Ringing in the New Year also brings some new rules, regulations and other happenings which will either annoy us or bring us a little relief from bureaucratic intrusion.
We have already told you about the 6 percent toll hike on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which goes up on Jan. 8, and the eight-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax, which took effect on Jan. 1. This increase boosted the state tax to 58.3 cents a gallon, ensuring that we Pennsylvanians will have the dubious honor of continuing to pay the highest gas taxes in the nation for at least another year.
This last of a three-part tax hike that began in 2014 is intended to improve Pennsylvania’s horrible roads and bridges. A Wall Street Journal investigation last summer found that more than a quarter of the state’s 250,380 lane mile public roads are in poor condition (10th highest in the nation). The report also noted that 42 percent of the state’s bridges are deficient (fourth highest), and, as a result of these poor conditions, it costs us on average an extra $341 a year for repairs to our vehicles (16th highest).
Here are some other changes:
• Those annoying little registration stickers that you have to stick on the corner of your license plate will be a thing of the past. State officials say the change will save more than $3 million in production and mailing costs, which, after all is said and done, is a piddling drop in the bucket as it relates to the $1.7 billion budget deficit Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly say they will be facing when they start work on the 2017-18 budget in a few weeks. Understand, of course, that you will have to renew your registration annually at the same price. None of the savings will be passed on to us.
• Beginning Jan. 14, beer distributors will be able to sell beer in just about any quantity, including 32-ounce bottles, four-packs, six-packs and growlers (a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel jug used to transport draft beer). Customers have long been annoyed at their inability to buy a six-pack at a beer distributor location. No more. Until this new law, beer distributors were allowed to sell kegs, 12-packs and cases – that was it. The updated (and long overdue) law also gives sporting venues the option to sell mixed drinks, permits bars to start serving liquor and beer at 9 a.m. on Sundays without the need to serve food. Also, other parts of the updated law include provisions that allow the sale of wine in grocery stores and beer in convenience stores.
• And, oh, yes, let’s not forget that with the new year, our 253 legislators, already the second highest paid in the country, get more money.
The 203 members of the House of Representatives and the 50 members of the Senate will get $86,478, an increase of $1,140 or 1.34 percent. Leaders in both houses earn more. That doesn’t seem to be a lot, but it was much more than the 0.3 percent increase that Social Security recipients received for this year. That worked out to a paltry $5 a month on average, which was gobbled up by higher Medicare premiums.
About a decade ago, the General Assembly leaders decided to forgo the inconvenience of having to publicly incur the wrath of taxpayers every time they wanted a salary increase, so they pushed through a state law giving themselves an automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment. By the way, this also applies to state judges and top members of the executive branch. Last year, because the cost of living showed no change, there was no salary adjustment, just the second time that this has occurred.
Gov. Tom Wolf is included in the salary hike, but he donates his entire salary, which will be $190,823 in 2017, to charity and returns some of it to the state. Wolf is the highest-paid governor in the country, followed by Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who also donates his $187,500 salary to charity. Three other governors do the same.
Pennsylvania legislators make more than any others in the nation with the exception of California, which pays its lawmakers $100,113 annually.
In addition to salary, each legislator receives free parking, $175 a day in expenses for each trip to Harrisburg, a generous benefits package and a defined benefit pension plan.
The following lists the new salaries for the top legislative leaders:
• House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, $134,998
• Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, $125,296
• Senate Majority Whip John Gordner, House Majority Whip Bryan Cutler, Senate Minority Whip Tony Williams and House Minority Whip Mike Hanna, $115,938.
Senate Republican Appropriation Committee Chair Pat Browne, whose district includes Lehigh County, also will make $115,938.
By Bruce Frassinelli | firstname.lastname@example.org