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Senator Scott Wagner

 

Senate Hearings on Proposed State Budget 

The Senate Appropriations Committee is holding three weeks of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed 2017-2018 state budget. Summaries and video of each of the first week’s hearings are listed below. I will follow up with the remaining hearings over the next two weeks.  

We convene again this morning, Monday, February 27th, at 10am to hear from the Department of Agriculture, followed by the Department of General Services at 1pm, and PennDOT at 3pm.
Watch Live

In this Edition:

  • Treasury
  • Independent Fiscal Office
  • Department of State
  • Auditor General
  • Attorney General
  • State System of Higher Education
  • State Police/Homeland Security

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 

Treasury 

The Senate Appropriations Committee kicked off three weeks of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 state budget with a review of the State Treasurer Joe Torsella’s budget request. Topics covered included: 

  • Merging state and municipal pension plan management.
  • Merging Treasury special funds to save money.
  • The department’s new code of conduct policy.
  • The status of ABLE savings accounts for Pennsylvanians living with disabilities.
  • State debt and the Governor’s proposed cost savings.
  • Proposed Farm Show Complex lease-back.
  • TAP Guarantee Program for college savings.
  • The possibility of more investment options for pension holders.
  • SERS/PSERS staffing levels.
  • The need for pension reform.
  • Details to justify Treasury staffing request.
  • Pension fund investment fees and returns.

Hearing Video 

Independent Fiscal Office 

Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel briefed the committee on the economic outlook for the coming fiscal year as well as debt levels and general revenue trends. Committee members focused on the following topics: 

  • The short-term and long-term budget impacts of public pension costs and debt.
  • Projected economic activity and job growth in the state over the next several years.
  • Revenues from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee and the Governor’s proposed severance tax.
  • The impact of a minimum wage increase on employment and state revenues.
  • Differences in projected business tax and personal income tax revenues by the Administration and the IFO.
  • The proposed expansion of the sales and use tax.
  • Challenges created by a potential move to performance-based budgeting.
  • Lottery and gaming revenues and funding of programs and services for senior citizens.
  • Impact of the Governor’s proposed net operating loss cap.

Hearing Video

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 

Department of State 

The committee questioned Secretary Pedro Cortes about plans to increase the number of registered voters by 75,000, along with the following topics:  

  • Online business registration.
  • Salary and benefit costs and employee contributions.
  • The length of time to conduct professional licensure complaint investigations.
  • Staffing levels and vacancies.
  • Voter fraud by people coming from other states.
  • The Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) system and integrity of county voter rolls.
  • Pennsylvania’s involvement with the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). 
  • Publishing legal notices in print media vs. online media.
  • Pennsylvania’s status as the only state to use digital signature upload feature for online voter registrations.
  • Record-high complaints filed with department. 
  • Ensuring enough modern voting machines in 2020.
  • The low number of campaign finance reports being filed online. 
  • Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations contribution to the General Fund.

Hearing Video 

Auditor General 

2/22/17 - Auditor General

Senator Wagner shares with Auditor General DePasquale his findings from visits to Unemployment Compensation call centers including nearly $250 million in overpayments in a three year period.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale discussed a variety of issues pertaining to state and municipal pensions during a hearing with members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other topics of conversation included:

  • Preventing the abuse of public assistance programs.
  • The benefits of competitive bidding for transportation projects.
  • The upcoming audit of SIIF funding for the Unemployment Compensation system.
  • Use of state-owned and leased office space.
  • Problems identified in school district audits.
  • Information Technology upgrades completed in recent years and the cost of upgrades.
  • The results of recent audits of charter schools.
  • Examination of drug treatment programs and options.

Hearing Video

Attorney General

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Attorney General Josh Shapiro on several law enforcement issues including:

  • Efforts to crack down on drug traffickers and address the growing opioid epidemic.
  • The need to provide treatment and rehabilitation for non-violent offenders, rather than incarceration.
  • How funding will impact state efforts to crack down on child predators.
  • The effectiveness of mandatory sentences, particularly for drug kingpins.
  • Legal and other obligations encumbered as a result of the actions of Attorney General Kane.
  • The need to restore trust and morale in the office and to rebuild the agency.
  • Whether counties are receiving the full reimbursement that they are entitled to for full-time district attorneys.
  • Improving the relationship between the department and all levels of law enforcement.
  • An analysis of technology needs and how they can improve law enforcement efforts.

Hearing Video

Thursday, February 23, 2017

State System of Higher Education

2/23/17 - State System of Higher Education

Senator Wagner sought detailed information on salary and employee benefit contributions, as well as the recent strike by faculty and the contract agreement that ended it.

State System of Higher Education Chancellor Frank Brogan updated the Appropriations panel on the status of the 14 universities and challenges they are facing.  Discussion focused on:

  • The declining enrollment in many of the state universities.
  • An ongoing study to determine how to sustain the viability of the State System, boost enrollment and improve operations.
  • Faculty requirements for teaching, advising and other duties.
  • The cost of maintaining facilities that may not be in use.
  • The debt load being carried by each university.
  • Online universities and their impact on the State System.
  • Assisting families and students in pursuing the appropriate degree choices.
  • How universities advertise and market their particular institutions.
  • Alumni contributions and how they impact budgets.
  • The rising cost of tuition and the amount of debt incurred by parents and students.
  • Salary increases for faculties versus the rate of inflation.
  • Educational opportunities for veterans and programs available to them.
  • Lower graduation rates.

Hearing Video

State Police/Homeland Security

2/23/17 - State Police

Senator Wagner questioned Colonel Blocker and other representatives from the Pennsylvania State Police about the millions of dollars wasted on a radio system that doesn't work and needs millions of dollars more to be completely overhauled.

Col. Tyree Blocker discussed the force’s 2017-18 request of $1.272 billion. The following topics were discussed:

  • The use of body cameras, audio and video recording of interviews and other emerging technologies in training and policing.
  • The heroin epidemic and cooperative intelligence gathering to crack down on drug trafficking.
  • The use of naloxone to reverse heroin overdoses, with 70 successful saves.
  • Staffing complement, attrition through retirements, and succession plans to get to   the 4,719 authorized complement.
  • The fairness and relationship to actual costs of the $25 per capita fee for municipalities that rely on State Police coverage alone, along with the possible use of a population threshold to calculate fees.
  • The failed statewide radio project and ability to recover costs for a $1 billion project that never fully worked, due to terrain and other factors.
  • The use of radar by local police.
  • The use of drug seizure money.
  • The use of General Fund dollars versus Motor License Fund dollars under Act 89 for police budgeting.
  • The redeployment of troopers for gaming and other policing duties.

Hearing Video


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