Wolf Considers Options as House and Senate Still at Odds Over Funding Mechanisms
September came and went, with no resolution to the on-going budget stalemate that has prevented an end to the struggle to fund the 2017-18 spending package passed in June.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced that he had grown tired of what he characterized as the obstruction of the state House of Representatives’ Republican Caucus. He stated that until there’s a finalized state budget, he’ll manage the state’s finances as he sees appropriate. In late September he announced he was withholding payments to school districts and insurers in the first round of actions taken in response to the recent credit downgrade, which was blamed on the lack of an adequate funding plan. Both Chambers have alternately attempted to advance a final package, but this remains elusive, as the majority House and Senate Republicans cannot agree on several issues, while the outnumbered Democrats wait for something to vote on, and Governor Wolf waits with pen in hand, to either sign an agreement, or veto bills that pass over his objection.
After the Columbus Day recess, the House intends to return to session on Oct. 16. The Senate remains in recess, to the call of the Senate President Pro Tem, but it is anticipated that they will also return as scheduled on October 16. The leaders suggested that some time apart from the negotiating table may bring some better results when they return.
Below is a rundown of some of the actions taken by each chamber over the past month.
New taxes and fund raids evaporated under public pressure. Over the last month the Legislature advanced a number of different proposals to close the budget gap. Many of them faded as quickly as they were announced though. The Senate passed funding bill included new energy taxes but that received a dead on arrival reception from the House. The House advanced a bill that took money from what are supposed to be dedicated funds. But the raids on transportation, public transit and environmental funds got a withering response from the Senate and the affected public. Next up was a proposal to apply sale tax to commercial storage activities. After that failed to garner support, the idea to apply the state sale tax on top of the existing local hotel taxes had a brief life span before it expired. What next? How about the long debated shale severance tax?
But the House resolution to discharge severance tax bill fails. Not long before Gov. Tom Wolf held a press conference blaming House Republicans for the failure to finish the 2017-18 state budget and urging the General Assembly to approve a natural gas severance tax, the state House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus yet again failed to muster enough floor votes for such a tax. The vote this time was for a “discharge resolution,” which would have released HB 113 from further consideration by the House Environmental Resources Committee, which has held it since January. It was the third failed attempt (in the other two cases, no votes were held as the Democrats – who were given the opportunity and time by the chamber’s majority Republicans – knew from their vote counting they were short of the necessary 102 votes) during the last two weeks, and despite it being a House Democratic Caucus-led effort, the Democrats and Wolf blamed the House Republican Caucus – the same caucus whose majority of members have historically been opposed to any tax on natural gas drilling beyond the state’s current impact fee – for that failure.
House approves debt limitation bill. The most recent budget skirmish included a battle between state House Republicans and Democrats over legislation designed to limit new state financing debt for economic development and infrastructure projects. That bill, HB 785, was approved on a mostly party-line vote of 117-80, and returns to the Senate for further debate and possibly amendments, as it was more restrictive than the Senate leaders, House Democrats and Gov. Wolf had previously agreed to.
Press Conference Highlights STEM Education in Pennsylvania
Referring to STEM education as key to the future of Pennsylvania’s economy, two members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s cabinet today were joined by state legislators and a group of educators September 26 to emphasize this area of education in the commonwealth. Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera said that Gov. Wolf has emphasized STEM “literacy” for all students in Pennsylvania in order to encourage within students “creativity, curiosity, artistic expression, collaboration, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and design thinking.” Sec. Rivera said Pennsylvania is proud to be a national leader in STEM education, with five nationally-recognized “STEM ecosystems” and four more “emerging” ones. He outlined how Gov. Wolf is determined that STEM resources should not be “barriers” but simple, opining that a pencil, used to write equations and solve problems, or a set of bare hands, used to plant seeds in a gardening project, are just as important as a computer or an expensive machine. Sec. Rivera added that it is important to grow STEM education in Pennsylvania because the economy of the future will, in his view, rely even more upon people with STEM skills. Thus, he concluded, Pennsylvania’s administration hopes to add 10,000 more STEM students to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s universities by the year 2020.
Eileen Cipriani, Deputy Secretary for Workforce Development at the Department of Labor and Industry, declared that STEM is “the foundation of global economies” and that statistics show that people with STEM degrees earn more money than others, from entry-level positions to the executive boardroom. However, she mentioned that administrators regard the number of STEM students as insufficient, particularly the number of female students. Since STEM is “crucial to global competitiveness,” her department has worked with the Department of Education on a number of initiatives, like business-education partnership externships to promote “career awareness.”
Nick Neidlinger, a student at Steelton-Highspire High School in Dauphin County, shared how he participated in a STEM initiative with a local restaurant that taught him about aquaponics, which he described as being the “new foundation” of agriculture due to its superior crop yield and vastly superior water efficiency. Neidlinger termed his experience as “absolutely amazing” because it combined knowledge of practical business, agriculture, and general “life lessons.”
Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) said she is proud to represent Steelton-Highspire High School in her district, and that the achievements of “quality STEM programming” are “amazing.” Thus, she said she is ready to follow the lead of Sec. Rivera, particularly in the urban context.
Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) said that he personally is not a very techno-centric person, but that he lives in the same household as a Career Technical Education program director, and that this older type of program – previously known as Vo-Tech – is, like STEM, a “necessary tool for the new world.” He said the two need to be aligned together.
State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists September 13 Meeting Highlights
- The State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists met on September 13 in Harrisburg. Following are the highlights.
- Board President Theodore Tesler, PG, welcomed Board members and guests, and thanked them for their service. He acknowledged the guests and invited them to share any concerns.
- Board members then discussed the Department of Environmental Protection is demanding changes to Marcellus Shale plans. Brinkash noted the same problem exists with county mappers. These instances may be in conflict with the Registration Law.
- BPOA Commissioner Ian Harlow did not attend the meeting. Deputy Commissioner Kathy Waters had no report.
- Board Administrator Terrie Kocher noted that she is back temporarily, as Robin Shearer has retired. She noted that there have been glitches in the new renewal process for licensees, and they are being addressed.
- Board Counsel Juan Ruiz reported on the status of cases. The Board held a hearing on a licensee.
- Regulatory Counsel Tom Blackburn was not able to attend. Ruiz reported on the renewal fee regulation, which IRRC has approved. The reg is now awaiting final legal approvals prior to being published in the PA Bulletin. Nothing new on the long-awaited Seals regulation. Ms. Catania noted that NCEES have made some suggested changes. Ruiz said that if the Board wishes to make those suggested changes, it still can, as the regulation hasn’t been published for comments yet. Ruiz will invite Tom Blackburn to the next meeting to discuss the changes.
- The Board also discussed the questionnaire for the Thesis.
Next meeting is November 8, in Harrisburg. 2018 meeting dates: January 10, March 14, May 9, July 11, September 12, and November 14.
The following bills of interest to PSPE have been introduced and/or acted upon in the past month.
Budget Related Bills
HB 118 RE: Administrative Code (by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, et al)
Amends the Administrative Code implementing the 2017-2018 Commonwealth budget and instituting future budget implementation: further providing for title of act; in administrative organization, providing for employees with access to Federal tax information; in organization of independent administrative boards and commissions, providing for Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency; in Commonwealth agency fees, further providing for Department of Health, for Department of Labor and Industry and for Pennsylvania State Police; in powers and duties of the Department of Justice and its departmental administrative boards, providing for collections by Attorney general; in powers and duties of Department of Corrections, providing for notice of public hearing for State correctional institution closure; in powers and duties of Department of Education and its departmental administrative boards and commissions, providing for Higher Education Regulatory Restricted Account; providing for Joint Underwriting Association; in powers and duties of Department of Environmental Protection, its officers and departmental and advisory boards and commissions, further providing for Environmental Quality Board and for municipal recycling grants and providing for water treatment facilities; providing for powers and duties of Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; in powers and duties of Department of Health and its departmental administrative and advisory boards, providing for Emergency Drug and Alcohol Detoxification Program; in Department of Aging, providing for PACE and PACENET program payments and for older adult daily living centers; in powers and duties of Department of Human Services and its departmental administrative and advisory boards and commissions, providing for child protective services fees; providing for jail facilities; in powers and duties of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, providing for alternative energy portfolio standards; providing for judicial administration; and making related repeals. Portions are effective in 60 days, with the remainder effective immediately.
Received as amended in House and rereferred to House Rules Committee, 9/8/2017
HB 453 RE: Fiscal Code (by Rep. Frank Ryan, et al)
Amends the Fiscal Code implementing the 2017-2018 Commonwealth budget and instituting future budget implementation: in Treasury Department, providing for provisions for General Assembly; in Department of Auditor General, further providing for audits of agencies receiving State aid and providing for audits of interstate commissions; in procedure for the disbursement of money from the State Treasury, further providing for settlement agreements and enforcement actions; in oil and gas wells, further providing for definitions, providing for Oil and Gas Lease Fund, and further providing for oil and gas operations in the South Newark Basin; providing for regulation of taxicabs and limousines by parking authority of city of the first class, for penalties and for provision of transportation network service; in Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund, further providing for transfer; in Pennsylvania Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund, further providing for other grants; in Tobacco Settlement Fund, further providing for use of fund; in Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, further providing for definitions, for fund and for distributions from fund; in miscellaneous limitations and transfers, further providing for drug and alcohol programs and providing for Workers’ Compensation Security Fund; in 2016-2017 restrictions on appropriations for funds and accounts, repealing provisions relating to fund transfers; in general budget implementation, further providing for Department of Community and Economic Development, for Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, for Department of Human Services, and for Commonwealth Financing Authority Restricted Revenue Account and providing for State Employees’ Retirement System Restricted Account and for Public School Employees’ Retirement System Restricted Account; in school district debt refinancing bonds, further providing for sinking fund charges for school building projects, for limitation on new applications for Department of Education approval of public school building projects and for Public School Building Construction and Reconstruction Advisory Committee; providing for tobacco annuity liquidation; repealing provisions relating to 2012-2013 budget implementation and 2012-2013 restrictions on appropriations for funds and accounts; providing for 2017-2018 budget implementation and for 2017-2018 restrictions on appropriations for funds and accounts; making an editorial change; and making related repeals.
Received as amended in House and rereferred to House Rules Committee, 9/8/2017
Re-reported on concurrence as amended from House Rules Committee, and House concurred in Senate amendment as amended by the House, 9/13/2017
Received as amended in Senate and rereferred Senate Rules and Executive Nominations, 9/18/2017
Re-reported on concurrence as committed from Senate Rules and Executive Nominations, and Senate non-concurred in House amendments, 9/20/2017 (7-43)
HB 542 RE: Tax Reform Code (by Rep. Curtis Thomas, et al)
Amends the Tax Reform Code further providing for the title of the act; in sales and use tax, further providing for definitions, for imposition of tax and for exclusions from tax; providing for marketplace providers and marketplace sellers; further providing for remote sales reports; providing for lodging tax; in personal income tax, providing for the Pennsylvania ABLE Savings Program Tax Exemption, repealing provisions relating to contribution for Korea/Vietnam Memorial National Education Center and further providing for operational provisions, providing for definitions, further providing for requirement of withholding tax, providing for withholding tax requirement for non-employer payors, further providing for information statement, providing for information statement for non-employer payors and for information statement for payees, further providing for time for filing withholding returns, providing for time for filing payors’ returns, further providing for payment of taxes withheld, providing for payment of taxes withheld for non-employer payors, further providing for liability for withheld taxes, providing for payor’s liability for withheld taxes and for payor’s failure to withhold, further providing for amount of withholding tax and for treatment of nonresident partners, members or shareholders, providing for withholding on income and for annual withholding statement and further providing for requirements concerning returns, notices, records and statements and for additions, penalties and fees; in corporate net income tax, further providing for definitions and providing for qualified manufacturing innovation and reinvestment deduction; in realty transfer tax, further providing for definitions and for exempt parties; providing for tax credit eligibility; in entertainment production tax credit, further providing for definitions and for credit for qualified film production expenses, providing for film production tax credit districts and establishing the Entertainment Economic Enhancement Program; in city revitalization and improvement zones, further providing for restrictions and for transfer of property; in neighborhood improvement zones, further providing for definitions and providing for transfer of property; in keystone opportunity zones, keystone opportunity expansion zones and keystone opportunity improvement zones, further providing for additional keystone opportunity zones; in inheritance tax, further providing for timely mailing treated as timely filing and payment; in Public Transportation Assistance Fund, further providing for fund; providing for fireworks; in procedure and administration, further providing for petition for reassessment and for review by board; in general provisions, further providing for timely filing; providing for severability; making related repeals; and making editorial changes.
Received as amended in House and rereferred to House Rules Committee, 9/8/2017
Re-reported on concurrence as amended from House Rules, 10/3/2017
HB 785 RE: Capital Facilities Debt Enabling Act Bond Caps (by Rep. Stan Saylor, et al)
Amends the Capital Facilities Debt Enabling Act adding language providing retirements of principal for funding bonds under section 312 relating to funding bonds shall be regular and substantial if made in annual or semiannual amounts whether by stated serial maturities or by mandatory sinking fund retirements computed in accordance with either a level annual debt service plan as nearly as may be or upon the equal annual maturities plan. Also adds language providing that beginning July 1, 2018, and each July 1 thereafter until the sum of the outstanding obligations for redevelopment assistance capital projects equals $3.2 billion, the maximum amount of outstanding obligations for redevelopment assistance projects shall be decreased by $50 million per year for a period of five years and specifies the principal amount of additional debt that may be incurred during fiscal year 2017 to 2018 for capital projects. Further provides for limitation on additional capital project releases financed by debt and for carry forward. Adds a chapter relating to capital budgets for particular fiscal years. The amendment to section 317 (b) relating to limitation on redevelopment assistance capital projects obligations shall apply retroactively to July 1, 2017.
Re-reported on concurrence as amended from House Rules Committee, 10/3/2017
House concurred in Senate amendments, as further amended by the House, 10/4/2017
SB 651 RE: Capital Budget Project Itemization Act of 2017-2018 (by Sen. Pat Browne, et al)
Provides for the capital budget for fiscal year 2017-2018; itemizing public improvement projects in the aggregate amount of $22,140,553,001, furniture and equipment projects, transportation assistance projects, redevelopment assistance, flood control projects, Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund projects, Environmental Stewardship Fund projects, State forestry bridge projects, park and forest management projects, State ATV/ Snowmobile Fund projects, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission projects, Oil and Gas Lease Fund projects and Motor License Fund projects to be constructed, acquired or assisted by the Department of General Services, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation or the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, together with their estimated financial costs; authorizing the incurring of debt without the approval of the electors for the purpose of financing the projects to be constructed, acquired or assisted by the Department of General Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation or the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission; authorizing the use of current revenue for the purpose of financing the projects to be constructed, acquired or assisted by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or the Department of Transportation stating the estimated useful life of the projects; and making appropriations.
Recommitted to House Appropriations Committee, and Re-reported as amended from House Appropriations Committee, 10/2/2017
SB 790 RE: First Chance Fund (by Sen. Vincent Hughes, et al)
Amends the Fiscal Code, in additional special funds, establishing the First Chance Fund. The bill establishes the fund as a restricted account in the General Fund, including revenues from contributions from selected contractors of designated contracts, grants, gifts, donations; other payments from a person; and money appropriated into the fund.
Reported as amended from Senate Judiciary Committee, and read first time, 9/19/2017
Read second time, and rereferred to Senate Appropriations Committee, 9/20/2017
Environmental Building Standards
HB 1486 RE: High Tunnels (by Rep. David Zimmerman, et al)
Amends the Storm Water Management Act, further providing for definitions and for effect of watershed storm water plans. The bill defines “high tunnel” and establishes when a high tunnel shall be exempt from provisions. It also states that any municipality that has adopted a local ordinance or regulations that regulates high tunnels following a watershed storm water plan prior to the effective date shall amend the ordinance or regulation to comply with the subsection.
Reported as committed from House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, read first time, and laid on the table, 10/3/2017
Removed from the table, 10/4/2017
SB 242 RE: One Call System (by Sen. Lisa Baker, et al)
Amends the Underground Utility Line Protection Law further providing extensively for definitions, for duties of facility owners, for duties of the One Call System, for duties of excavators, for duties of designers, for duties of project owners and for penalties; providing for enforcement, for underground utility line protection fund and for compliance; and further providing for One Call System authority and for expiration. Among the many changes, facility owners shall maintain existing records of main lines abandoned on or after the effective date and mark, locate or identify the main lines if possible, based upon the existing records, but shall not be required to locate lines or facilities installed before the effective date unless there are existing maps which meet specifications. A damage prevention committee is established to review reports of violations, issue warnings and determinations, submit an annual report on relevant data, and require persons to attend damage prevention educational programs. Extends the Sunset date to December 31, 2024, (from 2017).
Reported as amended from House Consumer Affairs Committee, read first time, and laid on the table, 10/4/2017
HB 1840 RE: Impairment Rating Evaluations (by Rep. Rob Kauffman, et al)
Amends the Workers’ Compensation Act allowing employers to request an Impairment Rating Evaluation after an employee has received total disability compensation for a period of 104 weeks. Requires the employee to submit to a medical evaluation which shall be requested by the insurer within 60 days upon the expiration of the 104 weeks to determine the degree of impairment due to compensable injury. Further provides for physical examination or expert interview.
Introduced and referred to House Labor and Industry Committee, 10/2/2017
Other Legislation of Interest
HR 540 RE: Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day (by Rep. Stan Saylor, et al)
A Resolution designating October 10, 2107, as “Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day” in Pennsylvania.
Introduced as noncontroversial resolution, 10/2/2017
Adopted 10/4/2017 (198-0)
Copies of all bills of interest can be accessed via the Internet at: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm