Senator Dan Laughlin E-Newsletter

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Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the budget hearings held during the week of March 4, 2019

Special Report: 2019-20 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, held its third week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from cabinet secretaries and other officials from March 4 through 7. This special edition of Harrisburg Happenings provides day-by-day highlights from those hearings.

More information on the budget, as well as photos, audio and video from the hearings, is available at: www.pasenategop.com/state-budget/.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Drug and Alcohol Secretary Jen Smith about the following topics:

  • Steps taken to monitor prescription drug abuse.
  • The demographic breakdown and types of substance abuse.
  • The effectiveness of methadone clinics.
  • Identifying alternatives to methadone treatment.
  • The length of methadone treatment and the role of Centers for Excellence in treatment.
  • Department funding requests and federal funding.
  • The lack of accountability regarding a $10 million grant from the Bloomberg Family Foundation.
  • Social stigma and the influence of brain chemistry on addiction.
  • Efforts to weed out unscrupulous recovery home operators.
  • Repeated use of naloxone for certain overdose victims.  
  • Details on the Department’s spending plan and projected outcomes.
  • Assessment of non-medical treatment necessities.

Video of the hearing.

Life Sciences Greenhouses/Life Sciences PA

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony from representatives of the Life Science Greenhouse Initiative, which is funded by the annual Master Settlement Agreement payment for the Tobacco Settlement.

I expressed concerns that Erie County does not have a greenhouse, which would help to bring jobs, venture capital and economic development to our area.

Link for video below

3/4/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Life Sciences Greenhouses / Life Sciences PA

Other senators asked about:

  • The high cost of prescription drugs and what can be done to make them more affordable.
  • Jobs created by the pharmaceutical industry and the pay scale for those jobs. 
  • Past borrowing against the tobacco settlement fund.
  • How greenhouses determine what companies and technologies to invest in.
  • The return on investment for life sciences spending.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

During the hearing with the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, I questioned Secretary Cindy Dunn on the status of sand replenishment efforts at Presque Isle Bay and other efforts to improve this important recreational resource.

Link for video below

3/4/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: DCNR

Other members asked Secretary Dunn for more information about Governor Wolf’s plan to raise $4.5 billion for infrastructure improvements through a bond that would be repaid by a Marcellus Shale extraction tax. They also posed questions about:

  • Leased land and the revenue it could generate.
  • Complicated fund transfers and flat timber sales.
  • Efforts to stem the invasive Spotted Lanternfly.
  • The economic impact of state parks and forests and the impact they have on communities.
  • Transfers from the Keystone Recreation and Environmental Stewardship Fund.
  • Funding for the Statewide Radio System.

Video of the hearing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Department of Education

During the budget hearing with the Department of Education, I discussed the impact of additional funding dedicated to the Erie School District and strategies to intervene before financially struggling districts become insolvent.

Link for video below

3/5/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Education

Other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed a wide variety of topics with Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, including:

  • Efforts to recruit and retain high-quality educators.
  • Governor Wolf’s proposal to raise the minimum teacher salary from $18,500 to $45,000.
  • Costs associated with cyber charter schools.
  • Funding for technical and vocational education.
  • Transportation costs.
  • Telepresence education for students who face an extended absence from school.
  • Steps to strengthen school safety.
  • Steps to address the backlog of school construction cost reimbursements.
  • Restrictions on school safety grants.
  • Allowing the use of flexible instruction days.
  • Library funding.
  • Mandatory CPR training.
  • How new technology affects the need for library funding.
  • Improving the education funding formula.
  • Governor Wolf’s veto of legislation to bolster agricultural education.
  • Improving the teacher evaluation system.
  • Providing education about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Adult literacy programs.
  • Early childhood education and community college funding.
  • Career and technical education grants for equipment purchases.
  • Funding disparities between programs for public and non-public schools.
  • The need to reevaluate all aspects of education funding and ensure fair funding between school districts.

Video of part 1 of the hearing (10 a.m. – noon).

Video of part 2 of the hearing (1 – 2:30 p.m.).

Department of Aging

I asked about pharmaceutical cost transparency during the budget hearing on the Department of Aging.

Link for video below

3/5/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Aging

Other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Robert Torres, Acting Secretary of Aging, and Tom Snedden, Director of the PACE program, on a number of issues of importance to Pennsylvania’s older residents, including:

  • Guidelines for Senior Community Center grants.
  • A potential decline in Lottery Fund resources.
  • Projected increases in Pennsylvania’s senior citizen population.
  • Elder abuse prevention measures.
  • Waiting lists for PENNCARE programs.
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren because of the opioid crisis.
  • Pharmaceutical cost transparency.
  • Training on opioid prescribing.
  • Statewide funding for Area Agencies on Aging.  

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Department of Military & Veterans Affairs

During the hearing with the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, I told State Adjutant General (Major General) Anthony Carrelli that I am very concerned about proposed cuts in mental health funding and asked for an update on construction and rehabilitation efforts at the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie.

Link for video below

3/6/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Military & Veterans Affairs

Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • Allowing re-enlisting National Guard members to earn free college tuition for their families.
  • Suicide rates among veterans and what is being done to provide more mental health resources.
  • Transferring military skills for certification in private industry.
  • Moving from traditional institutional care for older veterans to community-based settings.
  • Easing certification requirements for military spouses.
  • Helping military members and their families to transition to private industry.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Agriculture

I asked Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding about Chronic Wasting Disease, crop damage payments and the potential for Sunday hunting to curb the deer population.

Link for video below

3/6/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Agriculture

Other Senate Appropriations Committee members discussed several topics of interest to Pennsylvania’s farmers during the budget hearing with Secretary Redding including:

  • Industrial hemp.
  • Poultry and wild bird diseases.
  • The PA Preferred program and the value of its trademark.
  • Centers for Agricultural Excellence.
  • Need for a dog licensing fee increase.
  • Long-term fiscal viability of the Farm Show Complex.
  • Efforts to protect livestock and poultry from disease outbreaks.
  • Veterinarians’ role in the opioid crisis.
  • The Governor’s proposed elimination of funding for hardwoods research.
  • The impact of commercial travel bans during winter storms.
  • Costs of the Homegrown by Heroes program.
  • A multi-state dairy summit.
  • Use of third-party inspectors.
  • Revenues from fireworks sales.
  • The Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

Video of the hearing.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners

During the budget hearing for the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, I requested information on companies and jobs created through Ben Franklin and discussed economic development in Erie.

Link for video below

3/6/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Ben Franklin Technology Partners

Other issues discussed included:

  • Pennsylvania’s attractiveness to entrepreneurs.
  • The selection process for companies.
  • Technology development programs in other states.
  • Resources that could be developed by additional state funding.
  • Companies and jobs created through Ben Franklin.
  • Innovation Works’ efforts to develop new companies in southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • Potential spin-off companies from the Beaver County cracker plant.
  • Investments in life sciences and electronics.
  • Regulatory barriers that impede business development.

Video of the hearing. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Gaming Control Board

I asked Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole about the iGaming application at Presque Isle Downs and the prospect of off-track betting, and iGaming’s impact on gambling addiction and local share assessments.

Link for below

3/7/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Gaming Control Board

Other topics discussed during the budget hearing with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board included:

  • Monitoring video game terminals (VGT) via a central control system.
  • Legislation allowing municipalities to opt out of truck stop VGTs.
  • An update on the Big Beaver mini-casino application.
  • Regulations for video gaming at truck stops.
  • Gaming’s impact on horse racing.
  • Legislation directing revenue from gaming expansion to provide property tax relief.
  • Safeguards to keep children from gambling online.
  • Fees paid by gaming institutions to fund regulatory actions.
  • The need for a long-term gaming strategy.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Community & Economic Development

I asked DCED Secretary Dennis Davin about Erie’s request to participate in the Early Intervention Program and to receive a CRIZ designation.

Link for video below

3/7/19 – Budget Hearing Q&A: DCED (Community and Economic Development)

Other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned him about the state’s film tax credit program and other initiatives during the budget hearing.

  • Offering incentives to Amazon, but not to Urban Outfitters.
  • Reduced state support for public television.
  • Regulation reform.
  • Filling existing job vacancies.
  • Best ways to invest economic development funding. 
  • State tax credit programs.
  • The economic impact of the Shell cracker plant.
  • Workforce development.

Video of the hearing.

Budget Secretary/Governor’s Executive Office

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee closed out three weeks of budget hearings with a session with Budget Secretary Jen Swails. Topics discussed included:

  • Transfers between funds and transparency issues.
  • Reduced funding for school safety.
  • Performance-based budgeting.
  • Employee benefits and pension costs.
  • Film tax credits.
  • Debt and borrowing.
  • Special funds in the budget.
  • The year-end revenue estimate for FY 2018-19.
  • Projections for the Lottery Fund.
  • The state’s fiscal outlook.

Video of the hearing.

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