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Special Report: Budget Hearings
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I participated in the first week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2016-17 Fiscal Year. The fact that the 2015-16 Fiscal Year budget was partially vetoed by Governor Wolf has immensely complicated the process. We heard detailed reports from cabinet secretaries and other officials regarding the budget. Click here for a schedule of upcoming hearings. The following is a recap of each of those hearings. To watch video of the hearing, click each individual title.
We questioned DEP Secretary John Quigley about his department moving forward with the Obama Clean Power plan despite it being stayed by a court ruling. Other topics included:
The Committee spoke with DCED Secretary Dennis Davin regarding the impact of funding delays created by the Governor’s vetoes. Other topics include:
We questioned Budget Secretary Randy Albright about Governor Wolf’s threatened huge cuts in education despite the General Assembly’s appropriation increasing funding for every school line item in 2015-16 budget. Other topics included:
We discussed the need to address spending and cost-drivers in the budget during a hearing with Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) Executive Director Matt Knittel. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:
The Wolf Administration’s questionable spending during the budget impasse was the main topic of discussion during our hearing with Pennsylvania Treasurer Timothy Reese. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:
The panel asked Auditor General Eugene DePasquale about several audits currently being conducted by the office. Discussions included:
During a hearing on the proposed budget for the Judiciary Justice Max Baer and Justice Debra McCloskey Todd answered questions on a variety of issues related to Pennsylvania’s court system including:
State Police Commissioner Colonel Tyree Blocker provided an update on the cadet class cheating investigation at the State Police Academy during the Appropriations Committee budget hearing on the Pennsylvania State Police and the Office of Homeland Security. Other issues discussed during the hearing included:
The Senate Appropriations Committee sought details on Department of Conservation and Natural Resources funding requests from Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. Topics included:
The opiate epidemic in Pennsylvania was the main point of discussion during a public hearing with Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis. Topics discussed during the hearing included:
Attorney General Kathleen Kane represented the Office of Attorney General and discussed the office’s budget. Other topics included:
Legislation to Expunge Minor Criminal Records Signed into Law
Legislation allowing individuals who have served a sentence for nonviolent second and third degree misdemeanors to petition the court to completely erase their criminal histories from public view has been signed into law.
Senate Bill 166, which I voted for and was unanimously approved, provides for an order of limited access for these misdemeanors, meaning that these histories are still available to law enforcement, but not available to anyone else. An individual may petition the court for an order of limited access after 10 years of maintaining a crime-free record. District attorneys may file an objection to this petition. Second and third degree misdemeanors include crimes such as criminal trespassing and vandalism.
This legislation is expected to help counter high rates of recidivism, relieve an overburdened pardon system, and provide more opportunities for ex-offenders to join the workforce.
Firefighter Relief Package Cosponsored
I’ve signed on to legislation providing relief to volunteer firefighters, volunteer fire companies, and other first responders.
Senate Bill 1127 exempts firefighters from the sales and use tax when purchasing protective gear and communications equipment using their own personal money. The cost of protective equipment alone is in the thousands of dollars. We should do whatever we can to make it more affordable to be a volunteer firefighter.
Senate Bill 1126 will help volunteer firefighters companies, ambulance companies, and rescue squads fundraise by making it easier for them to obtain Special Occasion Liquor Permits for fundraisers.
We’ve seen a steady decline in the number of volunteer firefighters serving in Pennsylvania for years. I think state government should do whatever we can to make it easier for volunteer firefighter companies to continue to serve their communities.
Vanport Bridge Rehabilitation Begins
The Vanport Bridge rehabilitation project begins this Monday. The $15.87 million Vanport Bridge Rehabilitation Project includes the painting of the structure, a deck overlay, new bearings, dam replacements, lighting improvements and electrical upgrades on the bridge that carries I-376 over the Ohio River.
Single-lane traffic in each direction will be maintained on the bridge through late October, 2017. All ramps at the Beaver (Exit 38B) and Midland (Exit 38A) interchange will remain open to traffic throughout the project.
The project is slated to conclude in early 2018.
Are you interested in staying up-to-date on PennDOT projects in our area? Click here to sign up for their press releases to be delivered to your inbox.
EITC/OSTC Scholarship Program
I’d like to take a moment to extend my sincere appreciation to Waste Management of Pennsylvania, which recently contributed $19,000 to schools in the 47th Senate District through the EITC program. If your company has contributed, please let me know.
In 2001, Pennsylvania enacted the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. It allows companies to donate their corporate state taxes to local schools instead of paying them to the state. Similarly, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program allows businesses to contribute to provide tuition assistance for students residing within the boundaries of a low-achieving school to attend another public or nonpublic school.
If your business pays any of these taxes, you are eligible to donate your tax
money to local schools of your choice educating children from our area:
Reforms to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Beginning March 1, able-bodied adults who receive SNAP benefits and do not have any dependents will be required to fulfill a federally mandated work requirement in order to receive benefits for more than three months during a three-year period.
SNAP recipients who will be affected by this change will be notified by the Department of Human Services in order to discuss the work requirement further and take the appropriate steps moving forward.
Beaver County Farm Accepted into Farmland Preservation Program
I’m pleased to announce that a 79-acre tract of farmland in Darlington Township, Beaver County, has been accepted into the state Farmland Preservation Program.
The program guarantees a future local food supply and contributes to the local economy. The program is a partnership between all levels of government and non-profit organizations - with a common goal of saving prime farmland for generations to come.
Do your Taxes For Free
The IRS Free File Program provides free access to the industry’s most innovative and secure tax software. Every taxpayer with a 2015 Adjusted Gross Income of $62,000 or less may visit www.IRS.gov/freefile to prepare, complete and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost. Free state return options are also available.
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Senate Box 203047