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Special Report: 2020-21 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its first week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2020-21 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from several cabinet secretaries and other officials over the three-day period of February 18-20. More information on the budget, as well as photos, audio and video from the hearings, is available at:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Independent Fiscal Office

2/18/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Independent Fiscal Office

During the budget hearing with Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel, I asked about the potential impacts of the Governor’s proposed carbon tax and Marcellus Shale extraction tax. Other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed:

  • Spending figures in the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020-21 state budget, beyond the General Fund.
  • Confidence in economic growth and the need to be cautious in budgeting.
  • Competing estimates on the proposed combined reporting requirement.
  • The impact of property taxes on senior citizens.
  • The net benefit of the Film Production Tax Credit.
  • The effectiveness of workforce development programs.
  • The need for welfare reform.
  • The impact of the Governor’s proposed $15 minimum wage.
  • The impact of games of skill on PA Lottery sales.
  • The misuse of tax credits designed to improve access to high-speed internet.
  • The tactic of using supplemental appropriations to cover up cost overruns.
  • The potential for Performance-Based Budgeting to change budgeting practices.
  • The projected impact of changing demographics on the workforce and the need to attract younger workers.
  • Challenges facing agriculture and the effectiveness of the Dairy Investment Program.
  • Pennsylvania’s tax rankings for PIT, Sales, Property Taxes versus national averages.
  • Cost estimates for most recent collective bargaining agreement with unionized state workers and the State System of Higher Education.
  • The Governor’s failure to fund career and technical education in the proposed FY 2020-21 budget.

Video of the complete hearing.

Department of Revenue/Lottery

2/18/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Revenue/Lottery

During the budget hearing on the Department of Revenue and Lottery Bureau, I questioned the impact of the Governor’s proposed carbon taxes and precautions to ensure Lottery technology upgrades are completed efficiently.

Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed financial challenges facing the Pennsylvania Lottery and the Commonwealth as a whole during the hearing with Secretary of Revenue C. Daniel Hassell and Pennsylvania Lottery Executive Director Drew Svitko. Topics of discussion included:

  • The impact of skill games on the Lottery Fund.
  • Efforts to combat welfare fraud.
  • Concerns about sales tax audits from the lodging industry.
  • Discrepancies in Lottery staffing and costs.
  • The use of the Enhanced Revenue Collection Account to deal with delinquencies.
  • Efforts to ensure companies are held accountable for failing to meet job creation targets when applying for tax credits.
  • Lottery spending on advertising.
  • Initiatives to prevent data breaches.
  • The costs of the new I-Lottery system.
  • Revenues generated by closing loopholes related to the tourism industry.
  • State revenue from medicinal cannabis.
  • Monitoring of out-of-state online retailers to ensure sales taxes are collected.
  • Efforts to increase participation in the Property Tax Rent Rebate program.

Video of the entire hearing. 

Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs

2/18/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Drug & Alcohol Programs

During the hearing with the Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs, I asked about the effectiveness of faith-based recovery programs and state support for local EMS programs. Other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Drug and Alcohol Secretary Jen Smith about the following topics:

  • Departmental funding and federal funding.
  • The impact of methamphetamines in communities.
  • Funding to address the Hepatitis C epidemic in Johnstown.
  • The proposed “Recovery to Work” program.
  • Gambling addiction programs and potential correlations between gambling and opioid abuse.
  • Abuse of drugs obtained from veterinarians.
  • The use of medication-assisted treatment programs.
  • Costs incurred by patients with insurance coverage.
  • The lack of accountability regarding a $10 million grant from the Bloomberg Family Foundation.
  • The impact of the Governor’s proposal to drain the Horse Racing Fund on gambling addition programs.
  • The use of methadone in treatment programs.
  • The average length of methadone treatment.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Department of Military & Veterans Affairs

2/19/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Military & Veterans Affairs

During the budget hearing with the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, I raised concerns about providing care for homeless veterans and urged support for my legislation to provide property tax exemptions for more veterans in need.

Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed the following topics:

  • The implementation of Pennsylvania’s new Military Family Educational Program.
  • Efforts to stem the growing tide of veteran suicides and treat those with addiction.
  • Potential barriers in federal funding for the creation of veterans’ day care programs.
  • Providing vouchers for veterans to use in county homes closer to where they live.
  • The success and effectiveness of veterans’ courts and how their use can be expanded.
  • Ongoing efforts to provide certification reciprocity for military veterans who are coming out of service.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Corrections/Board of Probation & Parole

2/19/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Corrections/Probation & Parole

At the Senate Appropriations budget hearing with the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation & Parole, I asked Board Chairman Theodore Johnson if the state Victim Advocate should be a licensed attorney to represent victims before the panel.  Other topics discussed at the hearing included:

Members of the Appropriations Committee questioned Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Board Chairman Theodore Johnson about the following topics:

  • Hidden costs and potential prison closures.
  • Inmate drug treatment programs and efforts to limit overtime costs.
  • The transition into SCI Phoenix and the status of the old prison.
  • Parolees who commit violent crimes and ensuring the safety of corrections officers.
  • Staff exposures to mailed substances, recidivism rates and the Quehanna Boot Camp.
  • Protecting female inmates from human trafficking.
  • County drug treatment referrals.
  • Inmate suicides and legislation to delay consideration of parole for violent inmates.
  • Administration of the Prison Rape Elimination Act and protecting the rights of corrections officers.
  • The need for inmates to find work after release.
  • The use of medical parole.

Video of the hearing. 

Board of Pardons

2/19/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Board of Pardons 

During the budget hearing with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, I highlighted the disadvantages of Board members expressing personal opinions on controversial criminal justice topics. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed the following topics with Secretary Brandon Flood:

  • Improving the pardons process.
  • Reducing recidivism and improving the reintegrate of parolees.
  • Differences between clemency, pardons and commutations.
  • The application and pardon review process.
  • Commuted individuals who committed subsequent crimes.
  • Board members expressing personal opinions on controversial criminal justice topics.
  • The Office of the Victim Advocate.
  • IT upgrades.
  • The Expedited Review Program for non-violent marijuana convictions.
  • Special considerations for veterans.

Video of the hearing. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

State System of Higher Education

2/20/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: State System of Higher Education 

During the hearing with the State System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Greenstein, I asked what Pennsylvania is doing to “right-size” its higher education footprint so that there are not too many unnecessary schools straining the system. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed several other issues including:

  • The impact of downturns in enrollment and community college transfers.
  • Implementation of the Rand Commission recommendations regarding the long-term viability of the state system.
  • The need for Pennsylvania to “right-size” its higher education footprint.
  • Why top-performing schools get the least amount of state funding.
  • The role of community colleges.
  • Four-year graduation rates and student loan debt.

Video of the hearing. 

Department of State

2/20/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Department of State  

During the hearing with the Department of State, I raised concerns about state licensing issues and asked about public education efforts for the election changes under Act 77. The Senate Appropriations Committee also discussed the following topics with Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar:

  • Election modernization efforts.
  • Reporting of election night results.
  • Issues with the printing of ballots.
  • Preparations for the upcoming primary election.
  • Efforts to prevent human error in the election process.
  • Personal privacy and fraud prevention.
  • Fraud prevention efforts regarding absentee and mailed ballots.
  • Security issues regarding online voter registration.
  • County election expenses.
  • Campaign finance system upgrades.
  • Efforts to increase voter registration and turnout.

Video of the hearing. 

Office of Attorney General

Topics discussed during the budget hearing on the Office of the Attorney General included:

  • A recent opioid settlement and the distribution of proceeds.
  • The Safe2Say Something program.
  • Efforts to reduce overdose deaths.
  • The Governor’s proposed 75-percent funding cut for school safety programs.
  • The Attorney General’s controversial opinion on sales of 80-percent receivers, which are not considered firearms under federal law.
  • The lack of a consistent data breach strategy across state agencies.
  • The lawsuit over natural gas drilling royalties owed to landowners.
  • Efforts to combat illegal gambling operations. 
  • Treatment for drug offenders.

Video of the hearing.

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