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Special Report: 2020-21 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its second 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 four-day period of February 24-27. More information on the budget, as well as photos, audio and video from the hearings, is available at: www.pasenategop.com/state-budget/

Monday, February 24, 2020

Department of Labor & Industry

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak about a number of topics including:

  • The waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Ways to boost workforce development, including internships and apprenticeships.
  • Vacancies created by the rising number of retiring workers.
  • The unemployment compensation system.
  • The Governor’s proposed minimum wage increase.
  • Job training programs in skilled trades.
  • Exempting school construction projects from prevailing wage requirements.
  • The decline in disability claims.
  • Job training programs.
  • Job losses in the agriculture industry.
  • Workforce development programs for the next generation of farmers.
  • The Strategic Early Warning Network.
  • The Employment First program for disabled Pennsylvanians.
  • Prevailing wage.
  • Job opportunities in the natural gas industry and related fields.
  • Increases in the Department’s personnel costs.
  • Lead and asbestos remediation.
  • Funding for the Industry Partnerships program.

Video of the hearing.

Office of the Auditor General

2/24/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Auditor General

During the budget hearing on the Office of the Auditor General, I asked about the Governor’s proposed fee for state police service and the Auditor General’s public advocacy of the legalization of marijuana. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed a number of topics with Auditor General Eugene DePasquale including:

  • The impact of reductions in funding on operations in the Auditor General’s Office.
  • Fraud, waste and abuse in the Department of Human Services.
  • Pharmacy benefit managers and transparency in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Audits of managed care organizations.
  • Cybersecurity initiatives.
  • Voter registration integrity.
  • Enforcement of the state Dog Law.
  • Bidding for school transportation services.
  • Performance audits and reviews of workforce development agencies.

Video of the Hearing.

Department of Aging

2/24/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Aging

During the budget hearing with the Department of Aging, I raised concerns about increasing costs for senior programs and the Department’s reliance on the Lottery Fund. Other issues discussed during the budget hearing with Secretary Robert Torres included:

  • Waiting lists for services.
  • The new Community HealthChoices program.
  • Funding for senior centers.
  • Adult Protective Services and programs to help seniors age in place.
  • Prescription assistance programs.
  • Prescription rebate programs.
  • The impact of skill games on the Lottery Fund.
  • Reimbursement rates for struggling service providers.
  • Efforts to combat dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Enrollment in PACE and PACENET.
  • The declining number of available beds at nursing homes.
  • Improvement projects at senior centers.

Video of the hearing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Liquor Control Board

2/25/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Liquor Control Board

During the budget hearing with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, I asked about the number of state stores that operate on limited hours and whether LCB would reevaluate the merit of expanding hours. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed topics including;

  • Spending and borrowing proposed for facilities and equipment.
  • Transfers to the General Fund.
  • Packaging and territorial agreements.
  • A $475 million no-bid contract for warehousing and distribution in the southeast.
  • Online sales and e-commerce system.
  • Data breaches and hacking.
  • Plans to upgrade facilities in Lancaster.
  • Staffing flexibility.
  • Out-of-state wineries.
  • Enforcement of underage drinking offenses.
  • The condition of state stores in Erie.
  • Sales made by credit and debit cards.
  • Modernization measures.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Transportation

2/25/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Transportation

During the budget hearing with PENNDOT, I questioned Acting Secretary Yassmin Gramian about plans to shift funding from local roads to interstate highways, as well as my legislation to reduce transfers occurring from the Motor License Fund to fund operations of our State Police. Other topics considered by the Appropriations Committee included:

  • Wait times for processing REAL ID applications.
  • Cost overruns and delays on projects.
  • Regional passenger rail.
  • Use of private-sector contractors.
  • Emissions testing requirements.
  • Structurally deficient bridges.
  • Funding the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River & Bay.
  • Opposition to creating toll roads to pay for road maintenance.
  • The environmental impact of road salt runoff.
  • Federal transportation funding.

Video of the hearing.

Treasury

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella about several issues including:

  • Pennsylvania’s fiscal condition.
  • Pennsylvania’s debt.
  • Property taxes and growth in state spending.
  • Short-term borrowing and cash flow fluctuations.
  • Growth in government union salaries.
  • The Unclaimed Property Program. 
  • The Treasury’s request for increased funding.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Department of Human Services

2/26/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Human Services (Part 1)

At the budget hearing with the Human Services Department, I questioned Secretary Teresa Miller about the increase in Medical Assistance Transportation Program costs and how to prevent abuse of this assistance. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed issues including:

  • Counties’ needs-based budget requests.
  • Waiting lists for intellectuals with disabilities.
  • Managed Care Organizations and Community HealthChoices.
  • Regulation changes for serving individuals with intellectual disabilities.
  • Preventing nursing home closures.
  • Ensuring that $3 million PA funding for Planned Parenthood would not be used for abortions.
  • Reimbursement rates for independent pharmacies.
  • Breaking the cycle of poverty.
  • Getting students into all-day technical schools.
  • Including lottery winnings in calculating public assistance.
  • Increasing awareness and providing services for mental health issues within farm families.
  • The PA Workwear program.
  • Nontraditional child care services.
  • Performance-Based Budgeting Board review findings.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Health

During the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with the Department of Health, members raised concerns about the Coronavirus, Lyme disease and discussed other issues including:

  • Cuts in Lyme disease funding.
  • The prescription drug monitoring program.
  • A potential bias in a health study on fracking.
  • The state’s Medical Marijuana Program. 
  • Vaping.
  • Telemedicine. 

Video of the hearing.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Department of Education

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Education Secretary Pedro Rivera about a number of issue related to school funding and education, including:

  • The Governor’s cut in school safety grants from $60 million to $15 million.
  • Costs associated with mandated full-day kindergarten. 
  • Career and technical schools.
  • A new program that would require CPR education in schools.
  • The rollout of Act 64 providing school districts with flexible instruction days.
  • Funding for remediating “toxic schools” that pose health risks to students.
  • Asbestos and lead issues in schools.
  • The role that telemedicine can play in providing students with access to doctors and counselors.
  • A new agricultural education curriculum for students.
  • The pending approval of a community college in Erie.
  • Improving literacy and providing earlier screening for dyslexia.
  • The popularity of the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program.
  • Mental health assessments for students.

Video of the morning session with the Department of Education.

Video of the afternoon session with the Department of Education. 

Department of Community & Economic Development

During the budget hearing on the Department of Community & Economic Development, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed a number of issues including:

  • Affordable housing.
  • Ben Franklin Technology Partnerships.
  • Tax credit programs.
  • Erie’s Opportunity Zones.
  • The CRIZ program.
  • International investment in Pennsylvania.
  • The Governor’s threatened veto of legislation providing for an energy and fertilizer manufacturing tax credit.
  • The impact of the Governor’s proposed carbon tax.
  • The Hotel Occupancy Tax.

Video of the hearing.

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