Senator Dan Laughlin E-Newsletter

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Special Report: 2018-19 Budget Hearings

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Treasury Department

The Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed State Treasurer Joe Torsella’s budget request. Topics covered included:

  • The ABLE Fund.
  • Pennsylvania’s credit rating.
  • Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program.
  • Impact of interest rates on investment funds.
  • Commonwealth borrowing.
  • Disparities in revenue estimates on unclaimed property.
  • Implementation of a “lost contact” policy.
  • Special funds in various accounts.
  • IT modernization.
  • The Task Force on Private Sector Retirement Security.

Video of the hearing.

Independent Fiscal Office

Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) Director Matthew Knittel briefed the Senate Appropriations Committee on the economic outlook for the coming fiscal year and general revenue trends. Committee members focused on several topics:

  • Senior citizens paying property taxes.
  • The Marcellus Shale Impact Fee and the Governor’s proposed severance tax.
  • The Governor’s proposed minimum wage increase.
  • The Governor’s combined reporting proposal and other business tax issues.
  • Performance-based budgeting.
  • Federal tax reform.
  • Lottery revenues and expanded gaming.
  • Projected economic activity and job growth.
  • Differences between economic projections by the Administration and the IFO.

Video of the hearing.

Approved Private Schools/Charter School for the Deaf and Blind

The Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony from Jeff Zibelman of Barber National Institute, David Schultheis of The Pathway School, Todd Reeves of the Overbrook School for the Blind, and Steven Farmer of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Topics included:

  • Tuition disparities.
  • Students from certain geographic clusters.
  • Services to assist the transition to independent living.
  • Capacity issues.
  • Identifying the need for early intervention.
  • Use of fundraising proceeds for administration and services.
  • Services for those with severe disabilities.

Video of the hearing.

Pennsylvania Intermediate Units

During a hearing with representatives of Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Units, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee explored potential cost savings through collaboration with school districts. Other topics of conversation included:

  • Requirements set by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • Low-performing schools.
  • Costs of health care and prescription coverage.
  • Head Start and Pre-kindergarten programs.
  • School districts in financial distress.
  • Early intervention services.
  • Professional development strategies.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Department of State

Senate Appropriations Committee members questioned Robert Torres, Acting Director of the Department of State, about several issues relating to Pennsylvania’s current voting system, including:

  • The cost of upgrades to voting machines.
  • The previous Secretary of State’s abrupt departure.
  • Breaches of the voter registration system.
  • Voter complaint investigations.
  • The state Supreme Court congressional map ruling.
  • The costs of special elections.
  • Complaints about the licensure process.
  • The electronic filing of lobbying and campaign reports.

Video of the hearing.

Auditor General

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was asked to justify spend requests for his office. Other topics included:

  • Performance audits of municipal authorities.
  • Digitizing documents.
  • Funding increase for the Board of Claims.
  • Audits of drug and alcohol treatment programs.
  • The backlog of untested rape kits.
  • Statewide radio system problems.
  • Oversight of child welfare programs.
  • Audits not done due to lack of personnel.
  • Public sector versus private sector personnel costs.
  • Excessive school district reserve funding.
  • School district audits.
  • Financial penalties for fire companies that consolidate. 
  • Audits of multi-state commissions

Video of the hearing.

Attorney General

During a budget hearing with Attorney General Josh Shapiro, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed ongoing efforts to combat Pennsylvania’s heroin and opioid epidemic. Other topics of conversation included:

  • Human trafficking.
  • Mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Justice reinvestment initiatives and other criminal justice reforms.
  • Abuse of incarcerated individuals.
  • The Equifax data breach.
  • Reimbursements to district attorneys.
  • Investigation of the statewide radio system.
  • Natural gas royalty payments.
  • Elder abuse and financial exploitation.
  • School safety improvements.

Video of the hearing.

Thursday, February 22, 2016

State System of Higher Education

Senate Appropriations Committee members questioned representatives of the State System of Higher Education about multiple topics related to the 14 state-owned universities including:

  • Pension liability and post-retirement health care costs.
  • Graduation rates.
  • Salaries and average hours worked by staff.
  • Consolidation of programs.
  • Campus security.
  • Declining student populations.
  • Working with community colleges.
  • Online learning.
  • Costs incurred in defending grievances.
  • Concerns about the future of the State System.

Video of the hearing.

State Police/Homeland Security

The Senate Appropriations Committee explored a number of issues with State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker.  The following topics were discussed: 

  • Body cameras.
  • The proposed $25 per capita fee for municipalities that rely on State Police coverage.
  • Expanding coverage of municipalities.
  • Medical cannabis.
  • Staffing complement.
  • The statewide radio system.
  • Risk assessments of schools.
  • Commissioner Blocker’s upcoming retirement.
  • The State Police Academy cheating scandal.
  • Criminal history background checks.
  • Overtime costs.
  • Patrol car colors.

Video of the hearing.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency/Fire Commissioner

PEMA Director Rick Flinn and Acting State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego fielded questions about emergency response as the Senate Appropriations Committee closed out the first week of budget hearings. The following topics were discussed:

  • Implementation of the statewide radio system.
  • 911 revenue collections and system consolidations.
  • GIS mapping.
  • The rewrite of Title 35.
  • Financial penalties for fire companies that consolidate.
  • Sex offenders serving as volunteers.
  • Volunteer Loan Assistance Program.
  • Efforts to attract and retain volunteers.
  • The varied roles of volunteers.
  • Senate Resolution 6 Commission activities.
  • Online volunteer training.
  • Drone use by state agencies.

Video of the hearing.

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