to $150 million per year will be lost by having liquor licenses become privatized.
“There will be approximately 5,000 licenses distributed across the state,” Schwank said, “it will also change how restaurants can sell wine and beer, it totally shakes up the system we have right now.” Schwank questioned if the state would see the money that the privatization would acquire.
Schwank stated that she personally spoke to small local distributors, employees of wine and spirit stores, some restaurant owners, hotels and distributors. “A lot of them are fearful... in order for them to expand they’re going to have to buy a license,” she explained, which can be expensive. Supermarkets would be permitted to sell alcohol from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Sunday will continue to be non-sales day. “I worry about...with this new system, whether we would have the same carding, making sure people are actually old enough to by this stuff,” Schwank said. Lottery privatization is also being considered by the state.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane told the Governor that he could not go forward on the contract with Camelot, the British company that would privatize the management of lottery. “One of the things that this company is going to do is add Keno, a different kind of lottery game, but it’s more like gambling,” Schwank said. Keno is highly addictive and more like gambling than a traditional lotto game. Schwank said Corbett has taken a step back and trying to work with the contract to see if Camelot can come up with a program that can manage the lottery better. “When you expand gambling, it’s the legislature that has to vote on this, not the Governor who makes the decision,” the Senator said.
Schwank spoke about the Medicaid expansion that would serve about 600,000 more working people. “This would help the kind of people who have lost their jobs during the recession are working jobs,” Schwank said, adding that if an employer has less than 50 employees, they don’t have to provide health care. “Gov. Corbett is working on this right now,” Schwank said, wanting to make sure this is a program that actually works.
Schwank informed the community about some programs that senior citizens should be taking advantage of, such as a seniors farmers’ market nutrition program and property tax/rent rebates. “Beginning in June, the Berks County Area Agency of Aging will be that you can use to go to farmers’ markets to buy produce,” she said. Seniors who turn 60 years of age by December 31 can redeem the vouchers for PA grown fresh produce at farmers’ markets and roadside stands. To qualify, a single person must make an income of less than $21,257 per year, and two seniors need to make less than $28,694 per year. “If you meet those requirements, they’re a great bargain,” Schwank said. The vouchers are on a first come, first serve basis. “They’re very popular, so if you want them, make sure you sign up for them,” said Schwank.
Schwank spoke on property tax elimination, speaking on the House and Senate bill 76. “Sales tax would increase from 6% to 7% on a lot more items than we currently pay sales tax on in Pennsylvania. Food would be included in that, but not foods that are considered nutritious foods,” she explained. Food on the Women Infant and Children (WIC) list would be excluded, things like dairy and grain products. “Magazines, clothing would be added to this, if you spent more than $50 at one time, on one receipt, you would pay the 7% sales tax,” she said. The City of Philadelphia currently has an 8% tax within city limits. “Everybody could pay their fair share... sales tax is considered to be one of the fairer ways to make sure that every body helps to pay for school funding. The other part would be the state personal income tax would go from 3.07%... that would be increased to 4.34%. If we can do that, that would currently replace the amount of funding that is generated in local communities for school funding. It’s about $11 billion, give or take, is what that would generate,” Schwank said, who is a cosponsor on the bill.
Schwank offered a Q&A session, where citizens asked the Senator questions about preventing crime, the Marshalls Shale, charter schools and children and youth services. To contact the Senator about your concern call 610-929-2151, or write to Sen. Judy Schwank, 1940 N. 13th St., Suite 232, Reading, PA, 19604.