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Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the budget hearings held during the week of March 4, 2019

Special Report: 2019-20 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its third week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from cabinet secretaries and other officials from March 4 through 7. This special edition of Harrisburg Happenings provides day-by-day highlights from those hearings.

More information on the budget, as well as photos, audio and video from the hearings, is available at: www.pasenategop.com/state-budget/.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Drug and Alcohol Secretary Jen Smith about the following topics:

  • Steps taken to monitor prescription drug abuse.
  • The demographic breakdown and types of substance abuse.
  • The effectiveness of methadone clinics.
  • Identifying alternatives to methadone treatment.
  • The length of methadone treatment and the role of Centers for Excellence in treatment.
  • Department funding requests and federal funding.
  • The lack of accountability regarding a $10 million grant from the Bloomberg Family Foundation.
  • Social stigma and the influence of brain chemistry on addiction.
  • Efforts to weed out unscrupulous recovery home operators.
  • Repeated use of naloxone for certain overdose victims.
  • Details on the Department’s spending plan and projected outcomes.
  • Assessment of non-medical treatment necessities.

Video of the hearing.

Life Sciences Greenhouses/Life Sciences PA

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony from representatives of the Life Science Greenhouse Initiative, which is funded by the annual Master Settlement Agreement payment for the Tobacco Settlement. Senators asked representatives from those centers about:

  • The high cost of prescription drugs and what can be done to make them more affordable.
  • Areas lacking greenhouses, which would spur economic development.
  • Jobs created by the pharmaceutical industry and the pay scale for those jobs.
  • Past borrowing against the tobacco settlement fund.
  • How greenhouses determine what companies and technologies to invest in.
  • The return on investment for life sciences spending.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee asked Secretary of Conservation & Natural Resources Cindy Dunn for more information about Governor Wolf’s plan to raise $4.5 billion for infrastructure improvements through a bond that would be repaid by a Marcellus Shale extraction tax. They also posed questions about:

  • Leased land and the revenue it could generate.
  • Complicated fund transfers and flat timber sales.
  • Efforts to stem the invasive Spotted Lanternfly.
  • The economic impact of state parks and forests and the impact they have on communities.
  • Sand replenishment at Presque Isle in Erie and other efforts to improve that state park.
  • Transfers from the Keystone Recreation and Environmental Stewardship Fund.
  • Funding for the Statewide Radio System.

Video of the hearing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Department of Education

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed a wide variety of topics during a hearing with Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, including:

  • Efforts to recruit and retain high-quality educators.
  • Governor Wolf’s proposal to raise the minimum teacher salary from $18,500 to $45,000.
  • Costs associated with cyber charter schools.
  • Funding for technical and vocational education.
  • Transportation costs.
  • Telepresence education for students who face an extended absence from school.
  • Steps to strengthen school safety.
  • Steps to address the backlog of school construction cost reimbursements.
  • Restrictions on school safety grants.
  • Allowing the use of flexible instruction days.
  • Library funding.
  • Mandatory CPR training.
  • How new technology affects the need for library funding.
  • Improving the education funding formula.
  • Governor Wolf’s veto of legislation to bolster agricultural education.
  • The impact of the additional funding for the Erie School District.
  • Ways to intervene before school districts become insolvent.
  • Improving the teacher evaluation system.
  • Providing education about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Adult literacy programs.
  • Early childhood education and community college funding.
  • Career and technical education grants for equipment purchases.
  • Funding disparities between programs for public and non-public schools.
  • The need to reevaluate all aspects of education funding and ensure fair funding between school districts.

Video of part 1 of the hearing (10 a.m. – noon).

Video of part 2 of the hearing (1 – 2:30 p.m.).

Department of Aging

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Robert Torres, Acting Secretary of Aging, and Tom Snedden, Director of the PACE program, on a number of issues of importance to Pennsylvania’s older residents, including:

  • Guidelines for Senior Community Center grants.
  • A potential decline in Lottery Fund resources.
  • Projected increases in Pennsylvania’s senior citizen population.
  • Elder abuse prevention measures.
  • Waiting lists for PENNCARE programs.
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren because of the opioid crisis.
  • Pharmaceutical cost transparency.
  • Training on opioid prescribing.
  • Statewide funding for Area Agencies on Aging.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Department of Military & Veterans Affairs

State Adjutant General (Major General) Anthony Carrelli fielded questions from the Senate Appropriations Committee on issues related to Pennsylvania’s military community during a hearing on the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, including:

  • Allowing re-enlisting National Guard members to earn free college tuition for their families.
  • Suicide rates among veterans and what is being done to provide more mental health resources.
  • Transferring military skills for certification in private industry.
  • Moving from traditional institutional care for older veterans to community-based settings.
  • Proposed cuts in mental health funding.
  • Construction and renovations at the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie.
  • Easing certification requirements for military spouses.
  • Helping military members and their families to transition to private industry.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Agriculture

Senate Appropriations Committee members discussed several topics of interest to Pennsylvania’s farmers during the budget hearing with Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding. The topics included:

  • Industrial hemp.
  • Poultry and wild bird diseases.
  • The PA Preferred program and the value of its trademark.
  • Centers for Agricultural Excellence.
  • Need for a dog licensing fee increase.
  • Long-term fiscal viability of the Farm Show Complex.
  • Efforts to protect livestock and poultry from disease outbreaks.
  • Veterinarians’ role in the opioid crisis.
  • The Governor’s proposed elimination of funding for hardwoods research.
  • The impact of commercial travel bans during winter storms.
  • Deer farms’ role in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.
  • Crop damage payments and Sunday hunting to control the deer population.
  • Costs of the Homegrown by Heroes program.
  • A multi-state dairy summit.
  • Use of third-party inspectors.
  • Revenues from fireworks sales.
  • The Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

Video of the hearing.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee raised a number of issues during the budget hearing with Stephen Brawley, President of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania; Chadwick Paul, President of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania; Scott Nissenbaum, Chief Investment Officer of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania; and Rich Lunak, President of Innovation Works. Issues discussed included:

  • Pennsylvania’s attractiveness to entrepreneurs.
  • The selection process for companies.
  • Technology development programs in other states.
  • Resources that could be developed by additional state funding.
  • Companies and jobs created through Ben Franklin.
  • Innovation Works’ efforts to develop new companies in southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • Potential spin-off companies from the Beaver County cracker plant.
  • Investments in life sciences and electronics.
  • Regulatory barriers that impede business development.

Video of the hearing. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Gaming Control Board

The Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board covered several topics including:

  • Monitoring video game terminals (VGT) via a central control system.
  • Legislation allowing municipalities to opt out of truck stop VGTs.
  • An update on the Big Beaver mini-casino application.
  • Regulations for video gaming at truck stops.
  • Gaming’s impact on horse racing.
  • Legislation directing revenue from gaming expansion to provide property tax relief.
  • iGaming’s impact on gambling addiction and local share assessments.
  • Safeguards to keep children from gambling online.
  • Fees paid by gaming institutions to fund regulatory actions.
  • The need for a long-term gaming strategy.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Community & Economic Development

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Secretary Dennis Davin about the state’s film tax credit program and other initiatives during the budget hearing on the Department of Community & Economic Development. Topics discussed included:

  • Offering incentives to Amazon, but not to Urban Outfitters.
  • Reduced state support for public television.
  • Regulation reform.
  • Filling existing job vacancies.
  • Best ways to invest economic development funding.
  • State tax credit programs.
  • Early Intervention and CRIZ programs.
  • The economic impact of the Shell cracker plant.
  • Workforce development.

Video of the hearing.

Budget Secretary/Governor’s Executive Office

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee closed out three weeks of budget hearings with a session with Budget Secretary Jen Swails. Topics discussed included:

  • Transfers between funds and transparency issues.
  • Reduced funding for school safety.
  • Performance-based budgeting.
  • Employee benefits and pension costs.
  • Film tax credits.
  • Debt and borrowing.
  • Special funds in the budget.
  • The year-end revenue estimate for FY 2018-19.
  • Projections for the Lottery Fund.
  • The state’s fiscal outlook.

Video of the hearing.

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