April 30, 2014

Report Due Thursday On State Revenues, Lawmakers Prepare For Bad News

Thursday the Department of Revenue is expected to report on tax receipts for the month of April and the Independent Fiscal Office holds a briefing at 3:00 p.m. on revenue projections for this fiscal year and next, but legislators who get daily reports on tax money coming in all said the same thing this week-- brace for bad news.
Senate Democrats say April revenues will be in the neighborhood of $477 million short of expectations and end of the fiscal year projections, they say, show a $600 million deficit.  March state revenues were $100 million below estimates.
Senate Republican Chair of the Appropriations Committee Jake Corman (R-Centre) said on the Senate Floor Wednesday new tax revenues from a natural gas severance tax, taxes smokeless tobacco or other measures will not be enough to fill the gaps.
Sen. Corman said there needs to be changes in the state’s pension systems and Medicaid spending to eliminate automatic growth in the budget.
Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said Wednesday the Governor is prepare to go back and re-examine the $29.4 billion spending proposal he outlined in February, but would not say what that amount would be.
At the mid-fiscal year budget briefing in December, Secretary Zogby had predicted a $232 million surplus for the year ending June 30.
Clearly “Mayday” may have a different meaning for state budget makers by the end of Thursday.

Rep. DiGirolamo Unveils Alternative Budget Proposal

Citing the need to appropriately fund critical services in the Commonwealth, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) Wednesday unveiled his own budget proposal, which responds to the needs of most Pennsylvanians.
The DiGirolamo plan, called the Roadmap for a Stronger Pennsylvania, addresses the needs of middle-class residents.  Click Here for a 2-page summary of the proposal.
“Our middle class is bearing the brunt of the economic crisis we find ourselves in,” Rep. DiGirolamo said. “Across our great state, Pennsylvanians are struggling – whether it is paying for college, supporting their loved ones in long-term care, providing quality child care options to their kids, or ensuring a roof over their heads and food on the table. This budget proposal puts the average Pennsylvania at the forefront of budget discussions – where they should be.”
The budget plan seeks to make long-term, sustainable investments in our communities that are necessary to succeed. The plan would add about $1.1 billion in new revenue.
The budget focuses on better funding for education, human service needs, environmental protections and crime prevention while looking to viable alternatives for generating growing and reliable revenue streams.
The Bucks County lawmaker specifically cited additional revenue from closing outdated tax loopholes, enacting a Marcellus Shale severance tax, and maximizing the revenue generated by existing state assets. He anticipates this revenue to not only cover state expenditures for the 2014-15 fiscal year but to position the Commonwealth to better face needs in 2015-16.
Important elements of the plan would give additional financial support to:
— Education services, including $10 million for the Accountability Block Grant, $1 million more for libraries, $3 million for Pre-K Counts, $20 million more for community colleges, $5 million for early intervention services and $40 million for school construction projects.
— Special education, to be increased $20 million.
— Human Service Development Fund, which would be replenished by $84 million.
— Various health line items that were proposed to be eliminated. This includes funding for lupus, Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy support, adult cystic fibrosis, hemophilia and sickle cell programs.
— Crime-fighting efforts through the attorney general’s drug task force, which would be raised another $5 million.
— Veterans housing assistance, which would increase by $3 million.
— Emergency drug and alcohol treatment, which would add another $20 million.
“My goal today is to share a roadmap for steps we can take to set us back on track as a Commonwealth toward fiscal stability – including greater tax fairness, economic revitalization, job growth and protecting Pennsylvania families against the ongoing harmful effects of severe cuts to the programs they need and deserve,” he explained. “This roadmap represents a more thoughtful and commonsense approach to fixing the issues we face and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration in creating a budget that best serves the needs of the Commonwealth.”
Rep. DiGirolamo has already begun the first steps of his budget plan by introducing legislation which calls for a 4.9 percent severance tax on Marcellus Shale. He estimates the severance tax to raise an additional $360 million in 2014-15.
Additional budget revenue will come from delaying the phase out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax; removing the 1 percent vendor discount for sales tax remissions; upholding the sales tax on Internet-based companies called the Amazon law; removing the tax exemption of smokeless tobacco and imposing the cigarette excise on e-cigarettes; and strengthening the corporate add-back rules, which currently shifts the tax burden to thousands of Pennsylvania-based small businesses that follow the rules and pay their fair share of taxes.
Rep. DiGirolamo has also unveiled his alternative to liquor store privatization, House Bill 2184 (sponsor summary) a move that could raise about $185 million in state revenue, and expand the state’s Medicaid program to reap federal funds. A side benefit of Medicaid expansion is the creation of 35,000 quality health care jobs that will strengthen the state’s Personal Income Tax base.

Wednesday NewsClips

NE Unemployment Drops Slightly, But Remains Highest In PA
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April 29, 2014

Corbett Announces Over $500M In Savings Through State Government Innovation

Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday announced state agencies have saved over $650 million through innovations aimed at improving customer service, reducing costs, and eliminating inefficiency in state government.
"State government is performing more efficiently and effectively than it has in many years," Corbett said. "Administrative spending is down 10 percent, and through the efforts of commonwealth employees, we continue to find new ways to improve how government operates. We are working hard to build a stronger Pennsylvania."
Since 2011, state agencies have completed over 200 cost-saving or cost-avoidance initiatives that have saved more than $650 million so far. Nearly all state agencies have contributed ideas to the commonwealth's cost saving efforts. Some of those individual agency cost-saving ideas include:
-- Department of General Services – reduced state passenger vehicle fleet by nearly 20 percent, saving over $50 million.
-- Department of Labor & Industry – using PA Justice Network to help identify county inmates attempting to collect unemployment compensation, saving over $100 million.
-- PennDOT – utilizing state-of-the-art technology to increase accuracy and efficiency in conducting field surveys, saving $1.3 million.
-- Public Utility Commission – eliminated paper filing requirements and made more information available electronically, saving $23,000 per month on paper and printing.
-- Department of Conservation & Natural Resources – expanded use of citizen volunteers in state parks to greet visitors, maintain trail and other projects, saving $9.4 million.
-- Office of Administration – implemented award-winning online orientation process for new hires, saving $1 million.
Currently 185 additional projects are underway with the potential for even more savings. Many of the innovation ideas were submitted through state employees.
Following the announcement, Gov. Corbett recognized 10 teams of employees who have saved a combined total of $51 million in the last year.
To learn more about innovation in state government, see total savings by state agency, or to submit your own idea, visit the Governor's Innovation Office website.

Tuesday NewsClips

By: D. Michael Fisher
Editorial: PA Can Do Better In Fight Against Poverty
Click Here for Today's PA Environmental News

April 28, 2014

Senate State Government Committee Studies Gift Ban Proposals

The Senate State Government Committee examined proposals Monday that would prohibit legislators from receiving non-cash gifts from those seeking to influence the legislative process.
Committee Majority Chair Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) said the hearing offered lawmakers an opportunity to learn more about ethics laws enacted in other states, as well as good-government proposals that have been introduced in the General Assembly.
Sen. Smucker emphasized that the hearing would serve as a prelude to prompt legislative action banning inappropriate gifts to legislators, including travel, hospitality and entertainment.
“A number of states enforce airtight restrictions on gifts to legislators, and their experience offers us a viable roadmap to improve our own laws,” Sen. Smucker said. “My intention is to identify the most promising proposals and combine them into a comprehensive bill to strengthen ethical standards for all public officials.”
Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission Counsel John Schaaf outlined measures his state has adopted to prevent businesses, special interest groups and individuals from exerting undue influence over the legislative process, including an absolute prohibition on lobbyists giving anything of value to a legislator or candidate. Kentucky is widely considered to have one of the strongest legislative ethics laws in the nation.
PA Common Cause Executive Director Barry Kauffman also offered insight regarding potential measures to ban gifts to legislators and improve state laws relating to legislative ethics. Smucker and Committee Minority Chairman Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) each stressed the need for a bipartisan approach to ethics reform.
The hearing followed recent approval of legislation (Senate Bill 1327) and a new Senate Rule (Senate Resolution 339) sponsored by Smucker in conjunction with Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) to ban cash gifts to legislators.
Sen. Smucker said that a broader prohibition on non-cash gifts was the next logical step toward restoring the public’s faith in state government.
“Many members of the public feel that the legislative process has been tainted by the shadow of greed and corruption,” Sen. Smucker said. “The best way to win back the trust of citizens is to take significant and enforceable measures to remove the threat of inappropriate actions by lawmakers.”
Audio and video links of the hearing are available online.

House GOP Policy Committee Unveils Report On Poverty In Pennsylvania

The House Republican Policy Committee Chair Rep. David Reed (R-Indiana) Monday issued a preliminary report on its findings from the Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out Of Poverty initiative called Beyond Poverty.
Every region of Pennsylvania struggles with the effects of poverty; from the elderly couple living on a fixed income in Pittsburgh, to the single mother in Northumberland County struggling to raise her family, to the recent college graduate paying for student loans on an entry-level salary.
With these examples in mind, the House Majority Policy Committee sought input from numerous community groups, nonprofit organizations and municipal officials, and gained perspective from tours and roundtable discussions conducted across the Commonwealth, as part of the initiative, “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty.”
Designed to identify the barriers low-income Pennsylvanians face when attempting to reach self-sufficiency, the report shares the best principles in positively combating poverty in the Commonwealth. The report also narrows the focus on the committee’s legislative and policy priorities moving forward.
“Government spends nearly a trillion dollars annually on programs to fight poverty, yet there are still 1.6 million Pennsylvanians struggling to make ends meet. It’s clearly time to reassess whether President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was a success or not,” Rep. Reed said.
Since assessments have shown that poverty isn’t contained to one type of community, the committee worked to examine it in a wide variety of locations, including inner-city neighborhoods, suburbs and also in the state’s rural areas.
The hearings, roundtable discussions and tours included testimony from more than 100 stakeholders in locations that included Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, the Poconos and Clearfield County.
“Poverty in our rural areas such as Clearfield County is very different than in our urban areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Rep. Reed said. “It shows a one-size-fits-all approach will not work in confronting this very serious problem.”
Moving forward, the report outlines five different areas of exploration. Using these areas of focus, teams of legislators will work to produce specific legislative and policy recommendations.
The topics of study include:
— Outcomes That Matter – The committee discovered that government too often gauges the success of a program by the number of people participating, without an eye to whether the program is helping lift people out of poverty. A long-term vision is needed to evaluate anti-poverty programs, moving toward those which create the opportunity of self-sustainability.
— Life Skills 101 – A large portion of our society across all income brackets struggle with life skills, among them financial literacy and budgeting. Along with an approach that includes career readiness and education, anti-poverty programs must reinforce these skills in order to help people succeed.
— Benefits That Work – Anti-poverty programs must help lift people out of poverty, not create the situation of dependence on the government. The “benefits cliff” is the prime example of a structure which fails the neediest among us and our taxpayers. This is a situation where moving beyond the assistance of a government program, through success, actually results in a much tougher time making ends meet. Public assistance programs should reward success, not punish it.
— The Essentials – Successful programs and organizations focus first on providing essential needs such as food, water, shelter and clothing. Access to all four does not guarantee success but the absence of even one of them can mean certain failure. Government programs would be well served by following the example of these groups.
— Educating Through Opportunity – Education is one of the keys to helping those in poverty move toward self-sufficiency. All aspects of education must be examined, from early childhood programs, to higher education and beyond, to make sure it is leaving the students of this Commonwealth with the skills needed to succeed.
“To many people, the discussion on poverty in America never moves beyond the talking points of our major political parties,” Rep. Reed added. “I hope that with this initiative, we have started a conversation that moves beyond empty rhetoric and into a discussion on changes that will increase the effectiveness of our anti-poverty programs and improve lives across the Commonwealth.”
A copy of the report is available online.

Monday NewsClips

Sands Casinos In Asia Make Bethlehem Easy To Forget
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April 25, 2014

April 28 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The April 28 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

In Memoriam: Sen. Ray Musto, Democratic Chair Senate Environmental Committee
Former Sen. Ray Musto (D-Luzerne), long-time Democratic Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, passed away Thursday at the age of 85.  He retired from the Senate in 2010.
For many years Sen. Musto has been the regarded as a leading voice on environmental issues in the Senate and as a fierce advocate for his district. He has been involved in the passage of every major state environmental law and program for the last 30 years.

Oil And Gas Industry, Business Concerned About Bipartisan Severance Tax Proposals
Representatives of the oil and gas industry and business Tuesday said they are concerned about bipartisan discussion in the General Assembly on the adoption of a severance tax on natural gas production as part of an effort to deal with the state’s budget shortfalls.

Local Govts Missed Deadline To Report How $17.4 Million In Drilling Fees Were Spent
StateImpact Pennsylvania Friday reported nearly half the townships and a quarter of the counties receiving funds from the Act 13 drilling impact fee missed the April 15 deadline for reporting how they spent $17.4 million of last year’s money.  Reports were filed covering $81.8 million.

DEP Reports 15,882 Miles Of Streams Impaired, Down Slightly From 2012
The Department of Environmental Protection published notice that its draft 2014 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report is available for public comment listing rivers, streams and lakes with impaired water quality.  
The Monongahela River, which was impaired for potable water use, will be removed from the impairment list because the in-stream level of sulfates now meets Pennsylvania’s water quality standards.

CBF-PA Urges Governor, Attorney General To Act Now To Support Bay Cleanup Plans
Harry Campbell, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Friday  issued a statement to Gov. Tom Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane urging them to join with other Bay states in filing a amicus brief in court to support Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans.
Philadelphia Wednesday join six other major cities and other groups in filing a brief supporting Bay cleanup plans.

Governor’s 2014 Environmental Excellence Award Winners Honored
On Tuesday the 23 organizations involved in 19 environmental projects from across the state were honored with the 2014 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council hosted a dinner to recognize the award winners and featured keynote speaker Chris Abruzzo, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and opening remarks by Ellen Ferretti, Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Friday NewsClips

Philadelphia DA Says No Conflict Of Interest In Sting Case
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