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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings
A report on the budget hearings held during the week of March 7, 2016

Special Report: 2016-17 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its third 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 two-day period of March 7-8. 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:

Monday, March 7, 2016

Department of Human Services

Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas reviewed his budget, one of the largest in state government. The Appropriations Committee discussed:

  • Efforts to move disabled and senior citizens into community settings, as opposed to more expensive nursing home care.
  • The Governor’s veto of funding for vital health care areas, including critical care hospitals, burn centers and neo-natal units.
  • Backlogs in mental health facilities.
  • The effectiveness of early intervention services.
  • Wages for direct care workers.
  • Declines in Lottery Fund revenues and the impact on programs.
  • The process for closing and consolidating state facilities.
  • The effectiveness of youth development centers.
  • The impact of rising pension costs on the Department’s budget.
  • Funding for autism services.
  • The interaction between the Department of Human Services and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Revenue/Lottery

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned the impact of Governor Wolf’s proposed tax increases during a budget hearing with the Department of Revenue.

Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The growth in operational and pension costs for the Department.
  • Lottery machines in state liquor stores.
  • Lottery marketing efforts and potential new sales outlets.
  • Efforts to improve Sales and Use Tax collection.
  • Fraud prevention.
  • Overoptimistic natural gas extraction tax revenue estimates.
  • The Governor’s Executive Order on the minimum wage.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Military & Veterans Affairs

Acting Adjutant General (Brigadier General) Anthony Carrelli discussed the importance of state veterans’ homes during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other topics of discussion included:

  • Increasing employee pension costs.
  • Security at state military installations.
  • Job opportunities for veterans after leaving military service.
  • Federal funding for the Department.
  • Home care for veterans.

Video of the hearing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Department of Education

The Appropriations Committee discussed Pennsylvania’s support for education with Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, noting that Pennsylvania’s per-pupil spending is among highest in the nation. Other topics included:

  • Spending for early childhood education.
  • The new Basic Education Funding Formula.
  • The fate of Keystone Exams.
  • State grants for high-skill careers.
  • Library funding.
  • EITC Tax Credits for businesses.
  • Wage and benefit contracts at local level.
  • Prevailing wage mandates that drive up the cost of school construction and repairs.
  • Pennsylvania’s declining number of students, but increased education spending.
  • Pensions costs sapping 30 percent of every school dollar from classrooms.
  • Cost reduction initiatives.
  • Vo-tech schools.
  • Special education funding.

Video of the hearing.

Liquor Control Board

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Chairman Tim Holden, Board member Michael Negra and Executive Director John Metzger discussed costs savings initiatives. Other issues discussed during the Appropriations Committee’s budget hearing included:

  • Modernization vs. privatization.
  • Special pricing of products and expanded hours of operations.
  • Profit margins for the overall system and for individual outlets.
  • Complement of employees and associated pension costs.
  • Transfers to the General Fund.
  • License and permit fees.
  • Competitiveness with neighboring states.
  • Training programs for management and employees in establishments that serve alcohol.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Health

Health Secretary Karen Murphy and Physician General Rachel Levine discussed efforts to improve health care services to Pennsylvania residents and answered questions on the following areas:

  • The defunding of regional poison centers by the Governor.
  • Improving the death certificate process.
  • Inspections of hospice services.
  • Funding reductions for the cystic fibrosis program and other programs.
  • Screenings for various cancers.
  • Efforts to combat Lyme disease.
  • Allegations against Planned Parenthood.
  • New EMS guidelines.
  • Recruitment and retention of primary care physicians.

Video of the hearing.

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