A Report on the Legislative Session Week
February 8, 2016
I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This
e-newsletter features events and legislative activities during the Session Week
of February 8, 2016.
If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website
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Wolf Budget Again Calls for Massive Tax Hikes, Spending Increase
It was déjà vu all over again on Tuesday as for the second straight year,
Governor Wolf unveiled a state budget with massive tax increases,
unsustainable spending and no reform of major cost-drivers.
Instead of making a case for his proposal, the Governor used his
budget address before a joint session of the General Assembly as a
bully pulpit to chide and lecture the Legislature for not passing the
bloated spending plan and the excessive tax increases he proposed last
year. Senate Republican leaders responded to the Governor’s comments during
news conference immediately following the budget address.
This year the Governor proposes $3.6 billion in tax hikes to support a
$33.28 billion spending plan for 2016-2017. The tax hikes include a 10.7
percent increase in the state Personal Income Tax, from a rate of 3.07
percent to 3.4 percent, an expansion of the state Sales Tax to include cable
bills and other items, and a new tax on fire, property and casualty
Under the Governor’s plan, the PIT increase would be retroactive to
January 1, 2016, meaning taxpayers will owe an extra six months in back tax
payments if the budget is enacted June 30.
The Governor’s budget increases Basic Education Funding, but abandons
efforts to reform the number-one cause of school cutbacks and school
property tax increases: the public pension system.
Governor Wolf again threatened draconian cuts if the General Assembly does
not approve his massive tax increases. If he continues to insist that there
are only two ways to address the financial problems facing our Commonwealth,
it raises serious questions about his understanding of the budget process
and his willingness to consider any ideas other than his own.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold three weeks of public
hearings on the Governor’s budget proposal beginning February 22.
Senate Vote to Remove Attorney General Falls Short
While a majority of Senators (29-19) voted Wednesday in favor of a
Resolution removing Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office due
to the suspension of her license to practice law in Pennsylvania, the
measure failed to meet the two-thirds majority specified by the Pennsylvania
Constitution in order to directly remove an elected official from office.
discussed the vote at a news conference outside the Senate Chamber.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved
House Resolution 659, which authorizes the
House Judiciary Committee to investigate the conduct of Attorney General
Kathleen Kane and to determine whether she should be subject to impeachment.
Adoption of HR 659 is the first step in the
impeachment process under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Depending on the
subcommittee's findings, another House resolution would be needed to
formally file one or more counts of impeachment, which then would have to be
approved by the House. If adopted, the Senate would conduct the trial, and
require a two-thirds vote for conviction and removal.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously voted on September 21 to
suspend Kane’s license based on accusations of perjury and other charges
stemming from a leak of grand jury information. The newly elected,
Democrat-majority state Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed that decision
Ag Committee Holds Hearing on Fireworks Bill
The Senate Agriculture & Rural
Affairs Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday on my bill that would
legalize the sale of fireworks in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 1055 would lift the ban on the sale of “consumer”
fireworks, known as “Class C” fireworks, and allow businesses legally
operating in the state to sell consumer fireworks -- such as bottle rockets,
roman candles and mortars -- to Pennsylvania residents without the need for
Senate Bill 1055 would generate additional revenue
for the Commonwealth by requiring fireworks outlets to pay a $5,000 annual
license fee. In addition to paying the state’s 6 percent sales tax,
fireworks purchases would be subject to an excise tax with that money
benefiting fire and emergency medical personnel.
Written testimony from the public hearing is
video of the hearing.
Joint Hearing Focuses on Line Item Veto and Distribution of Funds
The Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees held a joint public hearing
Monday to discuss the expenditure of funds during the recent budget impasse.
The hearing focused on the State Treasurer’s role in approving warrants
(requests for payment) from state executive agencies during the time period
when no legal authority existed for payments to be made.
This has raised serious questions and concerns for how services critical
to the safety, health and welfare of Pennsylvania’s residents will receive
funding during a budget impasse or when funding is cut or reduced following
a Governor’s line item veto.
Click to watch
video of the hearing. For testimony and other information from the
hearing, visit either the
Senate Appropriations Committee page
Senate Finance Committee page.
Options for Schools to Meet 180-Day Requirement Sent to Governor
A measure giving schools greater
flexibility to meet the state’s 180-day requirements for classroom
instruction after emergency and weather-related closings was sent to the
Governor this week for his signature and enactment into law.
House Bill 158 would provide
potential scheduling options for school
entities facing extended closings that include a school year with a minimum
number of hours of instruction, in lieu of the 180-day requirement, and
approving additional instruction days on not more than one Saturday a month.
Also sent to the Governor was
Senate Bill 166, which would allow expungement of some misdemeanors.
On Wednesday the Senate approved and sent to the Governor
House Bill 561, which provides an
Earned Income Tax (EIT) exemption for active duty military pay and
House Bill 941, which amends the Administrative Code to:
- provide additional duties and powers related to advisory boards and
- require a report by the Pennsylvania Gaming Board to report on the
potential of fantasy sports gambling;
- make changes to the Citizens Advisory Council within the Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP);
- reduce the licensing fee for distilleries of historical significance;
- repeal the current Race Horse Industry Reform Act to provide a new
article for the regulatory oversight of horse and harness racing.
Senate Sends Four Bills to the House
The Senate approved four bills this week and sent
the measures to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 489 reduces the maximum fee that a check casher may
charge for cashing government checks.
Senate Bill 568 makes changes for guardianship in Pennsylvania.
House Bill 1296 expands the financial products that municipalities,
school districts, and municipal authorities may invest their general fund
moneys into. The bill returns to the House of Representatives for
concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Bill 889 extends benefits to enforcement officers and
investigators of the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission.