Senate Hearings on Proposed State Budget
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.
In this Edition:
- Independent Fiscal Office
- Department of State
- Auditor General
- Attorney General
- State System of Higher Education
- State Police/Homeland Security
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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
- Online business registration.
- Salary and benefit costs and employee contributions.
- The length of time to conduct professional licensure
- 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
- 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
- Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
contribution to the General Fund.
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
- The upcoming audit of SIIF funding for the Unemployment
- 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.
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
- The effectiveness of mandatory sentences, particularly for
- 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.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
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
- 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
- How universities advertise and market their particular
- 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
- Educational opportunities for veterans and programs
available to them.
- Lower graduation rates.
State Police/Homeland Security
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
- 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
- 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
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my
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187 Main Capitol
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York, PA 17401
Phone: (717) 846-2828
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