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Feb 18, 2018
The Penn
At least a dozen Pennsylvania lawmakers carry guns on the House and Senate floors — though weapons are banned in the building

HARRISBURG — Every week, thousands of political activists, tourists and curious citizens walk through the Capitol building’s doors to get a glimpse of their government in action. And every one of them is run through a security checkpoint.

They empty their pockets, run their briefcases and bags through X-ray machines — and, if they’re carrying firearms, they’re required to store their guns with the Capitol Police.

“By law, firearms are prohibited from being carried in the state Capitol by anyone other than on-duty law enforcement officers, regardless of if an individual has a permit to carry a concealed firearm or not,” said Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, the agency that has oversight of state buildings and the Capitol Police.

Pennsylvania’s elected legislators play by a different set of rules, though.

At least a dozen to two dozen members of the House of Representatives carry handguns in the halls of the Capitol building and even on the chamber floor, officials and former officials with knowledge of security told The Caucus newspaper, a publication of LNP Media Group.

Gun-rights advocates in the Legislature argue that allowing weapons in the Capitol, or any other public building for that matter, sends a warning signal to criminals.

“I believe the data that’s been compiled shows that law-abiding citizens carrying guns are the best deterrent to crime,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, who holds a permit to carry a concealed weapon but would not disclose whether he brings his gun to the House floor.

Mixed feelings
The practice worries some legislators, though, who say the hyperpartisan nature of politics in Pennsylvania and across the nation has created an atmosphere that is more volatile and susceptible to violence.

“Emotions can run high. We’ve got work to do. I don’t want to be concerned about someone carrying a gun,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery County.

The threat of gun violence is “a horror in places where government is trying to do its work.”

The practice also casts light on a creative interpretation of the law that prohibits guns inside public buildings that house courtrooms, such as the Capitol. Some lawmakers who are licensed to carry guns say that law, passed by the Legislature in 1995, doesn’t apply to the legislative branch of state government.

Emotions can run high. We’ve got work to do. I don’t want to be concerned about someone carrying a gun.”

“They’re certainly allowed, and it’s legal,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai, a suburban Pittsburgh Republican. “It provides safety for them and for a lot of others.”

How safe the practice is for others and whether it’s legal is debatable.

Kim Stolfer, a weapons instructor and co-founder of the gun-rights group Firearms Owners Against Crime, said he doesn’t like the prohibition in Pennsylvania’s Capitol.

But he abides by it.

He said so-called “gun-free zones” are the least safest places to be.

Knowing people may be armed deters violent attacks, he says. In Pennsylvania, those seeking to purchase handguns are required to undergo a criminal background check. And they need a license to carry it concealed.

Carrying a firearm “is the right of every American citizen,” said Stolfer, a former Marine who helped write the Castle Doctrine law approved in 2013.

Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Peach Bottom Republican who serves as majority whip, said he is licensed to carry but doesn’t at the Capitol. He said it was his understanding it is legal for legislators to do so, and that it’s their constitutional right.

“They’re certainly allowed, and it’s legal. It provides safety for them and for a lot of others.”

“I know that some do. I’ve heard individuals talk about it,” he said.

Sen. Ryan Aument said he has “no doubt that it happens,” but he’s never talked to his colleagues about it.

The Landisville Republican, who served as an army captain in Iraq, said he doesn’t have a license to carry and he hasn’t felt the need to handle guns since he left the military.

He’s never felt unsafe at the Capitol, but he said he’d understand if some lawmakers carry while they’re out in downtown Harrisburg. Bringing those weapons onto the House or Senate floors, though, would be unnecessary, he said.

“Maybe it does happen. I don’t know,” Aument said. “Certainly there’d be no need for it.”

Who carries, who doesn’t
More than two dozen other states allow guns in capitol buildings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those states, nine permit “open carry,” 13 allow firearms owners with permits to carry and four allow legislators or legislative staff to carry in the capitol.

The legislative policy-tracking agency did not classify Pennsylvania, whose crimes code conflicts with the Legislature’s passive approach on carrying guns in the Capitol.

Exactly how many House or Senate members carry firearms on a given day isn’t known. There’s no record of who’s carrying on the floor. Members typically won’t talk about it publicly.

“No one wants to be the test case,” Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe, asked whether he carries on the floor, said “I never reveal to anyone whether I’m carrying.” It is a safety issue, he said.

Metcalfe said he agrees with the Department of General Services that members of the public cannot carry a weapon in the Capitol. But he said he does not believe that applies to the Legislature, a separate branch of government. “I think separation of powers changes the issue for the Legislature,” he said.

One state senator who spoke on the condition he not be identified for this report because of the sensitive nature of the topic said a number of his colleagues in the Senate, and their staffers, carry guns in the Capitol.

What the law says
The 1995 law prohibiting guns in public buildings with courtrooms also applies to the Capitol because the structure is home to a courtroom occasionally used by the Pennsylvania appellate courts, Department of General Services spokesman Thompson said.

“Individuals entering the Capitol with a firearm must check their firearm in with the Capitol Police at the East Wing entrance and secure their firearm in the lock boxes for that purpose,” he said.

Thompson said the prohibition on weapons in the Capitol is contained in Section 913 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, which deals with the “possession of firearm or other dangerous weapon in court facility.”

“Members of the Legislature should have to live by the same rules as the general public. The general public has to relinquish them.”

Spokespeople for the Senate and House Republicans implied the General Assembly is exempt from the no-gun law but stopped short of saying so.

“Senate security is responsible for ensuring safety and order in the Senate chamber,” said Kate Eckhart Flessner, the communications director for the Senate president pro tempore.

Firearms are not permitted in the public gallery, and visitors must first pass through a metal detector, she said.

In the House, GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin said “apparently we don’t have a rule about guns on the floor. There is obviously the DGS rule because there’s a court upstairs. Obviously some (lawmakers) might argue separation of powers.”

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh, who supports universal background checks, limits on magazine capacity and requirements to report lost or stolen guns, said he believes lawmakers should be treated no differently than citizens when it comes to carrying guns in the Capitol.

“Members of the Legislature should have to live by the same rules as the general public,” he said. “The general public has to relinquish them.”

Securing the Capitol

If carrying guns is a matter of safety in the Capitol, who protects the lawmakers and staffers who aren’t armed?

The Capitol Police, an accredited law enforcement agency, has jurisdiction throughout the Capitol, but not in House and Senate offices or the floor of each chamber, officials said.

The House and Senate have their own security details, but those officers don’t have arrest powers, and they are not armed.

And though there are security measures designed to protect legislators and their staffers, many people doing business in the Capitol — lobbyists, reporters and vendors — hold badges that allow them to bypass scanners.

House Chief Clerk David Reddecliff said enforcing the law preventing guns in the Capitol is difficult “when so many people could carry a weapon in” and not be scanned because they have security badges.

As for legislators who are packing?

“I don’t care whether members are carrying guns,” Reddecliff said.



Dec 12, 2017
Pa. lawmakers send Wolf abortion restrictions he plans to veto

Gov. Tom Wolf vows to veto a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and criminalize the most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions.
Gov. Tom Wolf vows to veto a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and criminalize the most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Pennsylvania’s House on Tuesday voted after an impassioned debate to send a bill limiting abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy to Gov. Tom Wolf, who immediately repeated his threat to veto it.

The Republican-controlled House voted 121-70 for the legislation that would alter the existing 24-week limit.

The measure would keep in place exceptions under current law for when a mother’s life is at risk, or if she could suffer a serious, permanent injury without an abortion. It does not allow exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities.

Supporters said medical advances mean premature fetuses are now able to survive at an earlier point in the pregnancy than previously possible.

The strong feelings and stark language that characterizes the abortion discussion on the national level were reflected in the House debate.

“As people try to frame this debate in terms of women’s rights, the question that begs to be asked is, what about the rights of those preborn women in the womb being exterminated?” said Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York.

Opponents argued that parents should be allowed to make their own abortion decisions with medical input and by consulting their sources of spiritual advice.

“We have to be careful in this body that we don’t put an ideology on everybody and say that everybody has to live like this,” said Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny.

Planned Parenthood said the bill would make Pennsylvania’s abortion law among the nation’s most restrictive.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, said a House that is “80 percent men and 0 percent physicians” should not be making decisions for women about terminating their pregnancies. She noted that a tiny fraction of abortions currently occur after 20 weeks.

The bill “does not protect women,” said Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery. “It attempts to control them by imposing the views of some legislators on women, and I think that’s wrong — that’s morally wrong.”

The legislation also would outlaw what the bill terms “dismemberment abortion,” a phrase not used by medical professionals. It would effectively ban dilation-and-evacuation, a procedure that is the most common method of second-trimester abortion.

“Dismemberment abortion is completely inhumane, it’s barbaric,” said Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York.

Some opponents noted that the bill had not received public hearings, while supporters said the issues have been discussed in depth for years.

Wolf, a Democrat, called the bill an assault on the doctor-patient relationship and “cruel” because it lacks exceptions for rape or incest.

“These women deserve our support, not to be maligned by politicians in Harrisburg for making medical decisions about their bodies for their families with their doctors,” Wolf said in a written statement.

The bill passed the Senate in February by a 32-18 vote. The margins in both chambers raise doubts about whether supporters will be able to muster sufficient votes to override Wolf’s promised veto.  Source   House votes here

Nov 21, 2017
Pa. lawmakers getting a boost in their salary, starting in December

State lawmakers and other top state officials will receive an .81 percent salary increase for 2018. Lawmakers' pay will reflect the increase starting Dec. 1 while judges and top executive branch officials will begin receiving the increase on Jan. 1.
State lawmakers and other top state officials will receive an .81 percent salary increase for 2018. Lawmakers’ pay will reflect the increase starting Dec. 1 while judges and top executive branch officials will begin receiving the increase on Jan. 1.(File photo/

Pennsylvania lawmakers will have a little extra money in their December paychecks as a result of the automatic cost-of-living salary adjustment they receive.

The statutorily provided .81 percent increase in salary will raise the rank-and-file legislator’s annual salary to $87,180, a $702 increase over this year’s pay.

The increase for legislative leaders will raise their salaries between $99,410 and $136,094, depending on the position they hold.

Because of a law that passed in 1995, the pay raises do not require a vote. However, because of the public backlash over the automatic pay raises, some lawmakers choose not to accept their pay raise and give it back to the state Treasury or donate it to charities or community organizations.

The size of the automatic salary increase for lawmakers as well as top executive branch officials and judges is based on the year-over-year percentage change in the U.S. Department of Labor-set Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers for Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.

The executive branch officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf who donates his salary to charity, and judges’ pay increases don’t take effect until Jan. 1 while lawmakers’ raises take effect on Dec. 1.

Over the years, the automatic pay raises that first began in 1995 have resulted in anywhere from between a 0 percent increase in 2010 and 2016 to 18.7 percent when the automatic pay raise law was first passed. Most years, the increase ranges between 1 and 3 percent.

The .81 percent increase keeps Pennsylvania holding the honor of having the second highest-paid state lawmakers, behind only California where rank-and-file members are paid $104,118, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Percentagewise, it is less than the 2 percent increase that Social Security recipients will be receiving in their 2018 benefits, which amounts to about a $27 a month, according to the Social Security Administration website. However, according to the Pennsylvania State Data Center, the salary paid to state lawmakers is more than the statewide $53,599 median household income.

Here are the new salary levels for the top legislative leaders:

House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati: $136,094

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa: $126,313

House Majority Whip Bryan Cutler, Senate Majority Whip John Gordner, House Minority Whip Mike Hanna, and Senate Minority Leader Tony Williams: $116,879.

House Republican Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, House Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Markosek, Senate Republican Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, and Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Hughes: $116,879.  Source

Oct 27, 2017
Penn Live
A dozen ways Pa.’s 2017-18 state budget may impact your life

With all the pieces of the 2017-18 state budget now through the General Assembly and awaiting action by Gov. Tom Wolf, it’s a good time to look back at this $32 billion spending and revenue package as a whole and see how it could change life in Pennsylvania.

The following points out 12 ways that state residents would notice the impact of this budget as they go about their lives,  Read more

Oct 25, 2017
The Inquirer
More borrowing, more gambling: How they’re breaking budget impasse in Harrisburg

HARRISBURG — More borrowing, more casinos, and a few more taxes.

That is the solution the Republican-controlled legislature has devised to balance Pennsylvania’s budget and break a stubborn stalemate that has hurt the state’s financial standing and tested political alliances.

Lawmakers in both chambers worked late into the night Wednesday to approve key pieces of a long-overdue revenue package to fund the state’s $32 billion spending plan and close a more than $2 billion deficit.

The overall deal relies heavily on borrowing and siphoning money from various state funds reserved for special programs.

It also includes a still-to-be-approved plan for a major expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania, including legalizing online gambling, authorizing 10 new “mini-casinos” around the state, and permitting so-called video-gaming terminals at truck stops. Late Wednesday, the Senate had passed the gambling bill and the House had started debating it, with most of the discussion centered on whether to postpone a vote on the matter so members could have more time to read the 939-page bill.

The debate was expected to continue Thursday morning.

Gov. Wolf has not endorsed the revenue deal and late Wednesday would say only that he would review it.

But Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) signaled optimism earlier Wednesday evening: “This should bring closure to the budget.”

Wolf has said he would be willing to sign off on up to $1.5 billion in borrowing as long as the legislature approved plans to raise significant new revenue for the cash-strapped state.

But aside from the gambling expansion, the revenue deal does not include any big-ticket money-generating taxes. Instead, legislators propose taxing the sale of fireworks and applying the state’s 6 percent sales tax to more goods sold on online marketplaces.

What it doesn’t include: a new tax on natural gas extraction that Wolf has pushed hard for and that the Senate approved earlier this year. GOP leaders in the House have refused to even allow a floor debate on it. Read more

Oct 19, 2017
Penn Live
Halting progress continues on Pa. budget front as exasperation grows

It may be the one thing that could help to drive the budget stalemate to a conclusion.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said the House of Representatives’ funding plan to address the $2.2 billion revenue gap in the 2017-18 state budget is unlike the revenue package his chamber passed in July. But it holds the advantage of having won 102 votes in the House.

That alone makes it deserving of serious consideration, said the GOP senator from Centre County. The Senate could possibly consider action on the House plan as early as Monday.

“I just want to get done,” Corman told reporters on Wednesday. “We need to get this accomplished. We need to get it done and that’s really the one thing that’s leading us to really trying to take a serious look at this and be as supportive as we can.”

The House on Tuesday evening voted 102-88 on a revenue bill that relies mostly on borrowing and a set of small tax increases to raise $1.6 billion. That is a major part of its $2.2 billion plan that includeslegalized gambling expansion, one-time fund transfers and other accounting maneuvers.

A House committee on Wednesday passed legislation by a 16-9 vote to impose a new tax on natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale formation as proposed could also supplement the chamber’s revenue plan.

Despite his opposition to a shale tax, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, promised the legislation will get its day on the House floor to be debated but when that occurs remains in question.

Borrowing is in but how much?

This latest iteration of a House revenue plan has some similarities to a funding package the Senate passed in July although it includes none of the Senate’s new taxes on natural gas consumption, electricity or cell phones.

Both plans, for one thing, relied heavily on borrowing against future revenues due Pennsylvania from the 1998 multi-state settlement with big tobacco companies. The Senate plan proposed borrowing $1.3 billion and the House plan, $1.5 billion.

The increased borrowing is a cause for concern for senators as is the aggressive revenue estimates that the House is counting on from the yet-to-be-determined expansion of legalized gambling, Corman said. The House estimates the new gambling options will raise $265 million this year.

Still, Corman said that uneasiness for senators has to be balanced against a certain realization.

“The likelihood of us amending it and sending it back and getting 102 votes for something else, I think, is a long shot at best. So we want to be as supportive as possible,” he said.

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa of Allegheny County said his caucus is reviewing the House’s borrowing plan but needs to analyze it as part of a comprehensive proposal including the fund transfers that the House wants to use to balance the budget.

“In the coming days, we’ll be working internally as a caucus, but also with our colleagues across the aisle and with the governor’s office,” he said..

While the Senate Republicans and Democrats takes the next few days to review the plan, senators also want to hear whether Gov. Tom Wolf plans to continue with the executive actions he announced recently to balance the budget even if they send him a legislative-crafted revenue package.

Wolf announced his plan to raise $1.2 billion by borrowing against future anticipated payments from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and $200 million from leasing the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg to a private operator.

At this point, the governor is proceeding with his plan to ensure the commonwealth meets its commitments to school districts, human services and other providers, said Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said.

“When a final plan from the Legislature reaches his desk, he will evaluate the pieces,” Abbott said. “Governor Wolf is open to a responsible alternative, but feels it is necessary that he ensure we meet our commitments.”

Corman told reporters he was concerned the governor may go down a dual track of borrowing against future LCB payments even if the Legislature sends him a revenue plan that securitizes tobacco settlement payments.

“Nothing would stop him from doing it since he’s doing it on his own anyway,” Corman said. “So we would like before we jump into this proposal to just get a little clarity on some of these issues.”

Obstacles to overcome

Despite this week’s developments on closing out the belated state budget, there remains some obstacles that could still derail the effort.

Corman said the Senate has no appetite for allowing slots-like video gaming terminals in truck stops to generate revenue to help fund the budget. Instead, it favors allowing a limited number of satellite casinos to open up around the state.

Reed said the House’s revenue plan looks to gambling expansion to raise $265 million. “That is not accidental,” he said. “We need that amount of revenue” to complete funding for this year’s budget and provide $600 million for Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities and University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school, which continues to hang in limbo.

“We’ll wait and see as we get to the final negotiations on a gaming bill what’s actually in and what’s actually out,” Reed said.

The highly controversial shale tax also remains a hurdle to cross.

The Senate’s revenue plan included a natural gas severance tax that had a slightly lower rate than the one that the House Finance Committee supported but floats based on the market price of the natural gas produced.

The House committee-approved rate would generate $200 million to $250 million for the general fund, said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks County, who championed the measure in the House. That compares to $108 million that the Senate’s rate is estimated to produce.

But along with a disagreement over where that tax rate should be set is the side issue of gas industry-friendly regulatory and permitting reforms included in the Senate plan but absent in the House version of severance tax legislation.

“If we’re going to go down that road as we said all along, looking at the industry as a whole is important and permitting reform has to be part of it or it’s not something we could support,” Corman said.

House members during the committee discussion indicated that the bill was a starting point for the chamber’s discussion of this issue that has been percolating for the past decade.

“This, at least in my view, is not the final product,” said Rep. John Lawrence, R- Chester County, adding he for one plans to introduce some amendments during a promised House debate. “I do believe this is something the people of Pennsylvania want the Legislature to take up a discussion on.”

t’s not clear whether the shale tax can be wedged into a final revenue plan for this fiscal year but Senate Democrats and Wolf seems to be keeping that hope alive based on a statement he made following the committee vote.

“I urge House leadership to bring the severance tax to a vote on the floor as soon as they return to Harrisburg next week,” he said. “This is a fair and commonsense proposal that will address our structural budget deficit. Pennsylvania is the only natural gas producing state without a severance tax and the vast majority of the tax would be paid out of state.”

The House and Senate are scheduled to return to session next week. That is the last scheduled session week before the break for municipal elections in November.  Source

Oct 15, 2017
The Seattle News
Pennsylvania explores new territory in budget fight

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s deficit-riddled finances are in new territory, as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf assembles a package to balance the state’s budget without involvement from a Republican-controlled Legislature riven by ideological and provincial disputes.

Three-and-a-half months into the state’s fiscal year, Wolf has bypassed a Legislature that hasn’t sorted out a way to finance a nearly $32 billion budget bill it passed June 30. Instead, he is working on a $2.2 billion budget-balancing strategy that relies heavily on borrowing to get the state through the year. Read more

Oct 14, 2017
New Castle News
Lawmakers skeptical of Wolf’s budget bailout

HARRISBURG — The Liquor Control Board has taken the first steps to borrow $1.25 billion to help balance the state budget, but many lawmakers remain unconvinced of the strategy.

After the state House failed to pass a series of potential fixes to the budget, Gov. Tom Wolf, in frustration, abruptly announced Oct. 4 that he will pay the bills by borrowing against future liquor sales.

Under this plan, Wolf estimated that at 4 percent interest, it would cost the state around $85 million a year in debt payments over the next two decades to borrow the funds necessary to balance the budget.

The Liquor Control Board said its annual payment to the state has topped $200 million every year in the last decade.

The Liquor Control Board on Wednesday announced that it was having legal staff review how to proceed.

“We understand the urgency driving this issue for the Governor’s Budget Office, and we are working as quickly as possible to contract with legal and financial advisors well-versed in this kind of transaction,” said LCB board member Michael Newsome in a statement.

But the plan comes as the system absorbs dramatic changes to the state’s liquor law, with an increasing number of grocery and convenience stores now able to sell wine, as well as beer. The wine sales set them up in direct competition with the state-run liquor stores. In 2015-16 before the state Legislature loosened the rules on where wine can be sold, wine accounted for about 36 percent of the sales at the state stores, LCB data shows.

Last year, locations with wine-expanded permits, including grocery and convenience stores, accounted for about 5 percent of wine sales, said Elizabeth Brassell, an LCB spokeswoman.

“It’s unfortunate we need to look at borrowing” to balance the budget, said state Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer County.

The move to borrow against the proceeds of liquor sales will also create a long-term handicap to any future move to further privatize the system, Nesbit said.

Wolf said the bond could be “callable,” meaning the state could pay off the debt early, if there was a reason to do so. But the cost of paying off the debt could make it “impractical” to move away from having the state running the wine and spirit stores, Nesbit said.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Thursday said Wolf’s plan “has some merit,” though he added that “I’d be stunned” if someone doesn’t file a lawsuit trying to stop the proposal.

DePasquale added that he has no specific information that a lawsuit is planned, but suggested that the controversial nature of the proposal suggested it was ripe for a legal challenge.

DePasquale said he’s much more certain of the merit of the governor’s plan, announced Monday, to lease the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg to a private operator. Under the plan, the state would get $200 million in an up-front payment, while maintaining control of the facility, which is home to the Farm Show and a variety of other events throughout the year.

DePasquale said he can find no evidence that his office needs to approve either plan and said as the negotiations over how to balance the budget have dragged on, there are few good solutions left.

“I can’t stress enough, this isn’t an ideal situation,” he said.

State Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder County, said that he objects to the fact that the borrowing is being used to pay off a debt.

“If we were getting a tangible asset, I could make an argument for it,” he said. “But after 20 years what are we going to have? Nothing.”

Keller said he hopes the state House moves to get the governor and Senate to pass legislation that would tap money House lawmakers say is sitting unused in reserve funds, while borrowing against the state’s tobacco settlement payments.

The tobacco settlement money goes toward health programs, including payments to hospitals to cover their costs of providing care to people who can’t pay.

Keller said that the Legislature would have to figure out how to replace that funding, but it wouldn’t involve forcing one government agency, like the Liquor Control Board, to absorb the full burden of debt.  Source

Oct 8, 2017
‘Tax killers,’ Libre and cellphones: Why the Pa. budget is 100 days late

Lawmakers beat their chests over passing a $32 billion spending plan for 2017-18 on June 30, the last day of the 2016-17 fiscal year. They figured it wouldn’t take long, maybe a week or two, to agree on how to pay for it. (And how to fill the $2.2 billion revenue deficit built into it).

How’d that work out?

Today marks the 100th day without a completed general fund budget. So the staff at PennLive set our minds to figuring out why that is. Here are some reasons that might explain why the governor and lawmakers can’t get this basic job done:  Read more

Oct 4, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf, angry about budget deadlocks, will turn to liquor stores to close deficit

Gov. Tom Wolf threatened unilateral action to help close the state’s budget deficit Wednesday, as another negotiated settlement with legislative Republicans faltered in the face of statewide opposition.

“This is not the way government is supposed to work. But I have to make sure that Pennsylvanians are not hurt, so I’m going to have to act to protect the investments that we all made earlier this year,” a visibly angry Wolf said in a mid-afternoon press conference at the Capitol.

Wolf said he would first seek to raise $1.2 billion in cash by borrowing against future anticipated payments from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the operators of the state’s liquor monopoly.

That, the governor said, would be used to pay off a lingering deficit from the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Looking to the current fiscal year, the governor said he would use his executive powers to “manage” state government and the $32.0 billion budget that funds it as best he can, in tandem with the revenues that are already coming in.

That left the door open to some spending freezes and personnel moves.

But Wolf stressed he would do everything he can to ensure that core services like aid to schools, public safety functions and funding that supports vital human services like drug and alcohol treatment are uninterrupted.

The unilateral actions were triggered by a persistent failure between the Democratic governor and the Republican-dominated state legislature to reach agreement on a plan to close a $2.2 billion gap between state spending and expenses.

All sides agreed to a $32.0 billion spending plan in late June; they have been stalemated ever since in their quest to raise $2.2 billion to pay for it.

Wednesday’s extraordinary moves are not a fait accompli.

Wolf’s Budget Secretary Randy Albright said that the PLCB borrowing would likely take about two months to close.

That leaves a window for the budget talks between Wolf’s administration and the Republican-controlled legislature to resume, and Wolf himself said he would still prefer to complete an agreed-to package.

But after several false starts – including the apparent implosion of a proposed 5 percent statewide tax on hotel rooms earlier Wednesday – an angry Wolf said he had to take action on his own.

“I’ve had enough of the games,” Wolf said, directing special anger at the 121-member House Republican caucus, whose strong anti-tax fervor has blocked several proposed tax increases Wolf believes are needed to eliminate a recurring gap between state spending and revenues.

“So I’m going to manage the finances of the Commonwealth until the House sees fit to do what it’s supposed to do.

“There will be some things that are going to be harder to do in the absence of that recurring revenue. I can’t tell you exactly what those things are,” Wolf continued.

“But the basic things that we committed ourselves to in June – protecting education at all levels, protecting seniors… doing what we need to to keep Pennsylvania in the forefront of fighting the opioid epidemic – I’m going to continue to do everything in my power to address those issues.”

It seemed that the most likely immediate step would be a needed cooling-off period between all parties.

House leaders, after a fiery session that included rejection of a move to force debate on a natural gas severance tax, engaged in a round of finger-pointing, with Republicans and Democrats blaming each other for failing to provide enough support for the hotel tax bill.

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County, blamed the Republican majority for failing to rally around tax proposals that they had insisted on as alternatives to a shale tax.

“Here we are today with the governor having to manage our problem because the House Republicans won’t be responsible, and won’t work with others to solve the problem,” Dermody said.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, countered that Republicans have given full support to several non-tax revenue proposals centered on gambling expansion and liquor reforms.

It had always been understood, he said, that Democrats would have to provide a majority of the votes for any tax increase, and they failed.

Reed later gave voice to the rising exasperation in a stalemate that has already cost the state government a credit downgrade and caused a temporary delay in some bill payments.

“This doesn’t sound like a governor who actually wants to get a budget done, but look, if he wants to securitize the revenues from the LCB, so be it,” Reed said. “It beats tax increases. so we’ll accept it.”

Albright said Wolf will be able to complete the liquor borrowing with the Liquor Control Board’s approval.

LCB members Tim Holden, Mike Negra and Michael Newsome pledged their cooperation with the governor Wednesday afternoon, releasing a joint statement that said in part:

“Although we have yet to discuss the proposal as a board or begin to delve into details of a potential arrangement, we pledge to work collaboratively with the governor’s budget office to explore a revenue-backed contract to deliver significant immediate revenue while capitalizing on the PLCB’s long-term profitability.”

While exact terms need to be negotiated, Albright said one model shows an annual extra cost of about $85 million that would be swept off the future proceeds from the liquor system.

Those payments would not take effect until the 2019-20 fiscal year, but would create that added cost to the Commonwealth from that point on.

Intentional or not, Wolf’s plan is also a possible finger in the eye to House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, and the de facto leader of the House’s tax resistance movement.

Turzai is a passionate crusader for privatization of the state store system; this securitization could as a practical matter, foil any further privatization efforts for years to come.

If it comes to that.

Wolf stressed Wednesday that despite his instant irritation, he is still open to a negotiated solution. If one is reached, passes the General Assembly, and reaches his desk, he said he can call off his emergency plan.

“If at any point in time they (the House) come up with a budget that passes muster with the Senate and that I can sign on to, yeah, I will move to that because that’s going to give me the revenues that I need to make sure that all these things are protected.

“In the absence of that, I’m going to do the best I can.”


Sept 13, 2017
State House passes $2.2 billion special funds transfers and borrowing plan to fill Pennsylvania budget hole

Note: The PA House recessed for the summer to wait till Sept 13 to pass this bill.

Special funds listed here

The Pennsylvania House has passed a $2.2 billion revenue plan that should, at the least, serve as a re-set for budget negotiations that have been stalled through most of the summer.

The bill is the majority House Republicans’ belated, no-new-taxes answer to a Senate plan passed with the endorsement of Gov. Tom Wolf in July that would have imposed new taxes on energy consumption and natural gas production.

The House plan, which passed 103-91, is a classic example of majority rule:

All the ‘yes’ votes came from members of the 121-member Republican majority, after several days of intense, intra-caucus negotiations. Fifteen GOP members joined all 76 Democrats present in voting ‘ Read more

Sept 12, 2017
Pennsylvania House GOP Hits Wall on Budget-Balancing Plan
Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives is preparing to take preliminary votes on measures designed to plug state government’s $2.2 billion budget gap with money siphoned partly from public transportation and environmental improvement programs.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Stymied by dissension among Republicans, Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives put off preliminary votes Tuesday on measures designed to plug the state government’s $2.2 billion budget gap with money siphoned partly from public transportation and environmental improvement programs.

Speaker Mike Turzai abruptly adjourned the chamber after a brief floor session, surprising some rank-and-file members of the House’s deeply divided GOP majority. The House was scheduled to return to session Wednesday, but it was not clear what the GOP majority’s next step will be in a budget stalemate now in its third month.

“Who knows?” said Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks. “We had our meetings, everybody staked out their position.”

The House GOP plan was written by anti-tax conservatives, but lacked enough support to pass the chamber. It is opposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, House Democratic leaders and southeastern Pennsylvania Republicans as a way to keep state agencies, programs, schools and institutions funded at levels supported overwhelmingly by lawmakers in a $32-billion spending agreement.

Leaders of the Senate’s Republican majority also have given no sign they would support the House GOP’s plan to tap off-budget accounts, including those for public transit agencies, environmental improvements, farmland preservation and county emergency response systems. House Republican leaders were considering how to shrink their plan’s transfers to win enough support to pass the chamber, backers said.

Meanwhile, the House’s conservative Republican leaders were being pressed by House Democrats to allow a floor vote on a package of tax increases and long-term borrowing, roughly similar to a $2.2 billion revenue package that passed the Senate in July.

With the state’s main bank account scheduled to hit zero on Friday, Wolf’s administration is warning the eight insurers that administer benefits for 2.2 million Medicaid enrollees that they may not receive their monthly payments of about $800 million on time.

That would force insurers to borrow money to make timely payments to hospitals, physicians and pharmacies that are required by federal law, said Michael Rosenstein of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Medical Assistance Managed Care Organizations.

It would be the first time Pennsylvania state government has missed a payment as a result of not having enough cash, state officials said.

Since the recession, Pennsylvania state government has reliably bailed out its deficit-ridden finances by borrowing money from the state treasury or a bank during periods when tax collections are slow.

However, this year, Wolf has warned that he is out of options to pay bills on time, and a Tuesday letter to Wolf and state lawmakers from Pennsylvania’s two independently elected fiscal officers — Treasurer Joe Torsella and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale — underscored that.

In the two-page letter, Torsella and DePasquale said they are “disinclined” to authorize the state to borrow money as long as the state’s budget is out of balance. A loan would help the state make its payments on time until the spring, when a large volume of tax collections is due.

But it would also contribute to an “economic ‘moral hazard’ that effectively increases the long-term risks to the Commonwealth’s finances,” Torsella and DePasquale wrote.  Source

Sept 11, 2017
The State
Pennsylvania House returns, with fight over $2.2B unresolved

Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives returned to the Capitol on Monday for its first session in seven weeks, but a divided Republican majority argued over a new budget-balancing plan and provided no sign that a two-month budget stalemate will end anytime soon.

The session gave members of the House’s Republican majority their first chance as a group to discuss a plan aimed at balancing the state’s threadbare budget, although it is opposed by House Democratic leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who called it “nonsense.”

The plan would avoid the borrowing, casino gambling expansion and utility service tax increases that underpins a $2.2 billion revenue package the Senate approved in July. That Senate’s package was meant to keep state agencies, programs, schools and institutions funded at levels supported overwhelmingly by lawmakers in a $32 billion spending agreement with Wolf, but it is deeply unpopular with House members.

The new House GOP plan leans heavily on siphoning money from off-budget accounts that support public transportation systems and environmental cleanups and improvements.

House Republican backers insist the money can be diverted without affecting the programs, but the Wolf administration has contradicted that. Wolf’s administration also has said that another $400 million in operating reserves counted in the House GOP plan simply does not exist.

The plan would avoid raising taxes, other than extending Pennsylvania’s 6 percent sales tax to third-party sales in online marketplaces.

A vote could occur as early as Tuesday. But, after three hours of closed-door discussions among House Republicans on Monday, it was not clear whether the House GOP plan has enough support to pass the chamber. Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, called it a “coin flip,” while Rep. Eugene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, said debate had been “back and forth” between supporters and opponents.

The Republican caucus is badly fractured between its anti-tax conservatives and southeastern Pennsylvania moderates who want a floor vote on legislation authorizing a Marcellus Shale natural gas production before they join other budget-balancing measures. Some Republicans would be satisfied by paring back approved spending by $2 billion, while some Republicans say an income tax increase is necessary to fix state government’s entrenched post-recession deficit.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, informed rank-and-file lawmakers that they would remain in Harrisburg until a revenue package passes.

If this latest plan fails, it’s also not clear what happens next. Hanging in the balance is another downgrade to Pennsylvania’s battered credit rating and about $600 million in annual aid to four universities — the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities — that give tuition breaks to in-state students.

Since the fiscal year beginning July 1, Wolf’s administration has borrowed money from other state funds to keep the state’s main bank account above zero. However, with tax collections at a seasonal low flow, Wolf has warned that he is out of options starting this coming Friday to make payments on time.

Wolf supports the Senate’s plan. That plan is built on borrowing $1.3 billion against Pennsylvania’s future proceeds from the 1998 multistate settlement with tobacco companies, raising $400 million worth of taxes on consumers’ utility bills and mounting another huge expansion of casino-style gambling. It also includes a Marcellus Shale production tax.

If lawmakers do not scrounge more money, the state’s largest teacher’s union warned that a nearly $1 billion cut to public school aid is possible. That would force schools to lay off teachers again, much as they did to survive a nearly $1 billion cut to aid in 2011, Dolores McCracken, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, told a liberal group rallying in the state Capitol on Monday.

“Overcrowded classrooms have now become the norm,” McCracken said, “and students are paying the price.” Source

Sept 10, 2017
House GOP to test budget-balancing plan in growing stalemate

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives will return to session Monday for the first time in seven weeks as a lengthening budget stalemate is drawing warnings by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf that he is out of options to make payments on time.

Hanging in the balance is $2.2 billion in program funding — about 7 percent of approved spending — and another downgrade to Pennsylvania’s battered credit rating.

At issue is how to come up with the money to keep state agencies, programs, schools and institutions funded at levels supported overwhelmingly by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in a $32 billion spending agreement.

A vote is expected this week on the latest plan, pushed by a group of House Republicans. If it fails, the next step is unclear for the House, led by Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.

The deficit
The Republican-controlled Legislature is averse to the kind of tax increase that would stabilize Pennsylvania’s deficit-riddled finances. Wolf has pledged to squeeze out savings from his workforce, health care costs and prisons, but it’s nowhere near enough, and lawmakers are in little mood for deep spending cuts.

This year, they approved what amounted to 3 percent spending increase, including nearly $600 million in annual aid to five universities — Penn State, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school — that is part of the bipartisan spending agreement, but awaiting final votes.

Since the fiscal year begin July 1, Wolf’s administration has borrowed money from other state funds to keep the state’s main bank account above zero. Come Friday, Wolf may need to start postponing payments.

The latest plan
This plan, developed by about two dozen House Republicans, would divert cash from reserves or off-budget programs, many of them for public transportation or environmental cleanups and improvements. Read more

Sept 7, 2017
The Daily Item
Today’s Editorial: Governor issues freeze warning

Gov. Tom Wolf said this week that state lawmakers will have just a few days to pass a revenue package to balance the state’s $32 billion budget before the state will begin to “get hurt” by the financial crisis.

During an interview in Pittsburgh, Wolf said he will have to start freezing some spending by Sept. 15 to prevent the state’s main bank account from dipping into red ink. Freezing spending could affect roads, schools, emergency response systems and volunteer fire companies, the governor warned.

Meanwhile, a group of rank-and-file House Republicans presented a plan to fill the state’s $2.2 billion projected deficit by diverting cash from off-budget programs.

Their plan leans heavily on siphoning money from a public transportation system fund and programs aimed at environmental cleanups and improvements. House Republican supporters insisted the money could be diverted from surpluses without affecting the programs, but the Wolf administration disputes that.

The Republican efforts to comb through budgetary accounts in search of dormant funds are noble, but mistimed.

State lawmakers have about four months from the time the governor presents a budget proposal in February until the June 30 deadline for adopting a new state budget. That would seem to be the appropriate time to identify and debate spending allocations. Doing so on the brink of a financial crisis resulting from indecision and inaction is not.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, questioned the legality of “raiding” accounts that, he said, are restricted by law. The Wolf administration also questioned the plan’s reliance on $400 million in unused program cash leftover from last year while the House GOP plan raised the prospect that it would include nearly $200 million in cuts to spending already approved, some of it for hospitals, public health programs and job training.

Wolf supports the state Senate’s revenue package, which relies on a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production and prospective licensing fees by authorizing another expansion of casino gambling across Pennsylvania.

No votes are scheduled for this week, and the Republican-controlled House is scheduled to return to Harrisburg on Monday for the first time since July 22.

It is well past time for state House members to finish their primary duty — sewing up the state budget before anyone else gets hurt. Source

Sept. 5, 2017
PRESS MEMO: On the PA House GOP Budget Plan to Raid Special Funds


To: Editorial Page Editors, Editorial Board Members, Columnists, and Other Interested Parties

From: Marc Stier, Director, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center

Date: September 5, 2017

Re: On the PA House GOP Budget Plan to Raid Special Funds

The budget plan released today by a group of Republican House members fails in the most important task before our state today: to resolve the long-term structural imbalance between expenditures and revenues. Even if every fund transfer proposed by the Republican back-benchers today were Constitutional and legal, and even if they had no impact on the commitments made by the General Assembly to provide funding for public purposes, this one-time transfer will provide almost no recurring revenues to support the state’s on-going commitments. Even if this proposal made sense, it leaves us facing a deep deficit next year — one that would grow deeper every subsequent year.

However, the plan released today is also dishonest. It claims that it will not reduce state expenditures on programs created by the General Assembly. As far as we can tell from the sketchy details offered, that is simply untrue. The Republicans have called the state’s special funds a “shadow budget.” What they offer today is really a shadow budget cut that may well total hundreds of millions of dollars. Many, if not most, of the fund transfers they propose are larger than both beginning or ending balances of the funds in question, which means that their plan cuts spending that the General Assembly has previously approved. But, rather than openly debate these programs, the group of Republican House members have called for cutting them without acknowledging that this is, in fact, their plan.

In addition, in some cases, the plan transfers monies that have been received by these special funds by bond issues. We believe that this is illegal.

We will have more details about the specific problems in the Republican proposal later. Here we just want to point to some examples of the disparities between what the Republicans claim about their plan and the truth of the matter:

  • The proposal raids $30 million from the PA Infrastructure Bank. This will lead to a reduction in loans for qualified transportation projects of at least $17.5 million.
  • The proposal raids $25 million from the Small Business First Fund, which provides loans to small businesses to help them comply with environmental regulations or adjust to defense cutback. The balance plus new revenues from principal and interest repayments only totals $19 million. This transfer will basically end this state program.
  • The proposal raids $75 million from the Recycling Fund, which funds “recycling and planning grants, market and waste minimization studies, and public information and education activities” and also finances the cleanup of illegally deposited waste on state forest. This will lead to at least a $25 million reduction in state spending for these purposes.
  • The proposal raids $357 million from the Public Transportation Trust Fund, which receives revenue from Turnpike tolls and other sources and provides dedicated operating and capital funding for public transit. This will necessarily require about a $100 million reduction in expenditures from the Fund.
  • The proposal raids $50 million from the Hazardous Site Clean Up Fund, which finances cleanup and restoration of abandoned hazardous waste sides. This will require a reduction of $11 million in spending this year.
  • The proposal raids $100 million from Keystone Recreation Park and Conservation Fund that comes from dedicated bonds as well as tax revenues, which funds acquisitions, improvements and expansions of commonwealth and community parks, recreation facilities, historic sites, zoos, public libraries, nature preserves and wildlife habitats. This will eliminate the $95 million in spending from this fund this year.
  • The proposal raids $25 million from the Banking Fund, which receives funds from fees, assessments, charges and penalties collected or recovered from persons, firms, corporations or associations under the supervision of the Department of Banking Securities. While here the Republicans may have found a real surplus, there is a reason for it: to have funds available in case a of seizure or liquidation of a financial institution, association or credit union. It is good government to maintain this surplus.
  • The proposal raids $120 million from the Multimodal Transportation Fund, which receives revenue from Turnpike tolls, motor vehicle fees, and the Oil Company Franchise Tax in order to fund passenger rail, rail freight, ports and waterways, aviation, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, roads and bridge. This would eliminate $90 million in state spending.

There are other examples of budget cuts masquerading as the transfer of surplus funds, which we will detail soon. In addition to the shadow budget cuts found in these “fund transfers,” the Republican proposal includes two other hidden budget cuts. The first is the $189 million the Governor has put in reserve until the budget is funded. This is spending that was part of the budget many of these Republicans voted for in July. They thus propose converting a temporary action by the Governor into a permanent budget cut. The second is the roughly doubling of savings expected from lapsed funds. In many cases, funds that could not been spent in a budget year are spent in the next year for purposes designated by the General Assembly. Source

August 28, 2017
House GOP members say they can balance budget without borrowing or taxes

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – “What we’re doing is probably the last rabbit in the hat,” state Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) said Monday afternoon.

The magic act to which Moul is referring is a balanced budget without borrowing and without tax increases.

He says he and a handful of fellow conservative Republicans can make money appear out of thin air; enough, they say, to put the 2017-18 spending plan to bed.

No sleight of hand, no illusion; Moul says he and his cohorts pored over pots of money, funds, and idle accounts and discovered the state’s sitting on billions of dollars. He refused to release specifics but promised to in the very near future.

“Why would you go borrow the money and pay interest on money and raise taxes if you have taxpayer money sitting right there?” Moul asked.

The Senate passed a $32 billion revenue plan that included borrowing, an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale drillers, and a tax on utility bills and cell phones. Moul says it has no home in the House.

“Some people say the Senate budget was DOA, dead on arrival. I say it was DBA, dead before arrival,” he said. “It was dead before it even got out of there.”

Skeptics steal a line from the movie “Jerry Maguire” and say, “show me the money.” They insist that all of those pots of money that Moul and his friends want to raid are protected, and the money is raised from a specific source and must be spent on a specific project, not the whims of the legislature.

Senate Republican leadership is also not happy at the budget brinksmanship. They put up a tough tax vote and zigged. They don’t appreciate that House Republicans are now zagging.

“Are there savings to be had?” asked Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson). “Absolutely, but you don’t start talking about this stuff in August. You have to be doing something when we’re in legislative session doing policy changes and that’s my real complaint. You can’t just govern on these sound bites about saving billions of dollars.”

It should be noted that both chambers agreed overwhelmingly to the spend number and now are failing to agree on how to fund it.

“Did you vote for the $32 billion budget?” Moul is asked.

“I’m gonna confess and say yes, I did, but I thought we had the revenues in place,” Moul said. That’s why he then spearheaded a deep dive, with several others, into the budget and possible pots of money that can be raided.

“I felt responsible, so I’m gonna go in there until I figure this out and I think we figured it out,” he said, again refusing to release specifics yet on where the treasure is buried.

Moul is a rank-and-file member who says he and several colleagues are tired of repeatedly waiting for the handful of legislative leaders to come up with a budget deal.

“My constituents deserve somebody who’s willing to stick with it until we get it resolved,” Moul said. “They didn’t hire a bench warmer. They want somebody in the game. I’m in the game.”

He promises new rules to the game moving forward; chief among them: don’t agree to a spend number without knowing how it’s being funded.

“Those days are gone,” he said. “We learned our lesson. It’s not gonna happen again.”

Moul and his budget hawks are expected to lay out their budget plan for House leadership Tuesday and Wednesday and hope to take it public by the end of the week. Source

August 27, 2017
What Will The House Do? It’s Pennsylvania’s $2B Question

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The question of what Pennsylvania’s House Republican majority will do about a $2.2 billion hole in the state budget is sending ripples of worry through some quarters.

Maureen Cronin, of the Arc of Pennsylvania, says staff from Arc chapters around the state call her and ask whether it’s turning into another nine-month stalemate that played out two years ago between lawmakers and the Democratic governor.

House GOP leaders have been quiet since July’s Senate passage of a bipartisan revenue plan that Gov. Tom Wolf supports.

Many House members dislike the Senate plan. Republican Rep. John Taylor, of Philadelphia, says House GOP leaders are waiting to see if rank-and-file members produce a solution.

Meanwhile, the government is operating normally. Come September, Wolf may need to start freezing program cash. Source

August 22, 2017
The Morning Call
Pennsylvania House Republican must get ‘act together’ on budget, Gov. Tom Wolf says

HARRISBURG — House Republican leaders should “get their act together” and return to Harrisburg to resolve a badly out-of-balance state budget that’s lingering seven weeks into the fiscal year and risking a downgrade of Pennsylvania’ battered credit rating, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday.

Wolf said the state’s main bank account will “run out of cash” in three weeks — about the time a large Medicaid payment is due — as a result of a seasonal low-flow period of tax collections and an entrenched post-recession deficit.

The state has spending authority under a nearly $32 billion budget bill that lawmakers passed June 30, including with the support of 98 out of 121 House Republicans. Read more

August 9, 2017
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai is taking heat for the budget stalemate

Tongue in cheek, Erin Kramer walked into Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai’s McCandless office Wednesday morning with a packed breakfast.

That’s what parents do to get their children out of bed and motivated, she said, so maybe it will work for Mr. Turzai, R-Marshall, who has become the face of the Republican-controlled legislature’s stalemate over the state’s $32 billion budget. With the House in recess until the end of August without a final plan to pay for the budget, Ms. Kramer, executive director of activist group One Pennsylvania, wanted to offer the speaker a ride to work a bit earlier than scheduled.

“I brought my Mom-mobile, my Chevy Hatchback,” Ms. Kramer said. “We’re going to invite [Mr. Turzai] to go to Harrisburg. I’m happy to drive. I have an E-ZPass.”  Read more

August 6, 2017
Lawmakers move to protect own funds during budget stalemates

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Tax increase proposals drew most of the attention when the state Senate approved a package of legislation late last month designed to bring Pennsylvania’s budget stalemate to an end, but lawmakers also tacked on a provision that would give them more leverage during any future standoff with the governor.

The bill that passed comfortably and was sent over to the House would enshrine into law the power to take the type of actions made by lawmakers during a standoff two years ago, by giving them explicit power to borrow money to pay salary, benefits and bills if their reserves run dry during drawn-out budget negotiations.

The proposed changes to the Fiscal Code, long used as a catch-all for budget-related items, said money “available” to the House or Senate through “a short-term agreement or other instrument executed with a lending institution” would be considered “augmenting revenues” and could be used to pay bills and fund paychecks for lawmakers their staff.

The borrowed money would be deposited with the Treasury Department, which would then use it to fund the Legislature’s costs. It would be paid back once a deal is done. Read more

July 30, 2017
Courier Express
130 of 253 Pennsylvania House and Senate members earn income from other sources; Does moonlighting create conflict of interest?

HARRISBURG — More than half of Pennsylvania lawmakers pull down income on top of their state paychecks, creating potential conflicts for some and casting doubt on the notion the state has a “full-time” legislature.

A two-month analysis by The Caucus also found that one in five legislators — 50 in all — are attorneys and are not required to disclose the names of their clients, raising concern among good-government activists.

“What’s wrong with this picture is lawmakers can be voting on things that directly affect their clients,” said citizen activist Gene Stilp of Dauphin County. “They make the rules and protect themselves this way. There could be a conflict. We just don’t know.”

n all, 130 of the 253 House and Senate members reported earning income from sources other than the Legislature. They hold interests in the insurance, real estate, catering, construction, legal and trucking industries, according to 2016 statements of financial interest filed with the state Ethics Commission.

Many lawmakers insist they serve in a full-time legislature and national rankings typically portray the Pennsylvania General Assembly as such. That so many lawmakers also moonlight undermines that notion, though. Read more

July 23, 2017
State wants to drill gas customers, instead of frackers

Of all the terrible, unfair and just plain stupid ideas flowing out of Harrisburg these days over how to plug a $2 billion-plus hole in the state budget, this takes the cake.

An idea is being circulated in Republican circles to get revenue from the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania – not by taxing the large companies drilling the gas, but by taxing the consumers who use natural gas.

That is not a misprint. They do not want to tax the mega-companies that sold $3.5 billion worth of Pennsylvania gas in 2016.

Instead, they want to tax gas consumers, who number nearly 2.7 million statewide, including 500,000 in Philadelphia alone. Read more

June 5, 2017
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bill would require time limits and work for Medicaid recipients in Pa.

A proposal in Harrisburg would make work requirements part of Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, as well as impose a lifetime limit of five years for Medicaid eligibility.

“We have a finite amount of taxpayer dollars. We need to make sure they go to the most needy individuals,” said Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, the sponsor of House Bill 1407.

While it’s unlikely the proposal would become law under Pennsylvania’s current Democratic governor, the idea is one that has been gaining more attention due to Republican control in Washington, D.C., and calls by some Republicans to cut Medicaid spending or completely restructure the program.

Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, is jointly paid for by state and federal dollars. Almost $1 out of every $4 in the commonwealth’s annual budget goes toward Medicaid, and Medicaid spending is second only to expenditures related to primary and secondary education. Read more


March 16, 2017
PA House School Voucher Vote

“Budgets are about priorities and yesterday 147 members of the PA House made it clear that funding scholarships for students to attend unaccountable private/religious schools is one of their top budget priorities this year. They made school privatizer Betsy DeVos proud.”
Read the entire article here

HB 250 School Vouchers-see here

See how your State Rep voted here


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