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Senator Mario Scavello

The Senate Appropriations Committee has wrapped up three weeks of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed 2017-2018 state budget. Summaries and video of this week’s hearings are listed below.

This Week’s Budget Hearings:

  • Department of Community and Economic Development
  • Department of Revenue/PA Lottery
  • Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Health and Human Services (Proposed)
  • Department of Environmental Protection
  • Office of the Budget

Monday, March 6, 2017

Department of Community and Economic Development

3/6/17 - Revenue

Senator Scavello discussed the economic development opportunity presented by the closing of SCI Pittsburgh, the proposed Apprenticeship Grant Program, and a proposed $6.1 million PA tourism initiative. He also noted the proposed Smart Cities transportation planning initiative and urged that it be applied to more than cities. The senator also sought details of the proposed Manufacturing Training-to-Career Grant Program.

The committee questioned Secretary Dennis Davin about the proposed 9.1 percent decrease in DCED funding, as well as:

  • The economic development opportunity presented by the SCI Pittsburgh closure.
  • The proposed Apprenticeship Grant Program.
  • The proposed $6.1 million PA tourism initiative.
  • The proposed Smart Cities transportation planning initiative and the need to apply it to more than cities.
  • The Manufacturing Training-to-Career Grant Program.
  • Borrowing money to fund proposed new grant programs.
  • Update on Act 47 efforts for distressed municipalities.
  • Beneficiaries of Small Business Development funding.
  • The Governor’s opposition to expanding Keystone Opportunity Zones and City Revitalization and Improvement Zones.
  • The proposed $2 million cut in Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance (PREP).
  • The economic impact of the southwestern PA cracker plant and southeastern PA natural gas processing.  
  • The impact of the Life Sciences Greenhouse initiative.
  • Conflicting job creation numbers from DCED and the Labor and Industry Department, and a breakout of jobs created versus jobs retained.

The lack of legislative input into individual tax credits being grouped into the proposed Tax Credit Block Grant.

Hearing Video

Department of Revenue/PA Lottery

3/6/17 - Revenue

Senator Scavello asked Secretary McNulty about the potential impact of online gaming on Lottery revenue, and increased assessments on casinos to cover oversight costs.

Revenue Secretary Eileen McNulty fielded questions regarding the Wolf Administration’s proposed cuts to various tax credit programs and the $1 billion in new taxes requested by Governor Wolf. Other topics of discussion included:

  • The projected impact of gambling expansion proposals on Lottery sales.
  • Increases in Lottery sales from instant games.
  • Potential environmental impacts that would result from a reduction in tax credits.
  • Concerns regarding potential cuts in the number of communities eligible for the KOZ program.
  • The effect on ratepayers if the Administration’s insurance premiums tax is enacted.
  • Legal issues pertaining to tax collection for medical cannabis.
  • How the Administration’s proposed commercial storage tax would impact businesses.
  • Revenue lost by the state due to tax increases enacted at the local level.
  • How the pending state Supreme Court case regarding net operating losses could affect small businesses.

  • Cyber security and the Department’s efforts to protect personal information.

Hearing Video

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

Senators asked James Vaughn, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, about the agency’s budget and mission, including:

  • Digitization of the state archives and records.
  • Balancing historic site preservation with economic development.
  • The proposed allocation of $2 million from the Pennsylvania Economic Revitalization Fund for cultural and historic support.
  • The planned new archives and record center in Harrisburg.
  • Site maintenance.
  • Use of revenues generated from fees.
  • Trends in attendance at historical sites and museums.
  • The 36-percent cut in state funding over the past 10 years.

Marketing and the use of social media.

Hearing Video

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Department of Education

3/7/17 - Education

Senator Scavello discussed the need for all-day career and technical education programs, expressed concern that the Administration’s $50 million cut in school transportation funding will hurt rural districts, and noted the role of community colleges in reducing college education costs.

Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera fielded questions on the department’s policy priorities and budget request, which calls for an increase of $100 million in basic education funding, and for a total of $13.6 billion for both basic education and higher education, which represents 42 percent of the entire Commonwealth budget.

Topics discussed included:

  • The distribution of funding across 500 school districts and SSHE colleges, and the disparity in teacher salaries, pensions, per-pupil spending, building quality, and more.
  • The need for pension reform and its impact on school funding.
  • Developing college and career readiness plans, incentivizing career and technical schools, matching curricula to work force trends, and the movement toward four-year degrees.
  • The proposed $50 million cut to bus transportation programs, the impact on rural districts, and the effect of the rising fuel costs.
  • Ways to improve the teacher evaluation system (Act 82).
  • Proposed changes to the School Performance Profile, to account for growth.
  • The work toward property tax elimination. 
  • The feasibility of merging school district health care and pharmacy plans.
  • Cyber-charter schools’ quality and delays in charter renewals.
  • The status of the Plan Con review and school construction projects now in progress.
  • The future of the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC).
  • Difficulties with data collection, and the lack of current data.
  • The proposed 50 percent cut to private college institution grants and its impact on lower-income students.
  • Student loan debt and the role of community colleges in saving student tuition costs.
  • Negotiating for sick and bereavement leave in collective bargaining agreements.

The number of employees eligible for the proposed early retirement buy-out.

Hearing Video

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Department of Health and Human Services

(Proposed consolidation of Aging, Drugs & Alcohol and Health departments)

3/8/17 - Health & Human Services

Senator Scavello questioned officials about the Commonwealth’s proposed shift from facility-based employment for persons with intellectual disabilities, the DHS waiting list for students with disabilities, the impact of consolidation on Community Health Choices, and the importance of childhood vaccinations.

Testifying were Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas, Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne, Acting Secretary for Drugs and Alcohol Jennifer Smith, Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy, and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine.  The Governor is requesting $39.2 billion for the four merged departments. The following topics were addressed by the committee:

The following topics were addressed by the committee:

  • The process and aftermath of the proposed consolidation of four departments, including the ambitious timeline, the ultimate leader, the net employee complement, the savings on personnel and the impact of early retirement, and the possible diminished focus on aging  
  • Efforts to curb waste, fraud and abuse in the Departments of Health and Human Services and the role of the Office of Inspector General
  • Contacts to consumers who passed away and the failed technology that spawned errors
  • Increasing purchasing power on pharmaceutical purchases, including in PACE and PACENET, to save money in the Lottery Fund, and the drop in the dispensing fee
  • The future sustainability of the Lottery Fund
  • The proposed closure of state Health Center facilities, Norristown State Hospital and Hamburg State Center in a move from institutionalization to community-based care, with concerns for not just the residents but the vacant building
  • Consumer access to county assistance offices after opening regional processing centers
  • Timeline and added cost of Health Choices roll-out delays due to bid protests
  • The status of the Aging waiver, the MAXIMUS contract and full competitive bidding
  • The consequences of Affordable Care Act “repeal and replace” changes on the horizon at the federal level and the eligibility for Medicaid expansion
  • The Public Health Fund and our readiness to respond to a health crisis such as Zika Virus, Ebola or Lyme Disease
  • Heroin addiction initiatives, especially for special populations, including veterans, pregnant women, women with children and the LGBT community
  • The need for an ombudsman program
  • Increasing nursing home beds and the rise in complaints about quality of care   
  • The effectiveness of treatment for heroin addicts and the “warm hand-off” of Narcan-resuscitated patients, along with recovery support services to prevent relapse
  • Statewide treatment protocols for heroin treatment, and overdose locations
  • The new Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and its role in addiction prevention
  • Staff turnover, salary freezes, and employee burnout in direct care workers
  • The notification of changes in Medicaid waivers and the impact on local sheltered workshops for the visually impaired and others; the “pigeon-holing” of workers
  • Chronic renal disease program as a last resort for billing
  • The DHS decision not to fund the waiting list
  • The link between autism and vaccines, and the growing autism caseload 
  • The status of Medical Marijuana regulations on growers and processors
  • Regional cancer centers, which were zeroed-out for funding
  • The “I Want to Work” campaign and gainful employment opportunities for those with disabilities
  • Zeroed-out funding for bio tech research and tobacco settlement dollars
  • Plans to rein in costs of Medicaid
  • The growing number of doctors who are refusing to take Medicaid patients.
  • Whether patients who are receiving life-saving antidotes for overdoses have responsibility to pay for the medication
  • Concern that drug and alcohol programs would be diminished and moved down the list of priorities in a larger agency.
  • Attempts to modernize the antiquated system of obtaining vital records.
  • Whether child protective services would be considered “essential services” in the case of a budget impasse.
  • An update on the STARS system which is used to rate providers.
  • Efforts to implement the state’s medical marijuana program and ensure that it is safe and effective.
  • Contingency plans that are in place in case anticipated savings are not realized in PACE program.
  • Sharing data with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs on the services that are available to help seniors age in place.
  • How the Governor’s plan to raise the minimum wage would impact service providers and direct care workers.
  • Concerns by senior citizens about losing their voice if the Department of Aging is folded into a larger agency.
  • The importance of a continuum of care for senior citizens in assisted living facilities.
  • Meeting the long-term care needs of veterans.
  • The important role that sheltered care workshops play in the quality of life for people with special needs and the need to involve families in choices.

Costs associated with implementing the medical cannabis program and whether it will be self-sustaining.

Hearing Video I

Hearing Video II

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Department of Environmental Protection

3/9/17 - DEP

Senator Scavello discussed the burden of municipalities imposing MS4 fees on property owners for impervious surfaces, the danger of using grants for operating expenses, and more topics.

Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell was questioned about DEP’s proposed general operating budget, which totals $13.5 billion, a 3.4 percent decrease. Topics included:

  • Ongoing delays in issuing DEP permits.
  • The possible use of outside consultants to review permits.
  • Permit processing for pipelines that stretch across regions.
  • Details on the $45 million DEP, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources water quality plan.
  • Proposed natural gas severance tax effect on community impact fee funding.
  • Estimate of remaining waste tire piles after 20 years of the Waste Tire Recycling Act.
  • The West Virginia NPDES permit model for mid-sized development projects.
  • State borrowing to finance DEP operations.
  • Regulatory obstacles delaying job-producing projects for years.
  • Pennsylvania’s spending of $180 million in state and federal funds on Chesapeake Bay regulations over three years. 
  • The use of Pennsylvania’s portion of Volkswagen settlement money on diesel emissions issues.
  • The Administration’s development of a plan to mandate that energy production include 10 percent solar energy by 2030.
  • The EPA report on unaddressed safe drinking water violations in Pennsylvania.
  • Homeowners sharing wells impacted by DEP regulations designed to cover public water systems.
  • Adequacy of the Black Fly spraying program.
  • Regulation of high hazard dams.
  • Municipalities imposing MS4 fees on property owners for impervious surfaces.
  • The Covered Device Recycling Act and TV sets being dumped on roadsides.
  • Reduced funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act.
  • DEP efforts to reduce recyclable glass going into landfills.
  • Multiple DEP restricted accounts and special funds facing insolvency.
  • Coal refuse cleanup efforts.
  • The growing challenge of local stormwater management.
  • Continued problems with DEP not being business-friendly.
  • New methane permitting thresholds.
  • Payments to Delaware River Basin Commission.
  • Pennsylvania’s progress in meeting Chesapeake Bay water quality requirements.
  • Air quality study release date.
  • Length of GP5 permit applications.
  • How Pennsylvania environmental regulations became more stringent than federal requirements.

Hearing Video

Office of the Budget 

3/9/17 - Office of the Budget 

Senator Scavello asked about the cost of State System of Higher Education contract raises and the impact on the state budget and student tuition. He also discussed funding of State Police coverage in municipalities without a police department, the fate of laid off Unemployment Compensation call center employees, and the risk of funding operations with one-time grant money. He also discussed with Secretary Albright the effect of a minimum wage increase on jobs.

Office of the Budget

The committee held an extensive discussion of the Governor’s Budget Office/Executive Offices/Office of the Governor with Budget Secretary Randy Albright and Secretary of Administration Sharon Minnich. Issues discussed during the hearing included: 

  • Updated revenue estimates.
  • The array of tax increases proposed by the Governor.
  • Proposed elimination of certain sales tax exemptions.
  • Feasibility of using long-term borrowing for short-term expenditures.
  • The Governor’s proposed tax credit cap.
  • Records management and retention.
  • Implementation of the Civil Service Modernization Act.
  • The Governor’s proposed Lease-Leaseback of the Pennsylvania Farm Show facility.
  • The proposed elimination of funding for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Efforts to combat opioid abuse.
  • Reduction in funding for scholarships for private colleges.
  • Maintenance of service under the proposed Department of Health & Human Services.
  • Use of an outside contractor to develop cost saving and budgetary recommendations.
  • The need to address public pension costs.
  • The Governor’s moratorium on expanding KOZ and CRIZ.
  • The expected number of workers who would take the proposed early retirement incentive and the projected cost savings.
  • The proposed $25 per capita fee for State Police coverage.
  • Upcoming labor contract negotiations.
  • Layoffs and other issues related to the Unemployment Compensation Service Centers.
  • Gaming expansion.
  • The proposed merger of Aging, Drug & Alcohol Programs, Health, and Human Services departments.
  • The proposed Marcellus Shale severance tax.
  • Statewide health care contract for school districts.
  • Costs of and quality of life in state veterans’ homes.
  • The continuing and costly statewide radio system efforts.
  • Sales of state properties. 

Hearing Video  

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