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Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the budget hearings held during the week of February 24, 2020

Special Report: 2020-21 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its second week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2020-21 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from several cabinet secretaries and other officials over the four-day period of February 24-27. More information on the budget, as well as photos, audio and video from the hearings, is available at:

Monday, February 24, 2020

Department of Labor & Industry

2/24/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Labor & Industry

During the budget hearing with the Department of Labor & Industry, I asked about the potential impact of the Governor’s proposed minimum wage increases on senior citizens due to inflation. Other members of the Appropriations Committee questioned Secretary Jerry Oleksiak about a number of topics including:

  • The waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Ways to boost workforce development, including internships and apprenticeships.
  • Vacancies created by the rising number of retiring workers.
  • The unemployment compensation system.
  • The Governor’s proposed minimum wage increase.
  • Job training programs in skilled trades.
  • Exempting school construction projects from prevailing wage requirements.
  • The decline in disability claims.
  • Job training programs.
  • Job losses in the agriculture industry.
  • Workforce development programs for the next generation of farmers.
  • The Strategic Early Warning Network.
  • The Employment First program for disabled Pennsylvanians.
  • Prevailing wage.
  • Job opportunities in the natural gas industry and related fields.
  • Increases in the Department’s personnel costs.
  • Lead and asbestos remediation.
  • Funding for the Industry Partnerships program.

Video of the hearing.

Office of the Auditor General

2/24/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Auditor General

During the budget hearing on the Auditor General’s Office, I asked about pharmacy benefit managers and transparency in the pharmaceutical industry. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed a number of topics with Auditor General Eugene DePasquale including:

  • The impact of reductions in funding on operations in the Auditor General’s Office.
  • Fraud, waste and abuse in the Department of Human Services.
  • Pharmacy benefit managers and transparency in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Audits of managed care organizations.
  • The Auditor General’s public advocacy of the legalization of marijuana.
  • Cybersecurity initiatives.
  • Voter registration integrity.
  • The Governor’s proposed fee for state police service.
  • Enforcement of the state Dog Law.
  • Bidding for school transportation services.
  • Performance audits and reviews of workforce development agencies.

Video of the Hearing.

Department of Aging

Programs and services to support senior citizens were among the issues discussed during a budget hearing with Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres. Topics included:

  • Waiting lists for services.
  • The new Community HealthChoices program.
  • Funding for senior centers.
  • Adult Protective Services and programs to help seniors age in place.
  • Prescription assistance programs.
  • Prescription rebate programs.
  • The impact of skill games on the Lottery Fund.
  • Reimbursement rates for struggling service providers.
  • Efforts to combat dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Enrollment in PACE and PACENET.
  • The declining number of available beds at nursing homes.
  • Improvement projects at senior centers.

Video of the hearing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Liquor Control Board

2/25/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Liquor Control Board

During the budget hearing with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, I raised concerns about the condition and availability of the state stores in the Erie region. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed issues including:

  • Spending and borrowing proposed for facilities and equipment.
  • Transfers to the General Fund.
  • Packaging and territorial agreements.
  • A $475 million no-bid contract for warehousing and distribution in the southeast.
  • State stores that operate on limited hours.
  • Online sales and e-commerce system.
  • Data breaches and hacking.
  • Plans to upgrade facilities in Lancaster.
  • Staffing flexibility.
  • Out-of-state wineries.
  • Enforcement of underage drinking offenses.
  • Sales made by credit and debit cards.
  • Modernization measures.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Transportation

2/25/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Transportation

During our budget hearing with Acting Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian, I expressed my opposition to implementing toll roads to pay for road maintenance & my concern about the environmental impact of road salt runoff. Other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed issues including:

  • Wait times for processing REAL ID applications.
  • Transfers from regional projects to interstates.
  • Transfers from the Motor License Fund to fund the State Police.
  • Cost overruns and delays on projects.
  • Regional passenger rail.
  • Use of private-sector contractors.
  • Emissions testing requirements.
  • Structurally deficient bridges.
  • Funding the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River & Bay.
  • Federal transportation funding.

Video of the hearing.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella about several issues including:

  • Pennsylvania’s fiscal condition.
  • Pennsylvania’s debt.
  • Property taxes and growth in state spending.
  • Short-term borrowing and cash flow fluctuations.
  • Growth in government union salaries.
  • The Unclaimed Property Program. 
  • The Treasury’s request for increased funding.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Department of Human Services

2/26/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Human Services
During the budget hearing with Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, I expressed my deep disappointment with efforts to move Pennsylvanians from welfare to work. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed issues including:

  • Counties’ needs-based budget requests.
  • Waiting lists for intellectuals with disabilities.
  • Managed Care Organizations and Community HealthChoices.
  • Regulation changes for serving individuals with intellectual disabilities.
  • Preventing nursing home closures.
  • Ensuring that $3 million PA funding for Planned Parenthood would not be used for abortions.
  • Reimbursement rates for independent pharmacies.
  • Breaking the cycle of poverty.
  • Getting students into all-day technical schools.
  • Including lottery winnings in calculating public assistance.
  • Increasing awareness and providing services for mental health issues within farm families.
  • Rising Medical Assistance Transportation Program costs and preventing abuse.
  • The PA Workwear program.
  • Nontraditional child care services.
  • Performance Based Budgeting Board review findings.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Health

2/26/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Health (Part 1)

During the hearing with the Department of Health, I asked about efforts to battle the Coronavirus and prevent the spread of the disease in Pennsylvania and raised concerns about safe injection sites.

2/26/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Health (Part 2)

I also asked about obtaining more data on the toxicology of gun violence offenders. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed the following issues:

  • Cuts in Lyme disease funding.
  • The prescription drug monitoring program.
  • A potential bias in a health study on fracking.
  • The state’s Medical Marijuana Program.
  • Vaping.
  • Telemedicine.

Video of the hearing.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Department of Education

2/27/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Education

During the budget hearing with the Department of Education, I asked about pending approval of a community college in Erie and how that college would be funded. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed issues including:

  • The Governor’s cut in school safety grants from $60 million to $15 million.
  • Costs associated with mandated full-day kindergarten.
  • Career and technical schools.
  • A new program that would require CPR education in schools.
  • The rollout of Act 64 providing school districts with flexible instruction days.
  • Funding for remediating “toxic schools” that pose health risks to students.
  • Asbestos and lead issues in schools.
  • The role that telemedicine can play in providing students with access to doctors and counselors.
  • A new agricultural education curriculum for students.
  • The pending approval of a community college in Erie.
  • Improving literacy and providing earlier screening for dyslexia.
  • The popularity of the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program.
  • Mental health assessments for students.

Video of the morning session with the Department of Education.

Video of the afternoon session with the Department of Education.

Department of Community & Economic Development

2/27/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: DCED

During the budget hearing on the Department of Community & Economic Development, I discussed Erie’s successful Opportunity Zones and the need for a CRIZ in the city. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed a number of issues including:

  • Affordable housing.
  • Ben Franklin Technology Partnerships.
  • Tax credit programs.
  • Erie’s Opportunity Zones.
  • The CRIZ program.
  • International investment in Pennsylvania.
  • The Governor’s threatened veto of legislation providing for energy and fertilizer manufacturing tax credit.
  • The impact of the Governor’s proposed carbon tax.
  • The Hotel Occupancy Tax.

Video of the hearing.

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