A report on the Legislative Session Week of February 4, 2014
Senate ready to consider Gov. Corbett’s FY 2014-15 budget request
The Senate will carefully study the $29.4 billion state General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2014-15 unveiled by Governor Tom Corbett on Tuesday before a joint session of the General Assembly. The Governor’s address is the beginning of the budget process. The next few months will provide the opportunity for the Legislature to discuss the programs and policies that are important to our constituents. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am eager to begin that process.
The Governor’s budget proposal includes a $927 million (3.3 percent) increase in state spending from the current fiscal year without increasing income taxes.
I’m happy to see that the Governor proposes to increase the commitment to Agricultural Extension and Research as well as increase funding to support the Department of Agriculture’s administration of programs. As Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, I look forward to working with the Governor to make sure that other programs, such as Ag Excellence, dairy and youth show, are properly funded.
While the Governor is not requesting an increase in Basic Education Funding, he is proposing a new comprehensive $341 million program to promote academic excellence in Pennsylvania’s public schools and improve student performance in the classroom and better prepare them for the needs of the modern workforce.
The Governor’s proposed 2014-15 budget increases funding for the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts program by $10 million, allowing approximately 1,670 additional Pennsylvania pre-school children to access high-quality early learning.
Special education funding is increased by $20 million in the budget proposal to $1.046 billion. This is the first increase in years and the money would be distributed to school districts based on the funding formula proposed by the Special Education Formula Funding Commission.
Governor Corbett’s budget proposal maintains funding for State System of Higher Education, state-related universities and Community Colleges at current levels. PHEAA would receive $25 million for a grant program targeting post-secondary 2- and 4-year middle income students.
Other notable items proposed in the Governor’s budget include:
- The Governor’s public pension reform proposal would provide General Fund savings of $170 million in state payments to SERS and PSERS and would collectively provide $125 million in savings for local school districts. The reforms would not impact the benefits of retirees or current employees.
- Several funding increases intended to promote business development and spur job creation in Pennsylvania, including an additional $4.7 million for the PA First program, $1.1 million more for Marketing to Attract Business, $600,000 in new money for World Trade PA, and an additional $500,000 for Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance (PREP).
- $22.4 million to provide home and community-based services for approximately 1,100 Pennsylvania adults with intellectual disabilities.
- Funding for four new classes of cadets for the Pennsylvania State Police — a total of 350 new troopers.
The Senate’s review of the budget will formally begin on February 10 with three weeks of hearings conducted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The state’s current fiscal year ends on June 30.
Click here to watch my comments on the budget proposal following the joint session of the General Assembly.
Ag Committee approves three bills
The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, which I chair, approved three bills at its meeting on Tuesday and forwarded the measures on to the full Senate for consideration
Senate Bill 1107 amends state law to prevent the issuing of a kennel license to an immediate family member and/or anyone living in the same household of an individual who has had a kennel license revoked.
Senate Bill 1149 addresses fertilizer use on turf.
Senate Bill 1188, which I introduced, makes a number of changes to licensure, fines, fees and the pari-mutual tax structure regulations under the Race Horse Industry Reform Act of 1981 (RHIR) to properly fund regulatory oversight and drug testing.
Measure protects seniors’ PACE/PACENET eligibility
A measure that would protect senior citizens from being pushed out of the PACE and PACENET programs by Social Security cost-of-living adjustments was approved by the Senate Tuesday and sent on the Governor for enactment into law.
House Bill 777 also removes Medicare Part B premiums as income to increase eligibility for PACE and PACENET.
PACE and PACENET provide prescription drug assistance to approximately 300,000 older Pennsylvanians. Current income eligibility levels for PACE are set at less than $14,500 for a single person and less than $17,700 for a couple. PACENET, which covers those individuals with incomes exceeding PACE maximums, is open to individuals earning between $14,500 and $23,500 and couples with incomes between $17,700 and $31,500.
Other bills approved by the Senate this week include:
House Bill 374 requires Westmoreland County park police officers to obtain the same training as municipal police officers.
Senate Bill 807 creates a voluntary license for individuals who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work or social welfare from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
House Bill 1559 requires school entities to adopt youth suicide awareness and prevention policies and incorporate youth suicide awareness and prevention education into their curriculum. The bill returns to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.