June 30, 2011

Senate, House Pass On-Time, No Tax State Budget

The Senate and House gave final approval tonight, voting along party lines, to approve the General Fund budget bill-- House Bill 1485 (Adolph-R-Delaware)-- which contains $27.1 billion in spending and a 4.1 percent reduction from the FY 2010-11 General Fund budget.  They also passed all the accompanying implementing bills, including a school tax referendum badly wanted by Gov. Corbett.
            Gov. Corbett is expected to sign the budget before the midnight deadline.
            Some General Fund Highlights
-- FY 2010-11 will end with about $750 million in surplus revenue;
-- About $150 million in surplus revenue from FY 2010-11 is used in the FY 2011-12;
-- $50 million in state surplus revenue and $50 million in legislative reserve funds booked last year and next fiscal year will go for public schools;
-- $70 million in payments to nursing homes put off until FY 2012-13;
-- Continuation of the phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax which drops from 2.89 to 1.89 mills;
-- 100 percent accelerated depreciation on business expenses at a cost of $200 million;
-- No tax on Marcellus Shale drilling;
-- $200 million reduction, about 19 percent, in support for higher education;
-- 10 percent decrease in funding for community colleges;
-- $10.6 billion decrease for the Department of Public Welfare, 0.5 percent;
-- 7 percent increase in debt service payments;
-- 110 percent increase in school employee pension payments;
-- 35 percent decrease in the Department of Community and Economic Development;
-- No change in the Department of Corrections; and
-- Does not include Gov. Corbett's proposed Liberty Loan Fund.
            House Republicans put out a summary of the General Fund budget as well as a line item summary of appropriations.   House Democrats put together their own view of the Republican General Fund budget and a separate fact sheet on public welfare issues.
           The related bills include:
-- Senate Bill 907 (Browne-R-Lehigh) the Fiscal Code;
-- House Bill 1352 (Stephens-R-Montgomery) the Education Code;
-- House Bill 960 (Gringrich-R-Lebanon) the Welfare Code;
-- Senate Bill 330 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) school tax referendum;
-- Senate Bill 1062 (Corman-R-Centre) Gaming Board funding; and
-- Non-Preferred funding for Penn State, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln, University of Pennsylvania in House Bills 1727, 1728, 1729, 1730, 1731.

Corbett Will Not Sign Budget Without School Tax Limiting Bill

Corbett: No Budget Signature Without More Property Tax Controls
Several Pieces Remain Before Corbett Will Sign New Budget
Republicans Battle Over School Tax Bill As Budget Remains Unsigned
Note: The legislation Gov. Corbett wants is in Senate Bill 330 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) which was amended with a provision last evening limiting school property tax increases to the rate of inflation unless approved by voters.  The bill is on the House Calendar waiting for a final vote.  It must return to the Senate for a concurrence vote before it goes to the Governor for his action.

Senate, House Still Have Budget Bills To Pass

The Senate and House have now sent to the Governor the General Fund budget bill-- House Bill 1485 (Adolph-R-Delaware)--, the non-preferred appropriations bills funding Penn State, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania-- House Bills 1727, 1728, 1729, 1730, 1731, the Education Code bill-- House Bill 1352 (Stephens-R-Montgomery) and other major appropriations bills.
But, they still the Fiscal Code bill-- Senate Bill 907 (Browne-R-Lehigh), Welfare Code-- House Bill 960 (Gringrich-R-Lebanon) and funding for the Gaming Control Board-- Senate Bill 1062 (Corman-R-Centre) to go.  Both chambers are waiting the required 24 hours before votes are taken on these measures.

Thursday NewsClips

State Budget Defines Losers, Winners
Governor To Sign Budget Today
Budget Goes To Corbett
House Approves Budget On Party Vote
PA House Passes State Budget
State Budget Awaits Action By Corbett
Analysis: PA Budget Plan Is Lean And On Time
Editorial: State Budget Blast From A Sad Past
Part Of Legislative Surplus Earmarked
Amid PA Cuts, $437 Million Goes To Private Projects
NE Delegation In Harrisburg Divides On Budget
School Voucher Push Stalls, Likely Halted Until Fall
State Budget Leaves Philly School With $35 Million Hole
State Universities Take Cut, Vow To Keep Tuition Increases Low
Tuition Hikes May Hit Double Digits At State Universities
Budget Calls For 6 Percent Increase In Funding For State Police
PA Hospitals Dodge Huge Cuts In Proposed Budget
Editorial: Budget Proposal Oozes Unfairness
Senators Concerned By Voter Photo ID Requirement
Anti-Lien Statute Doesn't Apply, Court Rules
Liquor Code Changes to Help Restaurants, Wineries
Harrisburg Council: Final Act 47 Plan Will Not Include Fire, Police Layoffs
Central PA Unemployment Numbers Inch Up
Fix Or End Constable System, Dauphin County Judge Says
Editorial: Santorum Angling To Be Vice President?
Editorial: Trouble Ahead For Santorum?
Budget Cuts Deeper Into Environmental Funding
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

June 29, 2011

House Sends FY 2011-12 General Fund Budget To Governor

After five and a half hours of debate, the House voted 109 to 92 to send the General Fund budget bill- -House Bill 1485 (Adolph-R-Delaware)-- to the Governor for his signature.  The House continues marching through other legislation.
            House Republicans put out a summary of the General Fund budget as well as a line item summary of appropriations.
            Click Here for more details on the environmental protection budget.

Education Chair Issues Statement On School Choice Legislation

Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola (R-Dauphin), Majority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, issued the following statement today regarding school choice legislation.
            “I am extremely disappointed that a comprehensive compromise proposal including school vouchers, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, and charter schools did not cross the finish line this month.  The school children of Pennsylvania and their parents have lost out, not to mention the taxpayers.  Kids trapped in failing schools remain trapped; parents who wish to make educational choices for their children largely remain without assistance.  The monopoly system of public education – good, bad, or indifferent and expensive remains in place.
            “As we approach these last days in June, the Senate at the request of the Governor made a comprehensive, balanced and fair proposal to the House including many components of which we thought they had an interest.  Unfortunately, the House was unable or unwilling to engage in any meaningful discussions to finalize this proposal.
            “This is a lost opportunity to fundamentally change the Commonwealth’s approach to education.  We are aiming to implement proven methods to enhance academic achievement for all students.  While it will be more difficult, I stand ready to work on this issue in the future.  Over the last several months, House leaders and some in the Governor’s administration have said this is an issue to address in the Fall 2011.  I am ready but it is clearly the responsibility of the Governor if this remains on his agenda to define the parameters, initiate the process and drive that process to a successful conclusion.”

PA Tavern Association Applauds Corbett, Legislature for Modernizing Liquor Code

Amy Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association, issued the following statement regarding House Bill 148 (Payne-R-Dauphin), which Gov. Corbett signed into law yesterday. 
            The bill updates rules regarding "happy hours;" off-premises catering for licensees; and entertainment during extended food hours offered in licensed taverns and restaurants. It also contains other provisions that modernize the liquor code.
            "On behalf of our members who employ more than 200,000 Pennsylvanians statewide, I applaud Gov. Corbett for signing House Bill 148.  This new law will give our restaurants and taverns more flexibility in serving our customers.
            "This modernization updates a law that was first written in the 1930¹s.
            "We also are grateful to the legislature for moving this bill through both chambers this year, especially Rep. Payne, Rep. John Taylor, Rep. Santoni, Sen. Pippy, Sen. Ferlo, and all members on House Liquor Committee and Senate Law & Justice Committee.
            "As we look to the fall and beyond, we are committed to working with the legislature and Governor Corbett on addressing other state policies that impact our independently owned businesses, allowing them to thrive and compete on a  more level playing field."

House Session Schedule Update

The House session schedule for next 3 days--  June 30 - convenes at 8:00 a.m.,  July 1 - convenes at 8:00 a.m., July 2 - convenes at 8:00 a.m.

Reaction To State Budget Continues

Budget Agreement Cuts Funding For Economic Development
Toss-Up For State Workers Whether The Budget Works For Them
Corbett's Last-Minute School Voucher Push Appears To Be Faltering
Reform Advocates Voice Outrage Over School Voucher Bill
Public Schools Face First Reduction In Basic Education Funding In 20 Years
State Universities' Board Weighs Tuition Hike
Public Welfare Offices Would Suffer Under Budget
State Budget Stymies Prison Reform
Budget Holds The Line On Funding For Arts Council
Piccola's Act 47 Mandate Plan Advances In House Committee
Budget Cuts Deeper Into Environmental Funding

Wednesday NewsClips

State Budget Clears Senate
PA Budget Poised To Beat Deadline
Senate Passes $27.1 Billion Budget
Senate Puts Corbett's Budget On Track To Passage
Budget Passes State Senate
Editorial: Credit GOP For Getting Budget Done On Time, No Taxes
Editorial: Budget Is Offbeat
Editorial: That No Tax Pledge
Local Legislators Evaluate Tough Choices In Budget
House Passes Bills to Fund Penn State, Temple, Pitt
Corbett Wants Limiting School Tax Increases As Part Of Budget
College Officials Urge Lawmakers To Pass Budget
Will Corbett's Lawsuit Limits Bring Jobs To PA?
Gaming Board Sets Formula For Casinos To Pay Back Loan
Bill Expands Right To Self-Defense
Corbett Signs Bill Allowing More Happy Hours Per Day
Senate Gets Bill To Make 911 Caller Info Secret
Superior Court, County Judges Discuss Improvement
Editorial: Public Info
Piccola's Bill Mandating Harrisburg's Act 47 Plan Passes Senate
Proposed Fiscal Code Changes Would Prevent Harrisburg Bankruptcy
Harrisburg Residents Speak Out Against Act 47 Plan
Harrisburg Mayor Disagrees With 3 Act 47 Recommendations
Op-Ed: Harrisburg Failed By Government At Every Level
Corbett Says He Would Veto Impact Fee Sent Now
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

June 28, 2011

Senate Passes On-Time, No-Tax $27.1 Billion General Fund Budget, House Next Stop

The Senate tonight voted along party lines to approve the General Fund budget bill-- House Bill 1485 (Adolph-R-Delaware)-- which contains $27.1 billion in spending and a 4.1 percent reduction from the FY 2010-11 General Fund budget.  The bill now returns to the House for a concurrence vote.
            At the same time, House Republicans amended and moved a Fiscal Code bill to implement the Republican budget agreement-- Senate Bill 907 (Browne-R-Lehigh).  The bill include language related to taking over the City of Harrisburg's financial problems.  The Senate did end up passing Senate Bill 1151 (Piccola-R-Dauphin) on taking over Harrisburg after it was delayed by extensive Senate debate. The Fiscal Code bill was then referred back to the House Appropriations Committee for more work.
            The House Republicans also recovered from yesterday's votes on the non-preferred appropriations bills for Pitt, Penn State, Temple, Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania by passing House Bills 1727, 1728, 1729, 1730 and 1731 by the necessary two-thirds votes.
            The Senate then moved the non-preferred House bills through Senate Appropriations and onto the Senate Floor in record time.  At the same time, the Senate passed their own companion non-preferred funding bills-- Senate Bills 1122, 1123, 1124, 1125, and 1126-- this time unanimously and sent them to the House.  Clearly there is more work to do on whose bills will go to the Governor's desk.
            The Senate adopted an omnibus Education Code amendment to House Bill 1352 (Stephens-R-Montgomery), which is to be the vehicle for a variety of education program changes, and passed the bill and returned it to the House for a concurrence vote.  The bill originally provided for additional background checks of prospective school employees.
            The Senate Education Committee is due to consider House Bill 1330 (Quigley-R-Montgomery) providing an increase in the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program tomorrow.
            On Welfare Code issues, the Senate passed House Bill 960 (Gringrich-R-Lebanon) which provides for verifying income eligibility for welfare programs and for inmate medical costs and is on the Senate Calendar for action.
            On gaming issues, the Senate today returned Senate Bill 1062 (Corman-R-Centre) to the House containing the Gaming Board appropriations for a concurrence vote, but without the transfer of the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement to the Attorney General added by the House.
            On the Marcellus Shale drilling impact fee issue, efforts in the House by both Republican and Democratic members, including Rep. David Reed (R-Indiana), the Chair of the Republican Policy Committee, fell apart to consider impact fee amendments after Gov. Corbett specifically threatened to veto any impact fee bill sent to his desk before the Governor's Marcellus Shale Commission submits its report at the end of July.
            General Fund Budget
            The entire budget was negotiated by Senate and House Republicans and the Corbett Administration without input from the Democratic minorities in each chamber, a point speakers in the Senate made over and over, and over, again.
            Senate and House Republicans touted the fact the budget contains no new taxes and matches expenditures and state revenues.  
            "This bill represents a fiscally responsible, sustainable budget with no tax increases," said  Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi's (R-Delaware).  "This is a transitional year for state government.  Over the past 3 years Pennsylvania has received $7 billion in budget assistance from the federal government.  Those days are over.  This year marks a return to a state budget paid for with state revenue.  It is difficult and necessary to reset state spending to reflect that new reality."
            "We are very pleased to be voting today on a general budget bill that meets the Governor's parameters," said Sen. Joseph Scarnati (R-Jefferson), President Pro Tempore.  "It spends less than last year, it spends without our revenues.  The bill has no tax increases.  There are no WAMs (legislative walking around money).  And it has a significant tax decrease for job creators.  And this budget will be on time, the first time in 8 years on time and signed by the Governor."
            Sen. Scarnati noted they were not able to reach an agreement on returning significant legislative reserve account funds to the state budget.
           Click Here for audio of Sen. Pileggi's comments on the FY 2011-12 budget.
            House Republicans put out a summary of the General Fund budget as well as a line item summary of appropriations.

House Fails To Take Up Marcellus Impact Fee Amendments

The House failed to take up any of the Marcellus Shale impact fee amendments filed to several bills on the House Calendar.
Shale Drilling Fee Again Off Table In Budget Talks
Corbett Says He Would Veto Impact Fee Sent Now

House OKs State-Related University Funding Bills

What a difference a day makes! The House this afternoon approved appropriations bills for several state-related universities-- Penn State, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln, University of Pennsylvania-- by a two-thirds vote (House Bills 1727, 1728, 1729, 1730, 1731).

House To Consider Shale Drilling Fee This Afternoon

State House To Consider Shale Drilling Fee This Afternoon
Blog: House To Begin Shale Impact Fee Debate This Afternoon
Corbett Says He'll Veto Whatever Marcellus Fee Passes
Click Here to watch the House session live online.

Corbett Signs Fair Share Act, Important Tort Reforms Now Law

Gov. Tom Corbett today signed into law Senate Bill 1131 (sponsor withdrew), better known as the “Fair Share Act,’’ which reforms how damages are recovered in civil lawsuits, ensuring an equitable framework for litigation in the future and improving Pennsylvania’s business climate.
            The new law will keep businesses and health care providers from being driven out of the state by frivolous litigation, a problem that discourages innovation, inflates insurance costs and kills jobs.
            “The Fair Share Act is a key component in addressing one of the most important issues to Pennsylvania – jobs,’’ Corbett said, before signing the bill into law in the Capitol Rotunda. “This bill announces to the rest of the world that Pennsylvania is open for business.
            “This legislation is critical to improving the state’s legal climate, which has direct bearing on the economic climate,’’ Corbett said. “It affects the cost of goods and services. It affects the cost and availability of health care. It will encourage companies to move here, grow here and stay here.’’
            Under the Fair Share Act, each defendant pays only his share of the judgment, which is determined by a judge or a jury.
            In the past, if there was more than one defendant and one could not pay, the other defendant would have to pay the full amount. At times, parties only marginally responsible were unfairly forced to pay an entire amount.
            “Tort reform legislation ensures that a party’s level of financial responsibility is assessed in a fair and equitable manner, rather than based on its financial assets.’’
            Joining Corbett and the lawmakers today at the bill signing ceremony was Gene Barr, vice president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and numerous other business leaders who have been encouraging the passage of tort reform legislation.
            Corbett thanked all the members of the House of Representatives and Senate that supported this legislation and worked to change this important law, especially Representatives Curt Schroder (R-Chester), Samuel Smith (R-Jefferson) and Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), and Senators Jake Corman (R-Centre) and Donald C. White (R-Armstrong).

House GOP Releases Revised General Fund Budget Spreadsheet

House Republicans just released a revised FY 2011-12 General Fund budget spreadsheet correcting some minor errors. A summary of the General Fund budget proposal was also made available.

House Republican Leader To Offer Marcellus Impact Fee, Oil And Gas Fund Proposal

Rep. David Reed (R-Indiana), Chair of the Republican Policy Committee, has filed an amendment to Senate Bill 303 (MJ White-R-Venango) now on the House Calendar which would allocate monies from the Oil and Gas Fund to support the Growing Greener Program and establish a per well Marcellus Shale impact fee
            The proposal has two parts--
-- Transfers from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund: 
        -- 25 percent of the available yearly ending balance to the Environmental Stewardship Fund; 
        -- 7.5 percent of the available yearly ending balance up to $7.5 million to payment in lieu of taxes to communities  with State Forest land; 
        -- 1 percent of the available yearly ending balance up to $3 million to a Catastrophic Fund associated with unconventional wells;
        -- $40 million to the Hazardous Site Clean Up Fund. This transfer will be updated annually based on the CPI (inflation rate).
-- Marcellus Shale Per Well Impact Fee:
        -- Fee Schedule: Year 1:  $50,000; Year 2:  $25,000; Year 3:  $25,000; Year 4:  $10,000; Year 5:  $10,000; Year 6:  $10,000; Year 7:  $10,000; Year 8:  $10,000; Year 9:  $10,000; Year 10: $10,000;
        -- In cased when a well is re-stimulated (re-fracked) the fee rate reverts back to $10,000 per year for 5 additional years.  If an existing well is used to drill to a different strata (Utica) then the impact fee structure resets at year 2 ($25,000).
        -- Revenues collected under this fee are distributed as follows: 37.5 percent to host counties; 10 percent to host counties dedicated to EMS and first responders; 25 percent to host municipalities on a per well basis;  17.5 percent to all municipalities within a host county; 10 percent to Conservation Districts.

Tuesday NewsClips

Tentative Deal Struck On PA Budget
Final State Budget Clears First Vote
Senate Vote Expected As Budget Unfolds
Budget Details Become Clearer As Vote Nears
PA Budget Closer To Passage With Cuts
State Dems Block College Funding
House Rejection Imperils College Appropriations Bills
State-Related School Funding May Be Delayed
PA Budget Drama Takes Turn As Deadline Looms
Senate Plan Helps Schools Some
House Leader Sees Vote On Gas Impact Fee Before Recess
NE Schools Still Lose $51.5 Million In Revamped Budget
Philadelphia Schools, City Lose In Budget
Net Cost Of State Worker Contracts $164 Million
PA Schools Chief Says Few Districts Froze Wages
Corbett Administration: No Decision On Management Salaries
No Raises Appear To Be In The Cards For Management Employees
PennDOT Asks To Extend Driver's Licenses, Drop Registration Stickers
Transportation Commission Urges Higher Driver Fees For Roads
Corbett Expected To Sign Tort-Reform Bill
Corbetts Hold Contest To Name Their New Dogs
Losing Casino Applicant Claims Gaming Board Was Pressured
Editorial: Happier Hours
Editorial: Charter School Reform Isn't
Editorial: Fix Judicial Conduct Board Fix
Judge To Rule This Week On Location Of DeWeese Trial
DeWeese Wants His Case Heard In Home County
Rep. Brennan To Face Additional Charges
Nader Criticizes PA Courts For Knocking Him Off Ballot In 2004
Op-Ed: Keep PA A Leader In Children's Health Insurance
Western PA Employers Add 5,300 Jobs In May
Unemployment Rate Rises In Erie, Crawford Counties
NE Unemployment Rate Increases To 8.7 Percent
House OKs 3 Property Reassessment Resolutions
Act 47 Bill On Harrisburg Takeover Bogs Down With Amendment
Group Protests Possible State Takeover Of Harrisburg Government
Editorial: What Plan Is Harrisburg Council For?
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

June 27, 2011

Senate Confirms Pamela Witmer As PUC Commissioner

The Senate tonight confirmed Pamela Witmer to be a member of the board of the Public Utility Commission.

Senate Also Fails To Get 2/3 Vote On State-Related University Funding Bills

Senate Republicans followed the House Republicans in failing to get the required two-thirds vote on non-preferred appropriations bills for Pitt, Lincoln, Temple, Penn and Penn State (Senate Bills 1122, 1123, 1124, 1125, and 1126).  The votes were along party lines - 30 to 20.  34 votes are needed to pass non-preferred appropriations bills.

House Fails To Get 2/3 Vote On State-Related University Funding Bills

After a lengthy debate, House Republicans failed to get the required two-thirds vote on non-preferred appropriations bills for Pitt, Lincoln, Temple and University of Pennsylvania (House Bills 1727, 1728, 1729, 1730 and 1731.
           On the Penn State appropriations bill, House Rs tried to suspend the rules covering the vote, but failed.  At that point, the Speaker declared the bill over for the day.

Senate, House Republicans Release Proposed FY 2011-12 General Fund Spending Plan

The details of the FY 2011-12 General Fund spending plan were released by Senate and House Republicans this afternoon, with no major surprises.
            The overall General Fund spending level is $27.1 billion, representing a 4.1 percent reduction in spending from the FY 2010-11 funding levels and there are not tax increases.
            Funding for both the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources were slight below the proposal made in March by Gov. Corbett:  DEP- $4.5 million less and DCNR- $3.1 million less
            House Republicans released a budget spreadsheet showing current and planned General Fund spending by major line items.  More details will be available later.

Turzai: Lawsuit Abuse Reform Heads To Governor… Again

Leading the charge, for the third time, to curb lawsuit abuse on behalf of the Commonwealth’s residents, health care providers and job creators, Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) announced today legislation reenacting a landmark lawsuit abuse reform measure, the Fair Share Act, is heading to the governor to be signed into law.
            Senate Bill 1131 (sponsor withdrawn), “The Fair Share Act” passed by a vote of 116-83.
            “The Fair Share Act is commonsense legislation aimed at saving jobs,” Rep. Turzai said. “Our intent was and is to protect every citizen’s access to the legal system and his or her right to sue, while preserving the concept of ‘responsibility matches fault.’ Pennsylvania’s courts must protect the rights of those who can be dragged into court by lawyers searching for ‘deep pockets’ and bring lawsuits against those minimally responsible, or not responsible at all. These lawsuits cost jobs by making employers afraid to expand or introduce new products for fear of being sued.”
            The Fair Share Act eliminates joint liability for defendants in civil cases found to be less than 60 percent liable and implements a system of comparative responsibility in which a defendant is responsible for paying only his or her fair share of the damages. That means if a party is responsible for 10 percent of the fault, that party would be accountable for paying only 10 percent of the total award.     
            Under current law, the doctrine of joint and several liability establishes that a defendant in a multi-defendant civil case may be required to pay damages associated with the actions of their co-defendants.
            Each year, according to the acting attorney general, the Commonwealth is sued several hundred times; currently, more than 1,300 tort cases are pending against the state. The majority of these cases involve the Department of Transportation where an uninsured, or under-insured, driver caused death or bodily injury.   The plaintiffs are just looking for someone to pay, regardless of fault.
            The current system of joint and several liability has a direct impact on Pennsylvania taxpayers who are left paying the share of others who are at fault.
            Senate Bill 1131, the Fair Share Act, uses the same compromise language as Act 57 of 2002, which passed and was signed into law by Gov. Mark Schweiker. It was challenged in court by House Democrat leaders on procedural, not substantive, grounds.
            They wanted to stop the reform – and succeeded. Subsequently the Fair Share Act was again passed in 2006, but it was vetoed by Gov. Ed Rendell who actually promised support.
            “I hope and expect the governor to sign this commonsense lawsuit abuse reform soon, so all Pennsylvanians will have the legal protection they so desperately need,” Rep. Turzai said. “The Fair Share Act will help our hospitals and employers who have been unfairly impacted by lawsuits because of their ‘deep pockets.’”

Tort Reform Bill Goes To Governor

The House just passed Senate Bill 1131 (sponsor withdrawn), providing for tort reform, by a vote of 116 to 83 sending the bill to Gov. Corbett. The Governor has already indicated he would sign the bill and achieve one of his important legislative objectives for the year.

Monday NewsClips

GOP Expected To Air Budget Plan Today
Final State Budget Push Starting Monday
Natural Gas Tax, College Funds Take Spotlight In Budget Talks
Corbett May Get Most Budget Items On His Wish List
This Week Shaping Up To Be Good One For Corbett
Fair Share Act Limiting Damages In Lawsuits Advances
Tort Reform Measure Gains Ground
Editorial: What Sacrifice? State Workers Haven't Embraced Governor's Call
GOP's Track Record This Term Bolsters Optimism
PA Laws Pitting Public Schools Against Private
Bankruptcy Might Not Be An Option For Harrisburg
Act 47 Team's Plan Suggests Change In Harrisburg Government
Senate Likely To Vote On Harrisburg Takeover Bill
Protest Planned In Harrisburg Against Piccola Takeover Bill
Editorial: Let City Of Harrisburg Find Its Way
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

June 26, 2011

Senate Cuts State-Related University Funding In Line With Budget Agreement

The Senate acted tonight to amend Senate Bills 1122, 1123, 1124, 1125 and 1126 to cut appropriations to Pitt, Penn State, Temple, Penn and Lincoln University by about 19 percent.  The House followed with identical amendments to House Bills 1727, 1728, 1729, 1730 and 1731. Click Here for a spreadsheet showing the appropriations changes.

House Positions Tort Reform For Final Vote

The House just concluded 40 minutes of debate and votes on several amendments to put Senate Bill 1131 (sponsor withdrawn), providing for tort reform, in position for a final vote by the House, probably tomorrow.
There were three amendments offered, each defeated by a vote of 86 or 87 to 108.  So far the bill has not been amended and probably will not be.  If that's the case, after the House on final passage the bill will go to Gov. Corbett for his action.  
The Governor has already indicated he would sign the bill and achieve one of his important legislative objectives for the year.

Senate/House Democrats Say Fee On Drillers Must Be Part Of Budget Agreement

Senate and House Democrats joined today to urge Republican leaders to “do the right thing” and pass a responsible severance fee on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Lawmakers from both chambers have continuously called for a fee to be a part of the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget discussions.
            Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny), House Democratic Whip Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre), and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Democratic Chairman John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) were joined by House and Senate colleagues and vowed to continue pushing for a fee to be passed before the legislature adjourns for its summer recess. Lawmakers were in Harrisburg for a Sunday session to begin moving budget bills for passage before the June 30th deadline.
            As members of the legislature prepare to learn more about the budget drafted in secret by House and Senate Republicans and the governor, Democratic leaders expressed concern over the fact that Marcellus Shale drillers appear be absent from the shared pain and sacrifice demanded by Gov. Corbett as part of the austere budget framework which is close to becoming a reality.
            “It is unconscionable that everybody is being asked to sacrifice and absorb some of the pain created by the Republicans’ budget plan except for an industry that is raking in profits at Pennsylvania’s expense,” said Sen. Costa. “Clearly, these companies are having an impact on the environment and local communities, yet some of our colleagues here in Harrisburg refuse to acknowledge the need to assist those communities in dealing with the after-effects.”
            “The development of the natural gas resource in Marcellus Shale already brought many jobs to Pennsylvania, but it also creates many costs across the state,” Rep. Dermody said. “It is up to us to ensure that this booming industry pays its fair share and is properly regulated. Let’s do what’s right for Pennsylvania, not what’s most convenient for the big oil and gas corporations.”
            “We must institute a responsible natural gas extraction fee and environmental safeguards to provide for our residents and to protect the environment. The time is now to do the responsible thing and implement a severance tax on the gas drillers here,” said Rep. Hanna.
            “This is the third year in a row we have talked but not acted on the issue of Marcellus Shale. We can’t allow this to be one more year where drillers are let off the hook,” said Rep. Yudichak. “The majority of Pennsylvanians and legislators on both sides of the aisle support a reasonable fee. The industry expects to be asked to do their part, yet Pennsylvania remains the only state that year after year gives this multi-billion dollar industry a free pass.”
            The amendment being proposed would:
-- increase the base impact fee from $10,000 to $17,000 and restore the price and volume adjustment factors for natural gas;
-- raise the effective tax rate to 5 percent.  Based on a price of gas of $4.50 per mcf, this would raise an estimated $200 million in 2011-2012 and $260 million in 2012-2013;
-- provide $2 million to support training programs and equipment purchases to areas where there is shale drilling and areas that are involved in the transportation and distribution of natural gas;
-- restore the Growing Greener type projects as an eligible use of funds; and
-- add weatherization, energy efficiency and energy conservation measures to the list of projects that are eligible for funding under statewide environmental initiatives.
             Lawmakers closed by warning that if a Marcellus Shale impact fee is not passed, Pennsylvania communities, already feeling the impact of unnecessary budget cuts, will struggle to address the serious infrastructure and environmental impacts which drilling is having statewide.

Sunday NewsClips

Senate, House Scramble In Final Days
PA Budget On Path To Approval
Corbett May Get Most Budget Items On His Wish List
Analysis: Corbett's No Tax Hike Pledge Peril
Column: GOP Wields The Power In State Budget Talks
Editorial: Won't Budge On Budget
What Would PA Democrats Have Done Differently?
Education Cuts Not As Steep As Governor Proposed
Bumsted: No Budget? Dock 'em!
Blog: State Worker Contract Terms Disclosed
Editorial: What A Sad State Of Affairs
Rendell Releases Files Years Before Predecessors
Dick Yuengling Rewrites Family History
Column: Harrisburg's Debt Solution, Hard Work, Not Prayer
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June 24, 2011

June 27 PA Environment Digest Now Available

June 27 PA Environment Digest now available. Click hereto print this Digest.

CBF, Partners Celebrate EPA Award For Conservation Improvements To PA Farms

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation this week celebrated receiving the 6th annual Performance and Innovation in the SRF Creating Environmental Success award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizing projects that set an example of innovative and sustainable water quality financing.
CBF received the 2010 PISCES award for conservation improvements completed on 43 Pennsylvania farms to improve water quality and farm viability. The award reflects the broad, committed work of many partners across the watershed.
“We are honored to receive this award and celebrate the work completed with the many partners who made it possible,” said William Baker, CBF President. “What we have achieved is more than success and more than an award – we have achieved significant reductions to the agricultural pollutants entering Pennsylvania’s streams, and of that, we are all proud.” Click Here to read more...

Private Transfer Fees Now Prohibited In Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has just become the 28th state to ban private transfer fees according to the PA Association of Realtors and the PA Land Title Association. Gov. Tom Corbett today signed House Bill 442 (Helm-R-Dauphin) into law.
            Private transfer fees are part of a covenant attached to a property deed that forces the seller to pay 1 percent of the purchase price to a private third-party entity every time the property sells over the next 99 years. These fees cost unsuspecting homeowners thousands of dollars in additional closing costs.
            "This is a victory for Pennsylvania home buyers and sellers. These private transfer fee covenants could have made it extremely difficult for Pennsylvanians to purchase and sell a home," said PAR President Guy A. Matteo. "PAR is grateful to both Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Sue Helm (R-Dauphin) for their dedication to protecting home ownership in Pennsylvania," Matteo added.
            "This is a consumer protection law that ensures that home buyers do not get more than they bargained for when buying a new home. In some states, this obligation isn't even included in the closing papers and doesn't require a signature, yet allows a person with no ownership interest in the property to continue to collect revenue," said Sen. Fontana.
            "Private transfer fees were unfair to the home buyer and home seller and would have only hurt the real estate industry, which is trying to make a recovery," said Rep. Helm. "As a real estate broker, I know first-hand that most home buyers were unaware this fee even existed."  
            Along with Sen. Fontana and Rep. Helm, who introduced legislation to prohibit private transfer fees in the commonwealth, PAR also worked with the PA Land Title Association fighting these fees for nearly a year.
            A national coalition of organizations called the Coalition to Stop Wall Street Home Resale Fees is also fighting to prohibit these fees. The coalition includes: the National Association of Realtors, American Land Title Association, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America.
            The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors is a trade/professional association that serves more than 30,000 members in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Friday NewsClips

Corbett, GOP Make Progress On Budget
Tentative Budget Deal Is Revealed
Lawmakers Set Framework For Budget
Senate Leaders Claim Framework Deal On State Budget
State Hashes Out $27.1 Billion Budget, School Cuts Still Likely
Should Lawmakers Lose Their Pay If The Budget's Late?
State Worker Contract Provides 10.75 Percent Raises Over 4 Years
Contract Deal Struck For 45,000 State Workers
Wage Freeze, Increases, In State Worker Pact
Tentative Pact Reached For 45,000 AFSCME Workers
Tentative Agreement Reached With SEIU State Worker Union
Corbett Gears Up For Push On School Vouchers
Column: Put The Brakes On Vouchers, For Now
Op-Ed: Don't Let Voucher Legislation Slip Through
Aid For Private Schools Can Cut Companies' PA Taxes
Op-Ed: Community Colleges Are Crucial
House Passes Voter ID Bill
House Passes Bill To Require ID To Vote
House Backs Voter Photo ID Bill
Column: Castle Doctrine, Ruling Signal Legal Upheavals
Column: Tort Reform, Don't Make It Harder For Our Businesses
Sen. Orie Can Argue Double Jeopardy On Corruption Charges
Orie Gets Chance To Argue Appeal
Rep. Brennan Charged With Drunken Driving In Bethlehem
Corbett Signs Bath Salts Ban Into Law
Stimulus, Tax Cuts, Trade Reform Top Manufacturers' Wish List
ABA: PA Should Reconsider Handling Of Judicial Ethics Cases
Editorial: Eloquent Case For Shield Law
PA Matters In 2012 Oval Office Race
Harrisburg Mayor Agrees With Most Of Act 47 Plan
Mayor: Harrisburg Takeover Bill Does Not Respect City Leaders
Corbett Says He Would Sign Harrisburg Bankruptcy Bill
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June 22, 2011

Senate Dems: Marcellus Shale Impact Fee Must Be Part Of Budget

Senate Dems: Marcellus Shale Impact Fee Must Be Part Of Budget
Senate Dems Want Corbett Involved In Drilling Fee Talks

Senate Committee To Consider Nomination of Pamela Witmer To PUC

The Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee will meet on Thursday, June 23 at 10:00 a.m. to consider the nomination of Pamela Witmer to the Board of the Public Utility Commission. The meeting will be in Room 461. Click Here for more information on the nomination.

Wednesday NewsClips

State Budget Talks Slog On Without Breakthroughs
Editorial: Governor Spurns Public On Budget
Editorial: Surplus Could Offset Cuts In Education
Column: Corbett Still Pushing School Cuts As Gas Goes Untaxed
Largest State Work Union Spends Afternoon In Negotiations
State Workers Rally Outside Governor's Residence For Fair Contract
Senate Passes Liability Limits
Turzai Appears As Supporter At Voucher News Conference
Charter Schools On State's Agenda
Elizabethtown College Chief Retiring
Voter ID Bill Moves Forward
House Looks Set To Approve Voter ID Bill
Castle Doctrine: More Protection Or Violence?
Gettysburg Casino Opponents Say Appeal Waste Of Time
Editorial: Level Field For Pharmacies
Obituary: Lucinda H. Smyser, Governor's Residence Manager
Santorum Hits Huntsman On Abortion
Bill Expands Sunday Liquor Sales
Yuengling Beer Looks To Expand Westward
Piccola Pushes Bill Allowing For State Takeover Of Harrisburg
What If Harrisburg Doesn't Enact Act 47 Plan?
HBG Mayor: City Should Avoid Bankruptcy
Just In Case Harrisburg Council Asks Mayor For Bankruptcy Paperwork
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips