Talks Resume to End Budget Stalemate; Governor to Unveil Next Budget February 9
After a month long holiday break, the House and Senate leaders resumed discussions on how to finish the historic FY 2015/16 budget process. To recap, last June the General Assembly passed a budget bill that the Governor found largely deficient in meeting his stated goals and campaign pledges, so he vetoed the entire bill, rather than bluelining chunks and sending it back to the General Assembly for more work, as nearly every Governor preceding him had done at some point. The debate took many turns before and after that point, with the discussion at times being over whether the spending plan or the revenue plan to pay for the spending needed to be passed first. This circular debate led to many votes on various portions of the budget, some resulting in 0 affirmative votes, others falling largely on party lines. In December, the House Republican leadership offered Gov. Wolf a chance to round up the votes for higher spending, after the Senate had sent a package that mostly reflected a “framework” supposedly agreed to by three of the four legislative caucuses and the Governor, but just as it appeared the Governor might actually have the voted needed, the House Republican caucus pulled the plug, and sent a no-tax increase budget back to the Senate. An exasperated Senate, rather than holding the members in Harrisburg any closer to Christmas than they already had, and hearing the panicked calls from school districts and human service organizations who were on the verge of closing without SOME funding, voted for the House Republican budget, and sent it to the Governor, and went home. The Governor this time took out his blue pen and sliced significant portions of funding for essential programs, including public schools, prisons, and, not ironically, the legislature.
Talks resumed in January, though the blizzard light legislative schedule and the opening of candidate petition filing for the 2016 elections made the possibility of any final resolution moot. Threats of primary challengers for any members who voted for tax increases blunted the ability of leaders to get to the votes needed to restore funding. Individual “supplemental appropriations” bills restoring the Governor’s cuts in piecemeal fashion were introduced and moved into place, some perhaps to be available for further amendments should an agreement be reached. But none has made it to the Governor, for fear of another veto.
So, on February 9, despite the absence of a completed 2015/16 budget, Gov. Wolf will present his 2016/17 budget request. Since a vast majority of any budget is locked in to some degree by federal laws, state statutes and court decisions, it will likely look very similar to the one that has been fought over for the past year, perhaps with some concessions or policy shifts to accommodate discussions, finalize the current budget and move the state forward to a final budget for next year, in an election year. After his presentation, the House and Senate will recess for several weeks of public hearings by the respective Appropriations Committees, with each department, the state-related universities and independent agencies parading through to defend their funding requests. They are a chance for some of the legislators who are not involved in the direct negotiations of the budget to understand agency by agency what they plan to do with their money, and to ask questions and make statements to and about those agencies and the Administration. How this plays out remains to be seen. Stay tuned.
More Members Announce Intentions to Retire From State Legislature As Candidates Circulate Petitions
The final week of January marked the beginning of the official 2016 campaign, as incumbents and challengers sought signatures on nominating petitions across the state. As we reported last month, several veteran legislators have announced their retirements at the end of the 2015-16 legislative session, and will not seek re-election. January saw several more long-sitting legislators decide to move on to other challenges. Democrat Reps. Peter Daley (D- Washington), Nick Kotik (D-Allegheny), Ted Harhai (D-Westmoreland) and Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) will leave after decades in the House, as will Republican Reps. John Payne (R-Dauphin), Mauree Gingrich (R-Lebanon), and Mike Vereb (R- Montgomery). Evans appears to be the frontrunner to unseat troubled Congressman Chaka Fattah.
In addition, long-time Philadelphia State Sen. Shirley Kitchen will also retire in November, opening her seat for a contested primary in a heavily Democrat seat. Sharif Street, son of former mayor John Street, and nephew of former Sen. T. Milton Street, who previously held Kitchen’s current seat, is the early frontrunner for this seat.
We anticipate more such announcements as the nominating process proceeds into February. The primary election is April 26. Due to the current district configurations, in most districts the primary is generally the race that matters. Some believe that this fact has contributed to the budget stalemate, particularly in the House, where Republican members have been threatened by outside groups with primary opponents if they vote for any tax increases. Similar threats on the left have had some Democrat legislators scrambling as well.
Legislators not seeking re-election:
- Sen. Patricia Vance (R-Cumberland)
- Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware)
- Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Northampton)
- Rep. Sandra Major (R-Susquehanna)
- Rep. Peter Daley (D-Washington)
- Rep. John Payne (R-Dauphin)
- Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia)
- Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia)
- Rep. Nick Kotik (D-Allegheny)
- Rep. Mauree Gingrich (R-Lebanon)
- Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery)
- Rep. Ted Harhai (D-Westmoreland)
Senate Transportation Committee Holds Hearing on Delivery of Transportation Projects
On February 2, the Senate Transportation Committee conducted a public hearing on the delay and delivery of transportation projects since the passage of Act 89.
Leslie Richards, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) told committee members, “The enactment of Act 89 in November 2013 has contributed to the completion of 1, 217 projects worth $2.3 billion and provided funding for 559 projects that are currently underway,” She added, “PennDOT now sustains a construction program between $2.4 billion and $2.5 billion annually.” Sec. Richards explained, “This funding allowed for 607 construction contracts to be let in 2015, and we anticipate that 750 contracts (representing nearly 800 projects) will be let for construction in 2016.” According to Sec. Richards, “The Corbett administration over-promised projects by at least $6 billion compared to projections of available revenue for the next 12 years following Act 89.” She cautioned, “Absent a legislative solution, a number of these projects many not advance in the next 12 years.” Sec. Richards reported that the 2017 Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) and the 2017-2018 Twelve-Year Program (TYP) are currently under development. She noted “The federal funds available to programming have increased due to the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.” Sec. Richards pointed out that “a significant potential reduction in available state Motor License Fund (MLF) resources has limited the ability to reach as many projects as hoped for.” She explained to lawmakers, “Funds from the MLF needed to support the State Police mission to keep our transportation network safe are competing with the vast demand for projects and this means some tough decisions lie ahead.”
Sec. Richards went on to discuss the project delivery challenges faced by the department. She commented, “The biggest risks to our project schedules come from entities outside the PennDOT organization and occur when our project efforts require coordination and collaboration with other agencies and stakeholders.” Sec. Richards explained that these interactions occur in four major categories including property owners/right-of-way acquisitions; environmental clearances; utility coordination; and railroad coordination.
In concluding her testimony, Sec. Richards said, “We are proud of our project delivery process at PennDOT.
However, the number one issue we have today is unfunded committed projects and to fund those projects a legislative solution is needed,” She went onto say, “From our perspective, utilities are the biggest remaining area where we currently need assistance in order to make substantial improvements to continue to improve project delivery.” Sec. Richards asserted that “additional revenue is the unavoidable factor that underwrites how far we can advance on pending projects.”
House Professional Licensure Committee to Hold Hearing on Plumbers Licensure
After months of kicking around the General Assembly, legislation providing for the statewide licensure of plumbers will get its “day in court”, so to speak, on February 11, when the House Professional Licensure Committee finally holds its oft-postponed public hearing on Rep. Jim Christiana’s HB 1357. The hearing will be held in Room 205 Ryan Office Building at the capitol, or can be streamed live on the House Republican Caucus website: http://www.pahousegop.com/
The General Assembly acted on the following bills of interest to PSPE in the past month.
BIDDING / CONTRACTING
SB 316 RE: Service Contracts Terms (by Sen. Mike Folmer, et al)
Amends Title 62 (Procurement), in general provisions, providing for public access to procurement records; and, in source selection and contract formation, further providing for sole source procurement and for emergency procurement. Records concerning a procurement shall be made public, consistent with the Right-to-Know Law. The bill stipulates that procurement documents shall be posted on the purchasing agency’s website. For certain procurements over $250,000, the determination shall be signed by the head of the purchasing agency. Two quotes shall be solicited for emergency procurement; no written contract may be required. Lays out guidelines for legal services contracts.
Amended on House floor, read second time and rereferred to House Appropriations Committee, 1/27/2016
BUDGET RELATED BILLS
HB 1327 RE: Fiscal Code Amendments (by Rep. Mike Peifer, et al)
Amends the Fiscal Code to provide for implementation of the 2015-2016 General Appropriations Act. Provides for transfers from the Tobacco Settlement Fund and the Race Horse Development Fund. Makes changes to the General Budget Implementation language. Increases a retailer’s presumptive minimum cost of selling cigarettes from 6 percent to 7 percent and reduces the transfer from the Oil & Gas Lease Fund to the Marcellus Legacy Fund by $15 million. Establishes the Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund and transfers excess funds from the Dormitory Sprinkler System account to the General Fund. Re-authorizes the State Workers’ Insurance Fund through June 30, 2018. Provides $4 million in reimbursement to the Philadelphia Convention Center Visitors Bureau for expenses incurred during the papal visit.
Re-reported on concurrence as amended from House Rules Committee, 1/11/2016
House concurred in Senate amendments as amended by the House, 1/12/2016
Received as amended in Senate and rereferred to Senate Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, 1/19/2016
ENVIRONMENTAL BUILDING STANDARDS
HB 1103 RE: High Tunnels (by Rep. David Zimmerman, et al)
Amends the Storm Water Management Act defining “high tunnel” and exempting high tunnels from the act. A municipality that has adopted a watershed storm water plan or enacted a local ordinance or regulation that regulates high tunnels prior to the effective date shall amend the plan, ordinance or regulation in order to comply.
Removed from the table, 1/25/2016
HB 1661 RE: Storm Water Management Plans (by Rep. Mark Mustio, et al)
Amends the First Class Township Code adding an article providing for storm water management plans and facilities. The board of commissioners is authorized to plan, design, construct, assemble, install and alter facilities to manage surface water runoff.
Removed from the table, 1/25/2016
Amended on House floor, read second time and rereferred to House Appropriations Committee, 1/26/2016
Reported as committed from House Appropriations Committee, read third time, and passed House, 1/27/2016 (164-25)
SB 1114 RE: Alternative Systems (by Sen. Gene Yaw, et al)
Amends Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act, authorizing the inclusion of alternative systems in the site planning process.
Introduced and referred to Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, 1/21/2016
HB 802 RE: CE Carryover (by Rep. Harry Readshaw, et al)
Amends the act entitled, “An act empowering the General Counsel or his designee to issue subpoenas for certain licensing board activities; providing for hearing examiners in the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs; providing additional powers to the Commissioner of Professional and Occupational Affairs; and further providing for civil penalties and license suspension,” adding that in addition to disciplinary powers and duties, boards and commissions shall have the power to provide for the carryover of any continuing education credits in excess of the number required for biennial renewal. The carryover shall be valid for one biennial renewal term only.
Laid on the Table, removed from the table, 1/11/2016
HB 1704 RE: Registration Board Changes (By Rep. Mark Mustio, et al)
Amends the Engineer, Land Surveyor and Geologist Registration Law changing the definition of “Engineer-in-Training” to “Engineer Intern”. Removes certain exemptions from licensure and registration.
House Professional Licensure Committee Meeting cancelled for 2/10/16
HB 1800 RE: Workers Comp Panels (by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, et al)
Amends the Workers Compensation Act to require that all reasonable and necessary treatments, services, products, or accommodations be consistent with treatment guidelines selected by the Department of Labor and Industry. Provides for a panel of medical providers, selected by the L&I Secretary, to review and propose amendments to adopted guidelines. Provides for appeals. Effective in 60 days.
Introduced and referred to House Labor and Industry Committee, 12/18/2015
Some House Committee meetings and session can be viewed online at: http://www.pahousegop.com/
Senate Committee meetings and session can be streamed at: http://www.pasenategop.com/
THURSDAY – 3/17/16
House Labor and Industry Committee
9:00 a.m., Room G-50, Irvis Office Building
Public hearing on: HB 1800 (Mackenzie) – Amends the Workers’ Compensation Act, in interpretation & definitions, further providing for definitions; in liability & compensation, for schedule of compensation; &, in procedure, for investigations & peer review.
2016 SENATE SESSION SCHEDULE
- February 8, 9, 10
- March 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23
- April 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13
- May 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18
- June 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
2016 HOUSE SESSION SCHEDULE
- February 8, 9, & 10
- March 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, & 23
- April 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, & 13
- May 2, 3, 4, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, & 25
- June 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 & 30