May 29, 2013

House Republicans Outline Priorities With Budget Proposal

House Appropriations Committee Majority Chair Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) Wednesday introduced House Bill 1437, the House Republican budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013-14. The proposal spends $28.3 billion, which is a $578 million or 2.1 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
The Governor proposed a budget of $28.4 billion General Fund budget, but included some $175 million in projected savings through pension reform.  The current FY 2012-13 budget is $27.7 billion.
The proposal includes none of the business tax cuts proposed by the Governor.
“The House budget proposal outlines priorities related to education, health and human services, environmental protection, public safety, job creation and government transparency,” Rep. Adolph said. “We are recommending a $100 million increase for basic education; supporting the governor’s priority to put 300 new state troopers on the streets; restoring funding for programs that deal with diseases like diabetes, ALS and epilepsy; providing funding for county conservation districts; and increasing funding for the Office of Open Records.”
According to Rep. Adolph, the most recent preliminary revenue estimate prepared by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) on May 1 was used as the starting point to craft the House budget proposal. The IFO report forecast state revenue collections will be less than anticipated in February.
“Given the revenue challenges forecast by the IFO on May 1, the House had to essentially start from scratch when drafting the House proposal. The House had to look at what was possible with the revenue reality that developed since February,” said Rep. Adolph.
The budget contained in House Bill 1437 was based on current law and does not factor in any policy proposals currently being considered by the legislature.  It does not include pension reform proposal, any revenue from liquor privatization or the pending transportation funding proposals.
“The House budget assumes current law as we stand here today. The House has a strict calendar that needs to be followed to pass a budget on time. We do not have the luxury of waiting until June 30 to introduce a budget after we know what policy decisions are made by the Legislature,” said Rep. Adolph. “There is a lot that still needs to be negotiated, and I am sure the outcome of those negotiations will be reflected in a final budget that is passed by June 30.”
The biggest changes was House Republicans credited a $140 million decrease in school pension costs to this budget proposal because of a decrease in total school salaries and projecting somewhat stronger revenues coming into the state.
House Republicans proposed a $1 million increase in the Community College Capital Fund and proposed a transfer of $4.3 million from the Race Horse Fund to the Animal Health Commission.
The proposal also restores $3.8 million in funding for conservation districts, adds $2 million for the Heritage Parks Program, restores $400,000 in funding for Sewage Facilities Planning Grants and provides a $4.4 million increase to the Department of Environmental Protection personnel line items.
The budget cuts Commonwealth Financing Authority funding by $2.7 million and makes a 42.7 percent decrease to funding for the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee.
House Bill 1437 is scheduled to be considered by the House Appropriations Committee on June 3
Click Here for the House Republican budget spreadsheet. Click Here for a highlights presentation on the proposal.

Wednesday NewsClips

House Republican Leadership will introduce a $28.3 billion state budget bill Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol Media Center.  The event will be streamed live online.
State Budget Talks To Heat Up In Harrisburg
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

May 24, 2013

May 27 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The May 27 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

DEP Secretary: We Must Do A Better Job Communicating, Engaging Stakeholders

In a frank and open conversation this week at DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council, interim DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said his agency must do a much better job communicating with the public and engaging with all agency stakeholders saying, “we are sometimes our own worst enemy.”
Abruzzo said his agency in the past has been defensive about the work being done and he takes seriously the need to improve communication with the public and change how DEP has engaged with stakeholders.
Abruzzo noted he has already reached out to key partners and stakeholders like John Arway, Executive Director of the Fish and Boat Commission, local officials on onlot septic system review and Shawn Garvin,  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region III Administrator.
He specifically cited the agency’s Marcellus Shale regulatory program describing the agency’s attitude in the past as “overly defensive.”  He said the agency is doing good work and DEP has nothing to hide, but “we must do a better job communicating what we’re doing.”
“We have very high expectations on industry compliance (with environmental regulations), Abruzzo said, “Where good actors seek to be in compliance, we will help bring them into compliance. Where bad actors intentionally circumvent law or regulation, we will come down hard on those who don’t comply.”
Since coming to DEP six weeks ago from his position as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor, Abruzzo said he has been impressed with the caliber of the programs and the professionalism of the people at DEP.
He noted as a township supervisor himself, he has been on the “good side” and the “not so good side” of DEP’s involvement in local issues.
Abruzzo also made a personal commitment to Council to do everything he could to attend every one of their meetings and said he valued Council’s input on issues facing the Department.
In response to questions on specific issues, Abruzzo said--
-- Agency Budget: He understands well, from his position in the Governor’s Office, about how Cabinet Secretaries lobby for increases in budget and staff.  He said DEP staff have been making the case for changes to him directly since he’s been there.  He noted DEP has been particularly hard hit by reductions in the past. [Note: The Rendell Administration cut $1.4 billion in environmental funding and nearly 20 percent of DEP’s staff and left an 11,000 permit review backlog.]
-- Lower Susquehanna River Impairment: Shortly after he came to DEP, Abruzzo said he reached out to John Arway at the Fish and Boat Commission to see how the agencies and their technical staffs could work together to identify the specific causes for the die-off of smallmouth bass in the Lower Susquehanna and the issue of designating the area as impaired.
The result of that contact was to form a focused group of staff from both agencies to work specifically on that issue and he welcomed the Commission’s participation in the effort.
He said the rhetoric going back and forth between the two agencies over the last few months has not been productive when there are real problems to solve.
He said he did not want studies of this problem to go on forever, but there were scientific questions about the specific causes of the problem.  The last thing, he said, any agency would want to do is impose restrictions that would have no impact on the problem.
-- Onlot Anti-degradation Rules: Addressing the controversy over proposed changes to onlot septic system module review requirements to incorporate anti-degradation reviews in High Quality and Exceptional Value watersheds, Abruzzo said DEP preferred a legislative fix to the problem.  He said DEP has provided language incorporated into House Bill 1325 (Maloney-R-Berks) and Senate Bill 946 (Baker-R-Luzerne) which would address the issue.
He said if the General Assembly does not act, DEP will take the comments it received on the proposed regulation during an extended comment period ending June 3, develop final language and then put that language out for additional public review.
He also said he directed agency staff to meet with local and county officials in the areas most affected by the change to sort “fact from fiction” about the proposal so everyone had the same understanding.
He noted there is no substitute for this personal approach to issues.
-- Appointing a Secretary: Abruzzo said he did not know when the final decision on a new Secretary for DEP would be made or whether he or someone else would fill that position.
Click Here for more background on Acting Secretary Abruzzo.

Friday NewsClips

Corbett Calls On Business Leaders To Help Push Agenda
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News