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How Dare the Governor Ask for More of Your Hard-Earned Money?
On Tuesday, Governor Wolf gave his 2016-2017 budget address. Unfortunately, his speech gave no details regarding his actual budget proposal. However, the tax and spend demands remain from last year.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch the above video of remarks I made on the Senate floor on Wednesday in response to the Governor’s proposal. It builds on the press release I sent to you on Tuesday, as well as my Op-Ed you may have seen in your local paper.
As I continue to point out, the Governor wants more of your hard-earned money. $3.6 billion more. During his speech he noted that Pennsylvania has a $2 billion budget deficit. Of course, he isn’t asking you for more money to fill that hole – he also wants to increase spending. I, however, remain committed to reining in costs and bringing accountability to the money we are already spending.
Some highlights of the Governor’s proposed budget include:
Senate Vote to Remove Attorney General Falls Short
On Wednesday, I joined a majority of Senators (29-19) voting in favor of Senate Resolution 284 removing Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office due to the suspension of her license to practice law in Pennsylvania. However, the measure failed to meet the two-thirds majority specified by the Pennsylvania Constitution in order to directly remove an elected official from office.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved House Resolution 659, which authorizes the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the conduct of Attorney General Kathleen Kane and to determine whether she should be subject to impeachment.
Adoption of HR 659 is the first step in the impeachment process under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Depending on the subcommittee's findings, another House resolution would be needed to formally file one or more counts of impeachment, which then would have to be approved by the House. If adopted, the Senate would conduct the trial, which requires a two-thirds vote for conviction and removal.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously voted on September 21 to suspend Kane’s license based on accusations of perjury and other charges stemming from a leak of grand jury information. The newly elected Democrat-majority state Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed that decision last week.
Joint Hearing Focuses on Spending During Budget Impasse
The hearing focused on the State Treasurer’s role in approving requests for payment from state executive agencies during the impasse – when no legal authority existed for payments to be made.
This has raised serious questions over the legality of the spending that has occurred over the last seven months, despite not having a spending plan in place. Our schools and service providers have been held hostage, but Governor Wolf’s administration continued allowing plenty of money to flow out of the state coffers.
You can view testimony and video of the entire hearing here.
Bills Approved by Senate, Sent to Governor
Options for Schools to Meet 180-Day Requirement
A measure giving schools greater flexibility to meet the state’s 180-day requirements for classroom instruction after emergency and weather-related closings was sent to the Governor this week for his signature and enactment into law.
House Bill 158 would provide potential scheduling options for school entities facing extended closings that include a school year with a minimum number of hours of instruction, in lieu of the 180-day requirement, and approving additional instruction days on not more than one Saturday a month.
Expungement of Certain Misdemeanors
Also sent to the Governor was Senate Bill 166, which would allow individuals with second and third misdemeanors, as well as ungraded offenses that carry no more than 2 years in prison to petition the court to have their record expunged. In order to do so, the individual must be free of arrest or prosecution for 10 years.
Earned Income Exemption for Active Duty Military Pay
On Wednesday the Senate approved and sent to the Governor House Bill 561, which provides an Earned Income Tax (EIT) exemption for active duty military pay. Specifically, this bill corrects a change that was made in 2008 that limited the exemption for military pay earned outside of Pennsylvania. HB 561 provides for the exemption on all active duty military pay, regardless of where it was earned.
Administrative Code Updates
Finally, the Senate passed House Bill 941, which amends the Administrative Code to:
Senate Sends Four Bills to the House
The Senate approved four bills this week and sent the measures to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 489 reduces the maximum fee that a check casher may charge for cashing government checks.
Senate Bill 568 makes changes for guardianship in Pennsylvania based on recommendations from the Joint State Government Commission’s Advisory Committee on Decedents’ Estates Laws.
House Bill 1296 expands the financial products that municipalities, school districts, and municipal authorities may invest their general fund moneys. The bill returns to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Bill 889 extends benefits to enforcement officers and investigators of the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission.
Ag Committee Holds Hearing on Fireworks Bill
The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday on legislation I’m co-sponsoring to further legalize the sale of fireworks in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 1055 would lift the ban on the sale of “consumer” fireworks, known as “Class C” fireworks, and allow businesses legally operating in the state to sell consumer fireworks -- such as bottle rockets, roman candles and mortars -- to Pennsylvania residents without the need for a permit.
Senate Bill 1055 would generate additional revenue for the Commonwealth by requiring fireworks outlets to pay a $5,000 annual license fee. In addition to paying the state’s 6 percent sales tax, fireworks purchases would be subject to an excise tax with that money benefiting fire and emergency medical personnel.
You can view the hearing here.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Appropriations Committee did not hold voting meetings this week, but as mentioned above, we conducted the joint hearing with the Senate Finance Committee on the issue of spending by the Wolf administration during the budget impasse.
The Senate Transportation Committee held a follow-up hearing Monday on delay and delivery of transportation projects across Pennsylvania. The hearing featured testimony from PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards and former PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch.
Testifiers included those from State Police, PennDOT, AAA and the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association. The committee also heard from the family of Christine Lambert, who died when struck by ice dislodged from a truck.
On Tuesday, February 16, the Senate Transportation Committee will hold two separate hearings:
Both hearings will be available to watch live online by clicking the corresponding link above.
The Senate returns to voting session on Monday, March 14. You can watch session live at my website.
*Schedule subject to change
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.