February 5, 2016

Wolf To Unveil 2nd Budget Feb. 9; Senate, House Try To Finish The First One

Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday will give his second budget address which his spokesperson has said is “not going to make a huge splash with aspirational messages.”  The last year, however, has shown the Governor’s aspirations are far different from those of the Senate and House Republicans.
House Majority Leader David Reed (R-Indiana) said Wednesday the first priority should be to finish the state’s FY 2015-16 budget before considering next year’s budget.  He also declared the frequently changed “agreed-to” budget framework Gov. Wolf keeps pushing in public statements “dead,” again (See: More $$$ For Education below).
[In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article published Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said, “He (Wolf) can pine away all he wants for that to come back (the agreed-to budget framework), It’s not going to come back. He needs to negotiate a new deal, something that can get the votes in the House and Senate.”]
Rep. Reed said the House will be ready to vote on a package of three supplemental appropriations bills-- House Bills 1801, 1802 and 1803-- to fill in pieces of the FY 2015-16 budget the Governor vetoed related to the departments of Corrections, Human Services and child advocacy centers.
He also said they would be looking for the votes necessary to pass the appropriations bills for the state-related universities which need two-thirds of the House to pass.
Senate Republicans are also getting ready to fill in some of the holes created by Gov. Wolf’s line-item veto by looking to move Senate Bill 1106 (Browne-R-Lehigh) next week.  The bill now includes money for the Department of Corrections, but other funding is also likely to be added like agriculture and other line-items they think is important to restore.
On Monday, the day before the Governor’s budget address next week, the Senate Appropriations & Finance Committees will hold a hearing on which payments Gov. Wolf ask the State Treasurer to make during the time the state didn’t have a budget and after.
Everyone knows state employee, welfare and other payments were made before a budget was signed in December, but things get a little murky about which school districts were paid and why and why some state vendors may have gotten paid and not others.
Republicans hope to shed some light on that payment decision process.
Freeze Or Ceiling?
Gov. Wolf this week denied there was a hiring freeze in place after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday the Department of Environmental Protection could not fill 200 positions at the agency because of what a Governor’s spokesperson called a  “temporary” hiring freeze.  The “freeze” included the Oil and Gas Program, a priority with the Administration.
Wolf went on to say they did have hiring “ceilings” in place for agencies because the budget he signed in December, and vetoed in part, underfunded some agencies.
What threw a wrench into his reasoning was the December budget actually gave DEP more money in its personnel line-items.
More $$$ For Education
Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday announced a $200 million increase to basic education funding as part of his 2016-17 budget proposal. The investment, which represents a 3.3 percent increase, is in addition to the $377 million increase contained within the 2015-2016 bipartisan budget compromise.
This was followed Thursday by an announcement he would ask for $90 million more in pre-K funding, again on top of the “agreed-to” budget framework from last year.
Revenue Keeps Rolling In
Pennsylvania collected $2.5 billion in General Fund revenue in January, which was $6.2 million, or 0.3 percent, more than anticipated, Secretary of Revenue Eileen McNulty reported Monday. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $15.9 billion, which is $9.2 million, or 0.1 percent, above estimate.  The state collected $2.4 billion in January 2015.
The PA Gaming Control Board Tuesday reported total gross revenue and tax revenue generated from the play of slot machines at casinos rose 2.1 percent in January to $184,811,874 compared to the $180,963,004 in gross revenue generated in January 2015.
Kane Chronicles
Rep. Reed also said the House is scheduled to consider House Resolution 659 (Everett-R- Lycoming) that would authorize the House Judiciary Committee to begin impeachment hearings against indicted Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
On Monday, Montgomery County Court announced Monday Kane’s trial on criminal charges will begin August 8.
Late on Friday, the big one: the PA Supreme Court unanimously denied Kane her request to reinstate her law license.
Senate President Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said he would consult with other Senate leaders to determine a date on which the full Senate can vote on Kane’s removal from office.
So it’s now a race.  Will the Senate remove her before the House can impeach her?  We should know shortly.
What’s Next
When the Senate and House adjourn next week, they will not return to voting session in Harrisburg until March 14.  
That also means there can be no resolution of the current budget chaos for FY 2015-16 for more than another month, unless the Senate and House are recalled to Harrisburg.
In the meantime, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees will be slogging through agency-by-agency hearings on the Governor’s budget request for FY 2016-17.
Click Here to watch the Governor’s budget address live starting at about 11:30.
Stay tuned.