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Lawmakers on June 5 unveiled bipartisan proposals to increase investment on infrastructure projects, but a key leader in the Pennsylvania Senate said action might not come until the fall.
Action has begun on bills in both houses of the General Assembly that would complement Gov. Tom Wolf’s “Restore Pennsylvania” infrastructure plan.
House Bill 1585, sponsored by state Reps. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, and Thomas Murt, R-Montgomery, has gathered 99 co-sponsors in the 203-member state House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 725, sponsored by Sens. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, and Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, has gained 25 co-sponsors in the 50-member Pennsylvania Senate, according to a statement from the Wolf administration.
“We have a real opportunity to make impactful infrastructure investments in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a statement. “Restore Pennsylvania is the only plan presented that can actually address the needs in every community. We have an opportunity to provide all of our students’ internet access, an opportunity to help our municipalities truly address the crippling effects of blight, an opportunity to help families devastated by flooding when the federal government turns its back on them, and so much more. We need to seize this opportunity for all Pennsylvanians.”
In an interview with the Capitolwire website, however, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the measures won’t likely get to a vote before fall. He said that more details were needed from backers of the measure and the Wolf administration before he would consider them for a floor vote. Meanwhile, Corman said Republicans this summer would begin to fashion their own infrastructure plan, Capitolwire reported.
Funded by a severance tax on natural gas drillers, Restore Pennsylvania will invest $4.5 billion over the next four years in significant, high-impact projects across Pennsylvania, many of which were identified in a statewide information-gathering process, the Wolf administration said.
The state Senate on June 5 unanimously passed a three-bill criminal justice reform package. The bills, which now move to the state House for consideration, address county probation, sentencing and support for victim services.
Senate Bill 500, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, reinvests in county probation and parole departments, providing evidence-based guidance and training to ensure probationers become productive citizens, not permanent prisoners.
Senate Bill 501, sponsored by Killion, would change sentencing guidelines and increase access to drug treatment programs in order to reduce recidivism. Treatment programs, according to a study by the state Department of Corrections, would save taxpayers more than $33,000 per participant. It also provides automatic parole for individuals serving nonviolent, short-term sentences—prioritizing resources for more serious offenders—and equips parole agents to more effectively deal with probation violations.
Senate Bill 502—sponsored by Sens. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, Art Haywood, D-Montgomery, and Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia—is aimed at improving victim rights communication and expands eligibility requirements for victim compensation.
The Senate on June 4 unanimously passed legislation that would create the Military Family Educational Program, or “Pennsylvania GI Bill for Families.”
Senate Bill 589, sponsored by Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, would amend the state’s Military Code by establishing a new program providing five years’ worth of higher education benefits to the spouse or children of a Pennsylvania National Guard member who reenlists to serve another six years.
“When a Guard member completes their initial six-year enlistment, they are likely to have started a family and a career,” Regan said. “The GI Bill for Families will help incentivize the Guard member to re-up for another six years. Furthermore, knowing that the military is not just an individual commitment, but a family commitment, this legislation supports our National Guard families, who are called on to sacrifice when their spouse or parent is training once a month or deployed.”
SB 589 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. Wolf has repeatedly signaled his support for the bill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure to strengthen penalties for the delivery or distribution of illicit drugs that results in serious bodily injury to the user, such as a permanent disfigurement or the loss or impairment of a body part or organ.
Senate Bill 93, which is sponsored by Bartolotta, would be a tool district attorneys could use to hold drug dealers more accountable for damages their business causes.
In a statement June 6, Bartolotta said the “heroin and opioid epidemic has destroyed too many promising lives and left countless others with the scars of addiction,” Bartolotta said. “As we continue to explore solutions to this public health crisis, we need to ensure the people who are inflicting this pain on our communities suffer the consequences of their crimes.”
Pennsylvania currently lacks a statute pertaining to serious bodily injury resulting from overdoses. The absence of that statute often forces district attorneys to refer these cases to federal prosecutors who can seek tougher penalties under federal law, according to a statement from Bartolotta’s Senate office.
The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Source
August 14, 2018 The Daily Item Review: Pa. infrastructure among worst in nation
HARRISBURG — A new state-by-state comparison of the quality of roads, bridges and dams nationwide finds that the condition of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure is among the worst in the country.
The review, by Wall Street 24/7, a finance-oriented website, concluded that only Rhode Island, Hawaii and West Virginia have infrastructure in worse shape than Pennsylvania.
About seven out of every 100 miles of roadway nationwide are in poor condition and 9 percent of bridges nationwide are structurally deficient, meaning that they are in need of some repair, the Wall Street 24/7 report found.
Seventeen percent of dams in the country have a high hazard potential — meaning a functional failure would result in the loss of life, the report noted.
Statewide, about 7.4 percent of the state’s roads are considered to be in poor condition; 18.3 percent of the bridges are deficient and 53 percent of the state’s dams are considered high risk.
The rankings were first published Monday in USA TODAY. Also Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that road crews have already applied more than 109,000 tons of patching material to repave 1,000 miles of road this construction season.
“PennDOT has accelerated its work to repair potholes and resurface roads after a difficult winter, but more work is required, and our paving contracts are aimed at shoring up pavements to better resist pothole formation,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.
As part of an accelerated effort to fix the state’s roads, crews are starting 17 new interstate projects ahead of schedule this summer and next year, Wolf said. That’s on top of 85 interstate projects already planned.
Neal Shader, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said that the designation of a dam as “high hazard” indicates it would pose a risk to the public if the dam failed, not that the dam is in poor condition.
While more than half of the state’s dams are considered “high hazard” dams, less than 20 percent of them are in poor condition, he said. Of the 746 state-regulated high hazard dams in Pennsylvania, 147 are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, he said.
“DEP is continuously working with dam owners to find solutions to repair or remove dams in unsatisfactory condition,” he said.
The state has made some strides in fixing the number of bridges considered structurally-deficient. In the last decade, the state has cut the number of structurally-deficient bridges in half – from 6,034 in 2008 to 3,081, as of June 30, Department of Transportation spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said. Those gains have come even as another 200 aging bridges are judged to be in poor condition each year because of normal wear-and-tear, he said.
The review also examined how much states spend on their highway repairs per driver and found that Pennsylvania’s spending is among the highest in the nation.
Only Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia, Vermont, South Dakota and Kentucky spend more per driver on highway work than Pennsylvania, which spends $773 per driver.
The additional funding provided by the 2013 move to increase the gas tax has allowed the state to complete 2,519 construction projects worth $5.5 billion, Kirkpatrick said. Almost 800 projects are underway now.
It’s not clear how much of that work factored into the new state rankings, since the report was based on data from 2015 and 2016. Source
June 12, 2018 pennlive.com After Turzai’s squeeze play, Pa. Senate panel will vote on abortion-ban bill
A state Senate committee could act as soon as Wednesday on a bill banning Down syndrome abortions after state House’s top Republican forced the issue by threatening to hold up legislation helping childhood victims of human trafficking.
PennLive was the first to report the hardball play by Turzai’s office, which set up a cross-Capitol staring contest between the two, Republican-controlled chambers.
Greenleaf’s office confirmed Turzai’s tactic, claiming it was bewildered because the committee had been planning a vote on the bill all along. Those close to the matter, however, said Greenleaf’s committee, along with the Senate at-large, was lukewarm on the ban bill.
News of the meeting outraged reproductive rights advocates, who accused Turzai of holding trafficking victims hostage as he tried to force a vote on his bill.
As it’s currently written, Greenleaf’s bill requires law enforcement to report any encounter with a minor who has been subject to sexual exploitation. The legislation also calls for the provision of safe, long-term housing, education, life-skills training, and counseling to the children who have been exploited.
Turzai’s bill would have added the ban language, which would likely have flown in the face of the constitution’s single-subject rule, banning the passage of legislation jammed with non-germane proposals.
“I’m not sure you could get a better example of the dirty underbelly of politics than using the plight of exploited children to advance an unconstitutional abortion ban that will never become law,” Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, the reproductive rights’ group’s political wing, said in a statement.
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.
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.
Nov 21, 2017 pennlive.com Pa. lawmakers getting a boost in their salary, starting in December
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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 8, 2017 pennlive.com ‘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
Sept. 20, 2017 Penn Live Pa. Senate rejects House revenue package; sets up next play in Pennsylvania budget drama
The hope is, that action – in the ways of the Legislature – will actually give a shove forward to final resolution of a budget impasse that has begun leading to unpaid bills and, now, a credit downgrade for state government.
But, also in the ways of the Legislature, nothing is guaranteed.
The Senate voted 43-7 to reject the House GOP majority-crafted plan that its leaders claim would resolve the gap in the state’s $32.0 billion general fund budget through a combination of borrowing and one-time accounting moves, but no new taxes.
That plan passed in the House last week with zero Democratic votes.
In the Senate, however, only a block of fiscally conservative Republicans led by Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, supported the House plan.
Senate leaders, including Corman, made clear earlier this week that while they are rejecting the House package as the solution, they are open to including various elements of it in a negotiated settlement.
Both plans include, for example, some form of advance payment on the state’s share of national tobacco settlement payments and expansions of legalized gambling.
The Senate leaders have also said they are open to some reduced amount of transfers from dozens of state special funds, though not the full $630 million proposed by the House.
“We do want to negotiate together to get to a final conclusion,” Corman said.
The Senate’s action to reject the House amendments to the fiscal code bill leaves two competing revenue packages out there: One passed by the Senate in July with more than $500 million in tax increases; and that passed by the House with its no-tax-increase budget package.
The goal of Wednesday’s action, said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, is to force both chambers into a conference committee.
In that process, three senators and three House members named by chamber leaders form a panel charged with moving a common bill to their respective chambers for final action.
Any final bill would require four votes, including two from the members of each chamber.
Corman explained his rationale: “We need to resolve this. We’re not looking to throw more spears back and forth, which has gone on too long. This, we thought, was the best way to do that.”
The House is not in session this week, but is scheduled to return on Monday. Source
Sept 19, 2017 The Herald Pa. Senate returns, considers House budget balancing plan
HARRISBURG – Members of the state Senate returned to the Capitol Monday to decide whether to accept a House plan that rejected most of a plan approved by the Senate in August.
It’s far from clear how quickly lawmakers will reach a compromise, so those who count on state funding are starting to make plans to cope if state dollars dry up.
The state House last week passed a plan to balance the budget without any tax increases. The plan does this largely by taking out the equivalent of a short-term loan using the proceeds from the state’s share of a settlement with the tobacco industry and tapping money in more than 30 special funds that Republicans say have more money than necessary.
A Senate plan passed in August would have balanced the budget by tapping the tobacco settlement dollars while also adding a new tax on gas drilling and tax increases on heating and other utilities.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Friday that because the state’s running out of money, he’s delayed a $1.169 billion payment to managed care providers for Medicaid. The administration also delayed its scheduled $581 million payment as the state’s share of the employer contribution for the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System.
Those moves may not be making alarm bells ring yet. But more serious trouble could be right around the corner, said Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
“No one’s really panicking yet,” DiRocco said. “If they miss the October subsidy payment, people will start to pay attention.”
In a statement released by his office, Wolf said he spoke with leaders in the House and Senate over the weekend about the need to complete the budget.
“We made progress, and with more work, I believe we can reach a compromise in the coming days,” Wolf said. “It will take all sides, including both chambers and my administration, working together and considering all ideas to get this done. And if a compromise is reached, there is a commitment from all involved to put up a vote before Oct. 1st.” Read more
August 4, 2017 PennsylvaniaWatchdog.org Pennsylvania in focus: Pa. state treasurer calls short-term line of credit ‘extraordinary and without precedent’
Pennsylvania’s state treasurer Thursday authorized a short-term $750 million line of credit to keep the state’s general fund from dipping into negative territory.
Treasurer Joe Torsella says the state hasn’t had to borrow that much so early in the fiscal year in 25 years.
“The necessity to step in and financially prop up the General Fund just six weeks into the fiscal year is extraordinary and without precedent,” said Torsella in a statement. “Cash flow borrowing this early and of this magnitude has not happened in the last 25 years. As a state, we once again find ourselves in uncharted waters, not only having to borrow so early in the fiscal year, but doing so with an underlying General Fund Budget that is not yet balanced.”
Torsella, a Democrat who took office in January, is urging legislators to “pass a responsible revenue package.” 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 27, 2017 Lancaster Online Highlights of Pennsylvania Senate’s $2.2B revenue package
NATURAL GAS PRODUCTION
The state would raise an estimated $100 million a year by imposing a new volume tax on natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest natural gas field. The effective tax rate for 2017-18 would be 2 cents per thousand cubic feet, although the annual tax rate may range from 1.5 cents to 3.5 cents. That would raise significantly less than what Wolf had originally sought. In February, he proposed a 6.5 percent tax on the value of the production. In 2015, he had proposed a 5 percent production tax, plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet. Money from a new volume tax would ensure that proceeds from an underlying impact fee imposed on Marcellus Shale wells in 2012 do not fall below $200 million a year.
The Senate plan would borrow $1.3 billion against future revenues that Pennsylvania will receive from its share of a landmark 1998 multistate settlement with tobacco companies. With interest and borrowing costs, that could mean Pennsylvania will repay $2 billion over 20 years.
NATURAL GAS SERVICE
A tax on natural gas utility service would be imposed at 5.7 percent, or $5.70 on a bill of $100, to raise an estimated $300 million annually. It was a 5 percent tax when it was eliminated starting in 2000. Natural gas is Pennsylvania’s most prevalent home-heating fuel, used in more than half of the state’s roughly 5 million households. It also presumably would be a growing revenue source as the number of natural gas-heated households rises.
A tax on home electric bills would rise to 6.5 percent from 5.9 percent currently.
A tax on home and cellular telephone bills would rise to 6 percent from 5 percent currently.
Pennsylvania’s 6 percent sales tax would extend to sales in online marketplaces run by third-party vendors.
The Senate’s revenue plan counts on $200 million from an expansion of casino gambling in Pennsylvania, already the nation’s No.2 casino state.
Senate Republicans have had differences with Wolf and House Republican leaders. A proposal brokered by Senate Republicans would hinge on Pennsylvania’s casinos being able to bid on a satellite casino license allowing up to 700 slot machines and 100 table games at a new facility, and paying licensing fees to operate casino-style gambling on websites and mobile applications. Many details remain under wraps.
The state would take $200 million from the nonprofit Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association, an organization created by state law in 2002 to offer medical malpractice insurance. The association sued in federal court to block the state from borrowing that amount in the recently ended fiscal year. Source
July 26, 2017 The Sentenel Pennsylvania Pa. Senate GOP agrees on budget hole fix including borrowing, taxes
HARRISBURG — Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Senate agreed on Wednesday on a plan to close a $2 billion hole in the state budget with a mix of taxes and borrowing, including a new severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and higher taxes on consumers’ utility bills.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, of Centre, emerged from closed-door talks on Wednesday night to announce details of the GOP’s plan to help balance the $32 billion budget, including a proposal to borrow $1.3 billion against Pennsylvania’s annual share of the 1998 multistate settlement with tobacco companies.
The Senate plan could face a tough road in the House, where majority Republicans last week rejected a proposal to leverage the tobacco money and are likely to resist calls for higher taxes.
The gas industry has long objected to a severance tax, saying it would harm the state’s competitiveness.
“Obviously, they’re not thrilled,” Corman said. “They think they pay enough in taxes, and they probably are accurate.”
But he said Senate leaders had reached an agreement with the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on “significant permitting and regulatory reform” for gas drillers.
The severance tax is expected to raise about $100 million each year. That’s on top of a so-called impact fee assessed on gas drillers that’s currently distributed among the state government and local communities where drilling takes place.
Consumers, meanwhile, would face $405 million in new or higher taxes from a gross receipts tax on their natural gas, electric and telecommunications bills.
The state ended the gross receipts tax on natural gas bills in 2000 as part of a broader restructuring of regulations over natural gas utilities and service.The Senate GOP plan restores the tax on natural gas bills while raising taxes on telecommunications and electricity. The tax on natural gas would be 5.7 percent. The tax on electric bills would rise by more than a half-percent to 6.5 percent, while the tax on phone bills would increase by 1 percent, to 6 percent.
GOP senators also agreed to assess Pennsylvania’s 6 percent sales tax on vendors who reach a certain volume of sales on Amazon, eBay and other online marketplaces.
The Senate plan also counts on $200 million in revenue from an expansion of casino-style gambling that hasn’t been approved and is still the subject of a disagreement with the House.
House Republicans failed to agree on a way forward last week, rejecting a proposal that would have combined $1.5 billion in borrowing with hundreds of millions of dollars drawn from programs not included in the state budget, an approach designed to avoid higher taxes.
That left it to their counterparts in the Senate, which convened briefly Wednesday afternoon before recessing for private discussions that lasted for several hours.
Wolf allowed the badly out-of-balance budget to take effect without his signature. He has said he could support borrowing to help close the deficit, if accompanied by increased taxes he views as necessary to avoid a credit downgrade. Democratic lawmakers have said he wants a tax package of $700 million to $800 million.
Failing to balance the budget could result in a freeze on some government spending, potentially affecting schools and counties that administer social service programs. Additionally, nearly $600 million in state aid to Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school remains in limbo. Source
July 23, 2017 Philly.com 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 30, 2017 senatordinniman.com Dinniman Votes Against “Borrow-and-Spend” Budget Plan
HARRISBURG (June 30, 2017) – State Senator Andy Dinniman decried the $32 billion spending plan passed by the Pennsylvania Senate today as a “borrow-and-spend” plan that fails to address the real reasons behind Pennsylvania’s ballooning deficit. Read more
June 28, 2017 NBC10 Pennsylvania Senate Approves Bill to Allow Workers to Bring Guns to School
Pennsylvania’s Senate is advancing legislation that would set ground rules for school districts that allow employees to possess a gun on school grounds.
Senators approved the bill 28-22 on Wednesday after an emotional hour-long debate. The bill still requires approval in the House, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf says he opposes it.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Don White, says he wants to give school districts as many tools as possible to protect children from would-be killers. Sen. Daylin Leach opposed the bill, and read a letter on the Senate floor written by educators who survived the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut saying that having guns wouldn’t have made them or their students safer.
“As the educators who survived Sandy Hook explained, the reality of an active shooter is far different from the movies,” Leach said. “Teachers with guns would not have prevented that shooting, and won’t prevent future shootings. Flaring tempers and honest mistakes are part of daily life in schools, which is why guns shouldn’t be.” Read more
See Vote in the Senate here – Dinniman-No/ Killion-No/ McGarrigle-No/ Rafferty-No
June 13, 2017 Philly.com Should Pa. Change how lieutenant governors are elected?
HARRISBURG — The legislation would require an amendment to the state constitution, meaning the bill would have to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be put to a voter referendum. As a result, it couldn’t take effect until after next year’s gubernatorial election.
If the legislation becomes law, future candidates for governor would be able to select their running mates after winning their party primaries.
The legislation has 15 cosponsors, including two Democrats, Argall said, adding that several other states grant gubernatorial candidates the ability to choose running mates. According to the National Lieutenant Governors Association, Pennsylvania is among only 13 states where lieutenant governors are elected during the primary election independently of the governor. They are then yoked together on the general election ballot. Read more
Senate Bill 1 – Pension Reform- view here