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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the budget hearings held during the week of February 21, 2017
By Senator Don White
41th Senatorial District

Special Report: 2017-18 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its first week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2017-18 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from several cabinet secretaries and other officials over the three-day period of February 21-23, 2017. 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:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Treasury Department

The Senate Appropriations Committee kicked off three weeks of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 state budget with a review of the State Treasurer Joe Torsella’s budget request. Topics covered included:

  • Merging state and municipal pension plan management.
  • Merging Treasury special funds to save money.
  • The department’s new code of conduct policy.
  • The status of ABLE savings accounts for Pennsylvanians living with disabilities.
  • State debt and the Governor’s proposed cost savings.
  • Proposed Farm Show Complex lease-leaseback.
  • TAP Guarantee Program for college savings.
  • The possibility of more investment options for pension holders.
  • SERS/PSERS staffing levels.
  • The need for pension reform.
  • Details to justify Treasury staffing request.
  • Pension fund investment fees and returns.

Video of the hearing.

Independent Fiscal Office

Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) Director Matthew Knittel briefed the committee on the economic outlook for the coming fiscal year as well as debt levels and general revenue trends. Committee members focused on the following topics:

  • The short-term and long-term budget impacts of public pension costs and debt.
  • Projected economic activity and job growth in the state over the next several years.
  • Revenues from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee and the Governor’s proposed severance tax.
  • The impact of a minimum wage increase on employment and state revenues.
  • Differences in projected business tax and personal income tax revenues by the Administration and the IFO.
  • The proposed expansion of the sales and use tax.
  • Challenges created by a potential move to performance-based budgeting.
  • Lottery and gaming revenues and funding of programs and services for senior citizens.
  • Impact of the Governor’s proposed net operating loss cap.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2016

Department of State

The committee questioned Secretary Pedro Cortes about plans to increase the number of registered voters by 75,000, along with the following topics:

  • Online business registration.
  • Salary and benefit costs and employee contributions.
  • The length of time to conduct professional licensure complaint investigations.
  • Staffing levels and vacancies.
  • Voter fraud by people coming from other states.
  • The SURE system and integrity of county voter rolls.
  • Pennsylvania’s involvement with the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC).
  • Publishing legal notices in print media vs. online media.
  • Pennsylvania’s status as the only state to use digital signature upload feature for online voter registrations.
  • Record-high complaints filed with department.
  • Ensuring enough modern voting machines in 2020.
  • The low number of campaign finance reports being filed online.
  • Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations contribution to the General Fund.

Video of the hearing.

Auditor General

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale discussed a variety of issues pertaining to state and municipal pensions during a hearing with members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other topics of conversation included:

  • Preventing the abuse of public assistance programs.
  • The benefits of competitive bidding for transportation projects.
  • The upcoming audit of funding for the Unemployment Compensation system.
  • Use of state-owned and leased office space.
  • Problems identified in school district audits.
  • Recent information technology upgrades and the cost of those upgrades.
  • Recent audits of charter schools.
  • Examination of drug treatment programs and options.

Video of the hearing.

Attorney General

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Attorney General Josh Shapiro on several law enforcement issues including:

  • Efforts to crack down on drug traffickers and address the opioid epidemic.
  • The treatment and rehabilitation for non-violent offenders.
  • State efforts to crack down on child predators.
  • The effectiveness of mandatory sentences, particularly for drug kingpins.
  • Legal and other obligations encumbered as a result of the actions of former Attorney General Kane.
  • The need to restore trust and morale in the Office of the Attorney General.
  • Whether counties are receiving the full reimbursement that they are entitled to for full-time district attorneys.
  • Improving the relationship with all levels of law enforcement.
  • An analysis of technology needs and how they can improve law enforcement efforts.

Video of the hearing.

Thursday, February 23, 2016

State System of Higher Education

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Frank Brogan updated the Appropriations Committee on the status of the 14 universities and the challenges they are facing. The discussion focused on:

  • Declining enrollment and graduate rates at many of the state universities.
  • An ongoing study to determine PASSHE’s viability, boost enrollment and improve operations.
  • Faculty requirements for teaching, advising and other duties.
  • The cost of maintaining facilities that may not be in use.
  • The debt load being carried by each university.
  • Online universities and their impact on PASSHE.
  • Assisting families and students in pursuing appropriate degree choices.
  • How universities advertise and market their particular institutions.
  • Alumni contributions and how they impact budgets.
  • The rising cost of tuition and the amount of debt incurred by parents and students.
  • Salary increases for faculties versus the rate of inflation.
  • Educational opportunities for veterans.

Video of the hearing.

State Police/Homeland Security

The Senate Appropriations Committee closed out its first week of hearings with State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker. The following topics were discussed:

  • The use of body cameras, audio and video recording of interviews and other emerging technologies.
  • The heroin epidemic and cooperative intelligence gathering to crack down on drug trafficking.
  • The use of naloxone to reverse heroin overdoses.
  • Staffing complement, attrition through retirements, and plans to achieve the 4,719 authorized complement
  • The proposed $25 per capita fee for municipalities that rely on State Police coverage.
  • The failed statewide radio project.
  • The use of radar by local police.
  • The use of drug seizure money.
  • The deployment of troopers for casino duty and other duties.

Video of the hearing.

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