Blake expects drones, pension reform to be on Senate agenda

State Sen. John Blake (D-Dist. 22) said recently that he expects the Senate to revisit legislation put up in previous sessions during the 2015-2016 session, including City Reinvestment and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program-expansion legislation.

“I would like to see the (CRIZ) program expanded to help small cities,” Blake said.

In 2015, Blake said senators may try to expand the availability of natural gas for residents and businesses. Blake also expects the Senate Aviation Caucus to look into the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

“We are looking to be revenue neutral in our desire to bring natural gas lines to underserved residential and industrial customers,” Blake said. “It has been cost prohibitive (for business owners and residents) to install gas lines, but the existing customers cannot subsidize the expansion.”

About unmanned aerial vehicles, Blake said he would like the state to be ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to manufacturing and commercial opportunities related to these vehicles, commonly called drones.

As for new legislation, Blake is serving as the Senate Finance Committee chairman and told Pennsylvania Business Daily that he expects the Senate to talk about pension reform, which, while it isn’t directly linked to economic growth, has strong implications for commerce and the economy, work force development and stability for workers.

One topic that caused a lot of buzz during the recent election was Governor-elect Tom Wolf’s personal income tax plans, but like many other proposals, Blake would like to see more analysis and research on the potential changes to tax policy that were touted in the elections.

“Anything that pursues tax fairness is a good idea,” Blake said, although he thinks it may be a constitutional issue.

As for the proposed 5 percent severance tax on natural gas drilling, Blake said there won’t be bipartisan support for removing the impact fee.

Aside from the tax policy and potential changes, Blake, like others, sees Wolf’s experience as a business owner as a positive thing for the state’s economy.

“He has a powerful business acumen and will have a keen interest in community development and economic development,” Blake said. “He has many years of civic engagement and may keep an eye on smaller cities and may understand how important it is to focus incentives on cities and change the trajectory, to make the tax code friendly to business.”