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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings
A report on the budget hearings held during the week of February 29, 2016

Special Report: 2016-17 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its second week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2016-17 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from several cabinet secretaries and other officials over the three-day period of February 29-March 2. This special edition of Harrisburg Happenings provides day-by-day highlights from those hearings.

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 29, 2016

Department of Corrections/Board of Probation & Parole

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Board of Probation & Parole Chairman Michael Green outlined steps to reduce costs. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The corrections system’s decrease in inmates, but increase in costs.
  • Safety threats posed by overcrowding.
  • The lack of mental health professionals.
  • The costs of aging and high-risk inmates.
  • Veterans Courts.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Transportation

PENNDOT Secretary Leslie Richards fielded questions from members of the Senate Appropriations Committee about the state’s new transportation funding program and a plan to eliminate registration stickers in favor of a more modern monitoring system. Other topics discussed included:

  • Status of Act 89 projects, particularly structurally deficient bridges.
  • The elimination of registration stickers and the use of plate readers by police.
  • A proposed change in driver’s license renewals from four to eight years.
  • Rural road maintenance.
  • The merger of Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific railroads.
  • The cost of responding to Winter Storm Jonas.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Labor & Industry

During a budget hearing with Secretary of Labor & Industry Kathy Manderino, members of the Appropriations Committee discussed reforms that impacted her Department. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The Vocational Rehabilitation Fund and potential changes to the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
  • Centers for Independent Living and assistive technology.
  • State employment indicators.
  • Unemployment Compensation reform/seasonal workers/call center wait times.
  • The Department’s technological deficiencies.

Video of the hearing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Department of General Services

Secretary of General Services Curtis Topper was questioned by members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on efforts by his Department to cut costs. Other areas of discussion included:

  • Security efforts across the Commonwealth.
  • Concerns about facilities that need constant maintenance.
  • Efforts to reduce vacant state properties.
  • The use of natural gas in state buildings.
  • The sale of the Harrisburg State Hospital.
  • Leased vehicles.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Aging

Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne discussed the state services provided to the 2.7 million Pennsylvanians over the age of 60 during a budget hearing on her Department with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • Services provided by senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging.
  • PennCare and home- and community-based services.
  • Decreasing Lottery reserve funds.
  • Support and demand for PACE/PACENET and prices charged for drugs.
  • Increasing the retirement age.
  • The property tax burden on senior citizens.
  • The growing impact of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Lottery machines in state stores.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Agriculture

Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding discussed the Governor’s proposed zero funding in Fiscal Year 2016-17 and line-item vetoed funding in Fiscal Year 2015-16 for key agriculture programs and initiatives during a budget hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The Race Horse Development Fund and the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania.
  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed strategies and their impact on farmers.
  • The role of Conservation Districts.
  • Flat state funding of agriculture research and extension.
  • Avian influenza.
  • State support for fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
  • The Homegrown by Heroes program supporting veterans.
  • Dog licenses and dog law enforcement.
  • Food safety inspections.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

State Related Universities

Officials from Pennsylvania’s State-Related Universities fielded questions from members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on a number of issues related to higher education, including:

  • The affordability of college education and increasing student debt.
  • Trends in enrollment rates.
  • Retention and graduation rates.
  • Universities’ role in economic development.
  • Financial aid and the percentage awarded to Pennsylvania students.
  • The rationale for admissions decisions and whether in-state students are treated equitably.
  • Funding for agricultural research and development.
  • A lack of state control over benefits and compensation.
  • The need for greater transparency in compensation decisions.
  • Increasing pension costs.

Video of the hearing.

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education

State System of Higher Education Chancellor Frank Brogan, Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael Driscoll, and East Stroudsburg University senior Drew Johnson discussed programs and initiatives underway at PASSHE’s 14 member universities. Specific issues discussed during the budget hearing included:

  • Strategic planning for the system’s future.
  • Universities’ reserve funds.
  • Impacts of subsidizing underperforming universities.
  • Redundancies of services.
  • Pension and benefit costs.
  • The per-credit tuition initiative.
  • Percentages of graduates working in their field of study and staying in Pennsylvania.
  • Programs for veterans.
  • Campus safety.

Video of the hearing.

PEMA/Fire Commissioner

PEMA Director Richard Flinn fielded questions related to the state’s ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies. Topics discussed during the budget hearing included:

  • PEMA’s new facility.
  • Questions regarding the Administration’s hiring of a state meteorologist.
  • Coordination between county emergency management planners.
  • Costs of police and paid firefighters.
  • Preparations for train derailments involving hazardous chemicals.

Video of the hearing.  

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