2016 Resolutions for PA Legislature

As a new year begins, one should remain optimistic about all aspects of life, including our state government in Harrisburg. Resolutions for 2016 – whether they pertain to our health, career, relationships, or public policy – are a good place to start.

If elected to state representative next November in the 146th District, I, Joe Ciresi, resolve to do the following:

* Decline my paycheck each month if the budget is not passed on time. The annual spending plan is arguably the central responsibility of General Assembly members. My opponent, Rep Tom Quigley, failed to meet that duty for six months. But he continued to collect his monthly salary while schools and social service agencies faced drastic decisions. State senators John Rafferty, Andy Dinniman and Judy Schwank told The Mercury news that they would forgo their paycheck, but Quigley made no such promise. I would.

* Fight to pass a budget on time. Granted, no single member of the Legislature can control timely passage; however, this pledge ties into my next resolution.

* Work in a bipartisan manner. As past president and current vice president of the Spring-Ford Area School Board, I worked in a constructive manner to achieve lasting results. By working together, we moved our district into the top 2 percent in Pennsylvania and reduced debt by $125 million.
Achieve real property tax reform and help keep seniors in their homes. We need a fair system based on districts’ needs so that seniors, the disabled and working families are not burdened with property taxes.

* Fight for the restoration of SEPTA rail service between Reading and King of Prussia. I will work hard to secure federal grants and our fair share of Pennsylvania transportation dollars (not tolls) to make this project a reality. Anyone who has driven on Route 422 during rush-hour knows the frustration of gridlock and delays. This issue is vital not only to the local workforce but to efforts nationwide to reduce carbon emissions. We need a renewed commitment to getting this project off the ground.

Harrisburg is Blocking Bipartisan Gun Reform

As the U.S. Senate is poised to vote on two commonsense gun reforms, which are supported by over 80 percent of Republican and Democratic voters in recent polls, Pennsylvania legislators want to stop them in their tracks.

Rep. Tom Quigley (R-146th), supported and co-sponsored House Bill 357, which states that any “any Federal law which attempts to register, restrict or ban a firearm or to limit the size of a magazine of a firearm in this Commonwealth shall be unenforceable in this Commonwealth,” according to the House website.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on universal background checks, as well as the barring of suspected terrorists on the “no fly list” from buying guns.

Furthermore, my opponent has not supported HB 1010, which would enhance background checks in Pennsylvania. It has been co-sponsored by Republicans in suburban counties, including representatives Mike Vereb (150th) and Warren Kampf (157th).

Quigley’s stance doesn’t come as a surprise. He’s a ‘A’ student with the NRA, an organization that has scared Congress into doing nothing to stem the tide of violence in this country.

Let me be clear: I support the Second Amendment, which includes the right to carry firearms for hunting and self-protection. Assault rifles and automatic weapons, on the other hand, require regulation to prevent mass shootings like the recent killing of 49 innocent people in Orlando, Fla. All tragedies cannot be stopped, but we must take steps to make our communities safer, while safeguarding the freedoms of law-abiding citizens.


A Forward-Looking Plan for Rail in Western Montco

May 7 marks National Train Day, but you are forgiven if you can’t take the train. I hope someday soon people from Pottstown, Royersford and Limerick can take SEPTA to their jobs in Philadelphia.

That vision of a daily commute without the Route 422 traffic jam was one of the reasons I attended a conference in March sponsored by the National Association of Railroad Passengers. We heard from various speakers about the importance of mass transit to our economy and environment.

Here in western Montgomery County, transportation planners have long floated the idea of extending the Norristown/Manayunk SEPTA line to Pottstown and Reading as a way to alleviate highway congestion. Limerick’s population exploded by 34 percent between 2000 and 2010 — the second-largest increase in the county — according to the Montgomery County Planning Commission. Perkiomen Township grew 29 percent, while Trappe, Royersford and Lower Pottsgrove all experienced population increases of more than 7 percent.

And despite record demand for tickets onboard Amtrak and SEPTA, we were told the money was not there for this project.

The Associated Press recently reported that a growing portion of PennDOT’s highway budget is funding Pennsylvania State Police operations, not fixing a backlog of deficient roadways and bridges (or subsidizing transit).

State police operations need a dedicated, regular source of funding. That would free up PennDOT funds for full use to shore up our state’s deteriorating infrastructure — work that is urgently needed.

Forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. ASCE gave the nation a D+ grade in 2013, the most recent report card, for overall infrastructure health.

Even worse, Pennsylvania still ranks No. 2 in the nation for structurally-deficient bridges (American Road and Transportation Builders Association, 2015).

Investment in passenger rail along Route 422 and the focused spending of highway revenue on highway projects seem like good bets in the 146th District. Most of the infrastructure for the “R6” extension already exists, but capital is needed for stations and other upgrades.

Where can the money come from?

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation announced that $500 million in TIGER grants will be made available in 2016. These grants fund capital investments in transportation infrastructure in both rural and urban areas. Since 2009, $4.6 billion has been awarded to 381 projects, according to DOT.

  • Public-private partnerships offer another avenue to share responsibility between government and businesses. U.S. DOT maintains the Build America Transportation Investment Center, which “serves as the single point of contact and coordination for states, municipalities and project sponsors looking to utilize federal transportation expertise, apply for federal transportation credit programs and explore ways to access private capital in public private partnerships.”

  • Additionally, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a federal interagency initiative, lists the expansion of transportation choices as one of its priorities. “[To develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.”

The PSC is a collaboration between the Department of Transportation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

  • FAST Act grants (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) are another example. This is just a sampling of the opportunities out there. We need to roll up our sleeves, get creative and form new partnerships to make this train project a reality.

If elected as your state representative in November, I will work hard to secure federal grants and our fair share of Pennsylvania transportation dollars (not tolls) to make this rail project a reality.

True Fair Funding for Schools

Your zip code should have nothing to do with education outcomes.

But because Pennsylvania’s funding formula for school districts remains unfair, taxpayers who live in one region may be saddled with higher property taxes. For instance, the Spring-Ford Area School District receives about 17 percent of its funding from the state, while the statewide average is 56 percent. This forces a larger burden on locally-raised taxes.

“If elected to represent the 146th District in Harrisburg, I will fight for a formula that is truly fair,” said Joe Ciresi, the Democratic candidate in the race.

“My opponent talks a lot about ‘historic investments’ in public education, but he voted the party-line for former Gov. Corbett’s devastating budgets,” he said.

A 2014 report by Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a Philadelphia-based group, noted that Pottstown taxpayers were on the hook for an additional $5 million in educational aid because of Corbett’s decision to abandon the funding formula of his predecessor — Ed Rendell.

In fact, the school districts of Pottsgrove, Spring-Ford, Perk Valley and Pottstown were four of the six districts in Montgomery County that lost the most funding due to Corbett’s cuts. These school districts and others were harmed twice by the Republican administration: elimination of the fair funding formula on top of the cuts.

“Tom Quigley stood by and voted for historic cuts in education during the previous administration, to the tune of over $14 million. Don’t believe his spin,” Ciresi said.

Ciresi believes the Legislature must seriously analyze state mandates for public education. Furthermore, every effort should be made to pass budgets on time so that counties, municipalities and school districts can plan operations. Ciresi has pledged to forgo his paycheck if the budget is not passed on time.


Equal Pay Day

Today, my campaign stands united with women throughout Pennsylvania and across the country for equal pay for equal work.

April 12 is Equal Pay Day because the average female worker would have to labor until April 12, 2016, to be paid as much as the typical man took home by Dec. 31, 2015, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

On average, women earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn in the U.S. This is obviously unfair and undercuts the dignity of millions of workers.

I find inspiration in women like my mom, Maria, who earned her high diploma at the age of 65. Like my wife, Pam, millions of American women work full-time jobs while supporting children at home.

In 2014, men working in Pennsylvania earned $50,412 on average while women earned $39,905, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This disparity exists across the country despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination in the same establishment for jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.

What can you do? Contact your member of Congress, Rep. Ryan Costello (R-6th) and encourage him to support the Paycheck Fairness Act and the the Fair Pay Act. For more information, visit http://www.pay-equity.org/info-leg.html.


Ciresi to PA Lawmakers: Do Your Job

Together with over 150 students and citizens, we rallied inside the Capitol this week for a responsible budget to fund our schools and students. For the third time since last September, we traveled to Harrisburg to lobby the people who are supposed to represent us.

This is not about theater or showmanship.

Tom Quigley just doesn’t get it. Your current state representative still is not comfortable taking some of the blame for Pennsylvania’s half-baked budget, which is now over nine months late. He continues to obstruct, while scapegoating Gov. Tom Wolf for issuing a line item-veto on a portion of the unbalanced budget passed in December.

Wolf struck a deal with Senate Republicans and Democrats just before the New Year, but it fell apart after Republicans in the House rejected it.

Quigley should remember the sign in Pres. Harry Truman’s office: “The buck stops here.” All lawmakers in Harrisburg deserve some blame at this point. The obstructionist state House of Representatives is devoid of real leadership. Its symptoms of dysfunction include members who are unwilling to stand up to ultra-conservative Tea Party members and a culture that views compromise as party treason.

Where has that landed us? Gridlock with real consequences.

In Pottstown, a grant application to help pay for streetlight improvements has been delayed due to the budget impasse. Assistant Borough Manager Erica Batdorf told council members on Monday that she would continue to check with the state for progress.

Since the start of the budget impasse, the state’s 500 school districts have borrowed approximately $1 billion, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Last week, PSBA filed paperwork with Commonwealth Court asking the court to order the state treasurer, secretary of education and Department of Education to immediately pay districts all subsidies that were due Feb. 26.

The budget put forth by my opponent and his colleagues creates a $1.6 billion deficit that will prompt massive cuts to education, teacher layoffs, higher property taxes, and cuts to vital programs for seniors.

We deserve better from our representatives in Harrisburg. I ask for your support during the April 26 Primary Election. Read more at www.ciresiforpa.com


Ciresi, a resident of Limerick with his wife and son, has served as a Spring-Ford Area School Board director for 10 years. For the last 14 years, he has worked as the Director of Sales and Promotions at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The 146th District includes the boroughs of Trappe, Royersford and part of Pottstown, as well as Limerick, Lower Pottsgrove and Perkiomen townships.




The Ciresi campaign submitted more than double the required petition signatures from registered Democrats in the 146th House District to quality for the April 26th Primary Election ballot.

Needing at least 300 signatures, the campaign made a second drop in Harrisburg on Tuesday — bringing Ciresi’s tally to 647

“Without the support of our volunteers, who took time out of their busy schedules to knock on neighbors’ doors in the freezing cold, this would not be possible,” Joe Ciresi said.

Ciresi, 45, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. He is the vice president of the Spring-Ford Area School Board.

“I enjoyed meeting voters going door-to-door and discussing the issues that are important to them, including taxes, education and new jobs in this area,” Ciresi said. “Our campaign will keep growing throughout this year, and I’m looking forward to fighting for this community.”


Take Back Gifts for Drillers, Restore Common Interests

Most of what we buy is taxed: clothing, cars and a restaurant meal, for instance. But an energy source pulled from the ground – natural gas – is not taxed in Pennsylvania. This revenue source would provide needed funding for our schools and higher education, in addition to infrastructure upgrades.

How about property tax relief? In some counties in this state, we are literally standing on the money.

Much of the gridlock over the current state budget has to do with where to find revenue. However, it is worth noting that one colossal special interest with strong ties to former Gov. Tom Corbett still looms over Harrisburg.

Lawmakers have failed to pass an extraction tax on the natural gas industry — something nearly every other gas-producing state has done. My opponent, Rep. Tom Quigley, voted against taxing the drillers back in October.

It gets worse. The state House recently approved plans to shrink investment in clean energy sources, block regulations on the natural gas drilling industry and delay a review of plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the Keystone State.

These gifts to the fracking industry are not necessary.

While House Republicans like Quigley were playing the blame game over why Pennsylvania still does not have a full budget for a fiscal year that started seven months ago, they did approve what is called the fiscal code.

The fiscal code, which spells out many complex details of the budget, has been called the budget operator’s manual. This year’s version continues the wrong priorities for Pennsylvania’s future and the 146th District, including:

  • Taking $12 million from investment in alternative energy sources and handing it over to natural gas infrastructure development.

  • Blocking new oil and gas drilling regulations proposed by the Corbett administration’s Department of Environmental Protection. These regulations, which would have imposed stricter requirements on drilling locations and stronger standards on spill reporting and cleanup, were an industry target for elimination.

  • Extending the time limit for the General Assembly to review future state plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions (for at least the second time since 2014).

This does not sound like a forward-thinking Pennsylvania. We need innovation in new, cleaner-burning energies, not a return to our polluting past. Let the natural gas drilling industry pay its fair share with a robust extraction tax.

In turn, these revenues will help pay for property tax relief and educational resources for our children. Join my campaign at www.ciresiforpa.com


Keystone Exams Should be Erased

Last week, in a rare display of bipartisanship, the Pennsylvania Legislature voted unanimously to delay the start of Keystone Exams for high school seniors. Joe Ciresi, Democratic candidate for state rep in the 146th District, says lawmakers should take the extra step of eliminating these graduation exams altogether.

“School districts have spent hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars, in addition to many hours of staff time, to comply with this unfunded mandate from Harrisburg that furthers high-stakes testing,” Ciresi said.

The 45-year-old vice president of the Spring-Ford Area School Board supports the elimination of Keystone Exams, rather than simply delaying them until the 2018-19 school year, because details were not fully worked out prior to the law’s passage in 2013. Students will be required to pass end-of-course state exams in Algebra I, Biology I and language or a state-approved alternative assessment to graduate, beginning with the Class of 2019.

Instead, the money used to implement Keystone testing would be better spent investing in new classroom programs, continuing education for teachers and reducing property taxes.

“In Spring-Ford, parents are worried that their children won’t be able to graduate on time. In some cases, they are held over for remediation courses, instead of entering the vo-tech programs that they desire,” Ciresi said. “Furthermore, no one knows what the alternative project would be if the student opts out of the test.”

The son of a factory worker, Ciresi has served for seven years as a board member of the Western Montgomery Career and Technical Center, including three years as chairperson. This school provides excellent opportunities for high school students to learn a trade or skill not offered at conventional four-year universities.

Together with his fellow board members, Ciresi helped move Spring-Ford into the top 2 percent out of Pennsylvania’s 500 public school districts. During his tenure, the district expanded the high school’s Advanced Placement program and implemented the nation’s first-of-its-kind Hybrid Learning Center.

In 2012, Spring-Ford received the National Blue Ribbon Award — the first in district history.

“The PSSA tests, in combination with outstanding teachers and a well-rounded curriculum, are helping our students enter the world ready for college or a career at the conclusion of high school. Ramping up high-stakes testing is not the answer,” Ciresi said.

Please join my campaign for uniting families and the community for a stronger Pennsylvania. www.ciresiforpa.com


Ciresi, a resident of Limerick with his wife and son, has served as a Spring-Ford Area School Board director for 10 years. For the last 14 years, he has worked as the Director of Sales and Promotions at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The 146th District includes the boroughs of Trappe, Royersford and part of Pottstown, as well as Limerick, Lower Pottsgrove and Perkiomen townships.

Pennsylvania’s Growing Mismanagement

The failure of the Pennsylvania Legislature to manage taxpayer money has real consequences, including higher property taxes in the Pottstown, Perkiomen Valley, Pottsgrove and Spring-Ford Area school districts.

Just before the start of the new year, Standard & Poor’s described the emergency, stop-gap $30.3 billion budget signed by Gov. Wolf as “structurally unbalanced” and hinted at a possible rating downgrade in the future. While the state maintains its AA-/Stable general rating, any downgrade would have serious impacts on the state’s 500 school districts.

For example, when school board directors refinance bonds, Pennsylvania’s credit rating impacts the interest paid by the district — and by taxpayers. In October, Moody’s downgraded Pennsylvania’s credit outlook to “negative.”

For all of state Rep. Tom Quigley’s talk about fiscal responsibility, the proposed 2016 budget had a $500 million gap for this fiscal year and a $2 billion gap for fiscal year 2017. S&P stated: “As the state’s longest running budget impasse persists, the question of lawmakers’ political willingness to address fiscal challenges remains.”

The big picture with our state government remains disappointing for this district’s families, veterans, students and wage-earners. As a board director in Spring-Ford, my colleagues and I are blamed for raising your property taxes. Our record shows that we passed balanced budgets with some of the lowest tax increases in district history, and we kept Spring-Ford’s property taxes lower than countywide averages for school districts. We have an obligation to educate all children in the district while keeping property taxes as low as possible.

It is worth noting that the state’s contribution as a percentage of basic instructional expenses has declined from over 50 percent 40 years ago to less than 35 percent today, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Unfunded mandates from the state create additional strains on district finances. In Spring-Ford, meeting all mandates accounts for approximately 60 to 65 percent of expenses, while revenue from federal and state government sources accounts for only 20 percent of our annual budget.

I believe lawmakers must develop consistent and reliable sources of funding for schools, while recognizing that a majority of money should come from the commonwealth.

Property tax reform still remains out-of-reach in Harrisburg, despite the delays and months of pain inflicted on our communities, including schools, social service agencies and counties. The General Assembly and Quigley have failed us.

Where is the urgency? The House recessed last week and will not return until Jan. 25th.

As a leader on Spring-Ford Area School Board, I worked with in a bipartisan fashion to reduce debt by $125 million and move the district into the top 2 percent in the state. Please join my campaign for uniting families and the community for a stronger Pennsylvania. www.ciresiforpa.com

Ciresi, a resident of Limerick with his wife and son, has served as a Spring-Ford Area School Board director for 10 years. For the last 14 years, he has worked as the Director of Sales and Promotions at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The 146th District includes the boroughs of Trappe, Royersford and part of Pottstown, as well as Limerick, Lower Pottsgrove and Perkiomen townships.