HARRISBURG – State Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-74 of Houtzdale, said Pennsylvania is at a crossroads as it enters the 2007-08 legislative session.
“Great strides have been made over the last four years to convert Pennsylvania’s economy from a rust-belt relic to a 21st century powerhouse, said George, who was sworn in to his 17th consecutive term to the state House of Representatives. “However, important — even painful — decisions must be made on a wide range of issues.”
George said property-tax relief must be extended to more Pennsylvania homeowners, an equitable funding formula must be found to rebuild and maintain roads and bridges and health-care access and affordability must be bolstered.
“These are not simple problems with easy answers,” George said. “They go to the heart of who we are as a people, commonwealth and nation.”
Rep. George said the Legislature also must heed the calls and need for open and transparent state government.
“Skullduggery and midnight mischief are no hallmarks of a true democracy,” George said. “If what we endeavor to do to improve Pennsylvania and its citizens cannot be done openly and in full public view, it is invariably not worth doing at all.”
George said many questions remain because of changes in the makeup of the House and its leadership. However, he said he anticipates returning as a chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
“I am preparing legislation on many environmental fronts that will move Pennsylvania forward,” said George, who recently was named an “Environmental Champion” by the Pennsylvania League of Conservation Voters. “However, it must be noted that the bills approved in the House still must make its way through the Senate, where many good bills have withered and died.”
George said he is drafting bills that would:
? Protect citizens’ rights to speak out on environmental issues without fear of SLAPPs — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
? Strengthen protections against unneeded landfills and spreading of sewage sludge.
? Provide safeguards so administrative fees may be collected to support worthwhile recycling programs, especially at schools.
? Exempt corn and other agricultural and biomass products from Pennsylvania’s 6 percent sales tax when they are sold as fuel.
? Reduce reliance of foreign fuels and bolster heating assistance with a contribution.
George said he will continue to fight for programs that benefit working families and retirees.
“We must do more to attract health-care professionals to medically underserved areas, which include most of Pennsylvania,” George said. “We also must make health care and prescription drugs more affordable for the almost 1 million Pennsylvanians without health insurance.”
George said efforts to bolster property-tax relief must evolve beyond expanding the sales tax.
“Reducing unfair property taxes by raising the expensive-to-collect and regressive sales tax is hardly a step forward,” George said. “A fairer way is to move forward on a hybrid state income tax that would require higher taxes only on income that exceeds a lower tax bracket.”
Under one proposal, all income under $200,000 will remain taxed at the current rate of 3.07 percent. Taxpayers reporting income between $200,000 and $400,000 would pay 5.07 percent, and income over $400,000 would be taxed at 5.57 percent.
George hopes to return to the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority. As a PENNVEST charter member, George has been able to secure about $100 million for sewer and water projects for the 74th Legislative District. He also anticipates returning as chairman of the House Democratic Northwest Caucus, a position he has held since 1994.
He also has served on the Environmental Quality and Wild Resource Conservation boards, as well as the House Democratic Policy Committee.
The toll-free telephone numbers for George’s Houtzdale and Harrisburg offices — 866 523-5279 and 866 354-0890, respectively — will remain the same. Also unchanged are his online address and e-mail address.