HARRISBURG — Responding to a growing shortage of volunteer firefighters, Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) and Senator Sean Wiley (D-49) have reintroduced a bill to give municipalities the power to waive their local earned income tax for volunteer first responders.
Volunteers at nonprofit emergency medical service (EMS) agencies would also be eligible to receive the tax credit under the provisions of Senate Bill 299.
“Many Pennsylvanians do not realize that 96 percent of our firefighters are not paid for jumping out of bed in the middle of the night to fight a fire or run to the scene of an accident,” Baker said. “Giving firefighters and EMTs a small break on their local taxes is a simple benefit that will compensate them in some small measure for their priceless life-saving work.”
Senator Wiley agreed, noting, “Erie County is fortunate to have more than 30 volunteer fire and EMS companies, staffed by volunteers who give countless hours to ensure the safety and well-being of our neighbors. I am proud to work with Senator Baker on legislation that gives back to these brave men and women who give so much without compensation or hesitation.”
The idea for the legislation was bolstered by a joint hearing on firefighter and EMT retention and recruitment held in 2013 by the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Baker chaired for seven years, and the Majority Policy Committee.
Extending an earned income tax credit was among a menu of solutions offered by experts as a preferred recruitment and retention tool.
Under the legislation, municipalities would have the power to set the amount of the tax credit and the guidelines of the program, including specifying the number of calls to which a volunteer must answer and the level of training they must have.
“Although the tax credit program would be optional for local governments, we hope every municipality will see the virtue of keeping and attracting its volunteer firefighters. When those first flames begin, every second counts. We cannot afford to sound the alarm and find that no one is available,” Baker explained.
Baker and Wiley said the bill is expected to be part of a larger package of incentives to fill the rapidly declining ranks of our volunteer firefighters and EMTs, which have dropped from 300,000 to 50,000 in 30 years. The decrease is attributed largely to the prevalence of two-income families, the demands of incessant fundraising, local leadership conflicts, and the stagnant economy. Baker has compiled ideas from a working group to advance other strategies for a comprehensive First Responder Relief package.