Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings FY 2016-2017

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A daily summary of budget hearings, with key issues and hearing video.

Budget Summaries (includes Video/Audio)

Aging

Tuesday, March 1

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Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne discussed the state services provided to the 2.7 million Pennsylvanians over the age of 60 during a budget hearing on her Department with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • Services provided by senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging.
  • PennCare and home- and community-based services.
  • Decreasing Lottery reserve funds.
  • Support and demand for PACE/PACENET and prices charged for drugs.
  • Increasing the retirement age.
  • The property tax burden on senior citizens.
  • The growing impact of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Lottery machines in state stores.

Agriculture

Tuesday, March 1

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Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding discussed the Governor’s proposed zero funding in Fiscal Year 2016-17 and line-item vetoed funding in Fiscal Year 2015-16 for key agriculture programs and initiatives during a budget hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The Race Horse Development Fund and the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania.
  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed strategies and their impact on farmers.
  • The role of Conservation Districts.
  • Flat state funding of agriculture research and extension.
  • Avian influenza.
  • State support for fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
  • The Homegrown by Heroes program supporting veterans.
  • Dog licenses and dog law enforcement.
  • Food safety inspections.

Attorney General

Thursday, Feb 25

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The Senate Appropriations Committee closed out its first week of budget hearings by focusing on the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) with Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The OAG’s Child Predator Unit.
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Pennsylvania’s war on drugs.
  • Funding for outside counsel.
  • Act 191 of 2014, which created a prescription drug monitoring system.
  • OAG’s Mobile Street Crimes Unit.
  • OAG staffing levels and pension obligations.

Auditor General

Tuesday, Feb 23

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The panel asked Auditor General Eugene DePasquale about several audits currently being conducted by the office. Discussions included:

  • The need for the Auditor General’s Office to do the work of the Public Employee Retirement Commission closed by Governor Wolf.
  • The financial threat posed by ailing municipal pension plans.
  • The fate of school districts that are running out of money due to the Governor’s veto of $3 billion in education funding, but aren’t in a position to take out loans.
  • The final phase-in of technology funding for Auditor General’s Office.
  • Incidents of the Auditor General’s Office finding “missing” funds in Pennsylvania school districts facing tax increases.
  • The need for the Auditor General to have the authority to audit municipal authorities.
  • The use of independent audits when performing Auditor General audits.
  • How the state can alert taxpayers to school district cash balances.
  • The status of audits of 26 correctional facilities.
  • Progress in the audit of Philadelphia School District.
  • The need to trim pension management fees while not sacrificing investment returns.

Corrections/Probation and Parole

Monday, Feb 29

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Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Board of Probation and Parole Chairman Michael Green outlined steps to reduce costs. Topics discussed included:

  • Pennsylvania’s corrections system has fewer inmates but costs keep going up, driven by pension and overtime costs.
  • Challenges of handling inmates with mental health issues.
  • The threat to Corrections Officer safety due to overcrowding.
  • SCI Camp Hill now uses natural gas and is saving millions of dollars.
  • The system cannot attract enough psychiatrists and psychologists for prison work.
  • The use of the Vivitrol heroin overdose drug in prisons.
  • The need for legislators and communities to receive advance notice before a prison facility is closed.
  • The high cost of aging, high-risk inmates.
  • State funds used for the diversion of state prisoners to local county facilities for short-term sentences.
  • Transitioning from Graterford Prison to the new SCI Phoenix.
  • Use of tele-medicine and tele-psychiatry, and Community Corrections Centers.
  • The possibility of privatizing institutions to curb skyrocketing personnel costs.
  • The need to maintain the independence of the Victims Advocate Office.
  • The effect of Veterans Courts on corrections system.
  • Abuse of leave time by Corrections personnel.

DCED (Department of Community and Economic Development)

Thursday, Feb 25

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin regarding the impact of funding delays created by the governor’s budget vetoes.

Other topics included:

  • Opportunities to create and retain manufacturing jobs.
  • Ways to make Pennsylvania more business-friendly to attract employers.
  • The economic benefits of the Film Tax Credit program.
  • Ways to leverage public-private partnerships to increase tourism and attract new businesses to the state.
  • The possibility of further military base closures in Pennsylvania.
  • Proposed increases in funding for Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance.
  • The impact of the natural gas industry on economic development and job growth.
  • The cost and benefits of weatherization programs.

DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

Wednesday, Feb 24

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The Senate Appropriations Committee sought details on Department of Conservation and Natural Resources funding requests from Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. Topics included:

  • Declining oil and gas lease revenue hits and the possibility of opening additional land to leasing.
  • Plans for DCNR to purchase more land.
  • Funding levels of Pennsylvania Heritage Areas.
  • State forest management.
  • The importance of Act 13 natural gas development impact fee revenue.
  • ATV riding trails, ATV fatalities and the number of youth safety instructors.
  • Governor Wolf’s veto of support for PA hardwoods promotion.
  • The performance of the Deer Management Assistance Program and its impact on hunting.
  • The necessity for greater use of public-private partnerships to save tax dollars.
  • The need for more information on the department’s request for $2.5M for the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps.
  • The status of oil and gas leases for land under Pennsylvania rivers.
  • Ideas for attracting more visitors to state parks and forests.
  • The Administration’s plan to raise waste haul tipping fees to fund DCNR programs.
  • The need for all state departments to control spending.

DEP (Department of Environmental Protection)

Thursday, Feb 25

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Senate Appropriations Committee members questioned DEP Secretary John Quigley about his department planning to implement new federal coal regulations despite being stayed by a court ruling. Other topics included:

  • The possibility of a “Growing Greener III” initiative to pay for Chesapeake Bay’s multibillion-dollar cleanup.
  • The availability of natural gas and pipeline infrastructure.
  • The possibility of extending drill permits to boost natural gas development.
  • The size of the proposed Marcellus Shale tax and the existing community impact fee.
  • The need for ongoing public-private cooperation in coal refuse fired plants and mine reclamation.
  • The importance of listening to farmer feedback on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan.
  • Efforts to help municipalities reduce groundwater runoff.
  • The need for DEP to act on local concerns about hazardous site cleanup projects and groundwater pollution.
  • The financial challenge facing the Hazardous Site Cleanup Fund and the Underground Storage Tank Fund.

DGS (Department of General Services)

Tuesday, March 1

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Secretary of General Services Curtis Topper was questioned by members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on what his department is doing to cut costs.   Other areas of questioning focused on:

  • An update on security efforts across the Commonwealth and within the Capitol Complex as well as concerns about facilities within the Capitol that are in need of constant maintenance.
  • The PA Standards Laboratory and whether it is duplicative with other departments.
  • Reductions in department manpower, the amount of space the department is now using, and an ongoing effort to reduce vacant state property to save tax dollars.
  • The need to improve and better implement technology to cut costs and be more effective.
  • The use of natural gas in state buildings to save money.
  • The sale of the State Hospital in Harrisburg, where employees who previously worked there will go and what costs will be realized.
  • Leasing state vehicles, including reimbursement rates, the cost to maintain and insure leased vehicles and whether they are cost-effective alternatives.
  • Developing new approaches in dealing with the fiscal challenges facing the state.

DHS (Department of Human Services)

Monday, March 7

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Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas reviewed his budget, one of the largest in state government.  The committee discussed:

  • Efforts to move disabled and senior citizens into community settings, as opposed to more expensive nursing home care.
  • The governor’s decision to blue line funding for vital health care areas, including critical care hospitals, burn centers and neo-natal units.
  • Backlogs in forensic mental health facilities, and the long waiting lists for services.
  • The effectiveness of early intervention services and the need for adequate funding.
  • Concerns about the wages for direct care workers.
  • Reductions in office space to reflect the lower employee complement of the department.
  • Projections that the Lottery Fund may continue to decline and how programs will be funded.
  • The planning process for closing and consolidating facilities to ensure the best cost-savings while still providing services.
  • The number of youth development centers and their effectiveness in helping children.
  • Rising pension costs and their impact on the department’s budget.
  • A failure to fund autism services despite the significant need.
  • The length of time it takes to place patients in home and community-based services.
  • Information on the governor’s plan to increase the minimum wage for employees under his jurisdiction.
  • Fragmentation in the delivery of mental health services.
  • The relationship between the department and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Services, particularly in terms of funding.

Drug and Alcohol Programs

Wednesday, Feb 24

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The drug abuse 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:

  • Medical and follow-up care for individuals with drug and alcohol addictions.
  • The use of Vivitrol (naloxone) in drug overdose and abuse treatment.
  • The potential benefits of criminal justice reform pertaining to drug crimes.
  • Costs associated with drug abuse.
  • Resources for police departments and other groups to combat the drug epidemic.
  • Public outreach and awareness efforts to combat drug abuse.
  • Follow-up care for patients after an overdose.
  • The effectiveness of prescription drug take-back programs.
  • Initiatives to combat gambling addiction.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug addiction among veterans.
  • Recovery schools for students being treated for addiction.

Education

Tuesday, Mar 8

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The committee discussed Pennsylvania’s education appropriations with Secretary Pedro Rivera, noting that Pennsylvania’s per pupil spending is among highest in the nation. Other topics included:

  • The governor’s proposed increases in spending on head start and pre-k counts programs but not the early intervention program for IU’s.
  • Driving out all new school spending through the new Basic Education Funding Formula.
  • The fate of Keystone Exams.
  • State grants for high-skill careers.
  • Library funding and modern uses.
  • EITC Tax Credits for businesses in 2016-17
  • The department’s requested funding increase exceeds the rate of inflation.
  • Wage and benefit contracts at local level.
  • Prevailing wage mandates driving up the cost of school construction and repairs.
  • Pennsylvania has a declining number of students but is spending more money.
  • Pensions divert 30 percent of every school dollar from classroom.
  • The Administration’s use of a dedicated fund to pay off pension debt.
  • Ideas to reduce education costs.
  • Greater utilization of vocational-technical schools.
  • The impact of the governor’s minimum wage executive order on school districts.
  • Efforts to combat bullying in schools.
  • The level of special education funding.
  • The new Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Education.

Governor’s Office/Governor’s Budget Office/Executive Offices (2015-16 Budget)

Monday, Feb 22

The Senate Appropriations Committee 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:

  • The dangerous precedent of vetoing Legislature-approved appropriations and then seeking funds from state Treasury.
  • Concerns over transparency in spending of state funds when the Administration spends money not appropriated by Legislature.
  • School funding has increased every year, but Administration continues spreading debunked claim of “billion dollar education cut.”
  • Schools will have to close in March or April due to Governor’s veto of $3 billion in 2015-16 education funding.
  • The long history of Pennsylvania structural deficits, and the new spending driving Governor Wolf’s tax hikes.
  • Critical care access hospitals face closings due to Governor Wolf’s veto of Legislature’s funding.
  • The problem of the Administration planning to spend $200 million more than the Independent Fiscal Office projects in revenue.
  • The negative impact of the Administration’s cuts of key funding for farmers.
  • The need for cost efficiencies at state government and school districts.
  • Statistics show that academic performance is not based on how much tax money spent, but how it is spent.
  • The agreement to merge the Corrections Department with Probation and Parole will save tax dollars and cut recidivism.

Governor’s Office/Governor’s Budget Office/Executive Offices (2016-17 Budget)

Monday, Feb 22

  • Pennsylvania casinos are facing new taxes on top of existing high taxes.
  • The need to consider zero-based budgeting.
  • The need to find funding for seniors programs in the face of declining Lottery revenues.
  • The feasibility of the Independent Fiscal Office analyzing the cost of collective bargaining agreements and their impact on budget.
  • The need to renegotiate pension management fees and cut waste in current education funding before allocating more.
  • The reliability of Marcellus Shale severance tax revenue estimates amid an industry downturn.
  • Welfare fraud investigations save $12 for every $1 spent on probes.
  • The problem of skyrocketing pension costs taking money out of classrooms.

Health

Wednesday, March 8

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PA Health Secretary Karen Murphy and Physician General Rachel Levine discussed efforts to improve health care services to Pennsylvania residents and answered the questions on the following areas:

  • Why regional poison centers were blue-lined by the governor.
  • Automating the death certificate process and making it more efficient.
  • The schedule for inspecting hospice services.
  • Pennsylvania’s low status in health indicators.
  • A reduction in the cystic fibrosis program funding and other programs that were cut by the governor.
  • Raising the age for screening for various cancers.
  • Exceptions to the Clean Air Act.
  • Efforts to combat Lyme disease and the cost of implementation of Lyme Disease Task Force recommendations.
  • Allegations against practices by Planned Parenthood and whether an investigation took place.
  • New, more medically stringent EMS guidelines.
  • A status report on the EMS operating fund and outreach efforts.
  • Recruiting and retaining primary care physicians.

Independent Fiscal Office

Monday, Feb 22

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee 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 economic impact of Governor’s Wolf’s proposed tax increases and how they will affect seniors and middle-class working families.
  • Pension costs and long-term budget impacts of pension debt.
  • The effect of Pennsylvania’s demographics on long-term budget projections.
  • Projected economic activity and job growth over the next several years.
  • The reasons behind increased costs in the Department of Corrections in spite of the reduction in the inmate population.
  • The possibility of the IFO taking on some of the responsibilities of the Public Employee Retirement Commission.
  • Potential reductions in revenues from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee.
  • The impact of a minimum wage increase on employment.
  • Current taxation of casinos in relation to other states.
  • Projected growth in lottery revenue compared to the services funded by lottery proceeds.

Judiciary

Tuesday, Feb 23

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During a hearing on the proposed budget for the Judiciary Justice Max Baer Justice Debra McCloskey Todd answered questions on a variety of issues related to Pennsylvania’s court system including:

  • Efforts to keep children out of foster care and in homes.
  • The high number of juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania and what role the Legislature should play in court challenges to those sentences.
  • How judicial vacancies are filled at the local level.
  • The effectiveness of special veterans courts in reducing recidivism and saving money.
  • Cost-cutting measures being implemented internally, including bans on out-of-state travel.
  • The impact of health care, retirement and pension costs on budget increases and actual dollar figures per year associated with them.
  • A status report on efforts to unify computerized functions in the judiciary, the costs associated with them and concerns about whether they are reaching too far.
  • An ongoing study of judges’ caseloads by county and the rationale in determining how many magisterial district judges are located in each area.
  • The growing incidence of elder abuse.
  • The need to make Pennsylvania better at handling commerce and business law cases.
  • The level of transparency regarding judicial salaries.

Labor and Industry

Monday, Feb 29

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During a budget hearing with Secretary of Labor & Industry Kathy Manderino, members of the Appropriations Committee discussed reforms that impacted her Department. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The Vocational Rehabilitation Fund and potential changes to the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
  • Centers for Independent Living and assistive technology.
  • State employment indicators.
  • Unemployment Compensation reform/seasonal workers/call center wait times.
  • The Department’s technological deficiencies.

Liquor Control Board

Tuesday, March 8

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Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Chairman Tim Holden, Board member Michael Negra and Executive Director John Metzger discussed costs savings initiatives. Other issues discussed during the Appropriations Committee’s budget hearing included:

  • The benefits of modernization vs. privatization.
  • Special pricing of products and expanded hours of operations.
  • Profit margins for the overall system and for individual outlets.
  • Complement of employees and associated pension costs.
  • PLCB transfers to the General Fund.
  • Liquor license and permit fees.
  • Competitiveness with neighboring states.
  • Training programs for management and employees in establishment that serve alcohol.

Military and Veterans Affairs

Monday, Mar 7

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Acting Adjutant General Brigadier General Anthony Carrelli discussed the importance of state veterans’ homes during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Other topics of discussion included:

  • The growth in employee pension costs in recent years.
  • Factors driving the rise in long-term care costs.
  • Security at state military installations.
  • Job opportunities for veterans after separating from military service.
  • Total dollars received from the federal government by the Department.
  • Problems identified during an inspection of the Gino Merli Veterans’ Center.
  • Home care for veterans.

PEMA/Fire Commissioner

Wednesday, Mar 2

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PEMA Director Richard Flinn fielded quires on questions related to the state’s ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies, including:

  • An update on PEMA’s new facility and when the move will be completed.
  • Questions about hiring a state meteorologist and whether it is duplicative, costly and unnecessary.
  • Coordination among county emergency management planners.
  • Outreach efforts to disabled individuals during disasters.
  • The high cost to municipalities of paid fire and police personnel.
  • The renewal of county hazard mitigation plans.
  • Training to first responders in train derailments involving hazardous chemicals.

PSSHE (PA State System of Higher Education)

Wednesday, March 2

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State System of Higher Education Chancellor Frank Brogan, Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael Driscoll, and East Stroudsburg University senior Drew Johnson discussed programs and initiatives underway at PASSHE’s 14 member universities.  Specific issues discussed during the budget hearing included:

  • Strategic planning for the system’s future.
  • The size of universities’ reserve funds.
  • Impacts of subsidizing underperforming universities.
  • The ability to eliminate redundancies of services.
  • The impact of rising pension and benefit costs.
  • The per-credit tuition initiative.
  • Percentages of graduates working in their field of study and staying in Pennsylvania.
  • PASSHE programs for veterans.
  • Initiatives to improve campus safety.

Revenue

Monday, March 7

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned the impact of Governor Wolf’s proposed tax increases during a hearing with the Department of Revenue.

Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The growth in operational and pension costs for the department.
  • The possible inclusion of Lottery machines in state-owned liquor stores.
  • The effect of the governor’s proposed tax on casino promotional play.
  • Efforts to improve Sales and Use Tax collection.
  • Lottery marketing efforts and potential new sales outlets.
  • The ability of the Department of Revenue to coordinate with the Department of Human Services to prevent fraud.
  • Natural gas extraction tax revenue estimates that appear to be greater than what the market can support.
  • The scope of the governor’s Executive Order pertaining to the minimum wage.

State Police/Homeland Security

Wednesday, Feb 24

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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:

  • Funding for future cadet classes.
  • Current and projected complement of troopers and the impact of impending retirements.
  • Police use of body cameras.
  • The growing cost of State Police coverage of municipalities.
  • The number of troopers assigned to Gaming Enforcement.
  • Potential changes to Pennsylvania’s Amber Alert system.
  • A new electronic records management system.
  • Local law enforcement use of radar.
  • Impact of the heroin epidemic on police resources and communities.
  • The backlog in DNA testing for criminal cases.
  • The recent massive traffic accident on Interstate 78.
  • An update on full implementation of the statewide radio system.

State Related Universities

Wednesday, Mar 2

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Presidents of the State-Related Universities took questions from members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on a number of issues related to higher education, including:

  • The affordability of college education and the large amount of debt students are incurring.
  • The amount of funding requested by the state –related universities, particularly during the current budget crisis.
  • A status report of trends in enrollment rates at various campuses.
  • The significant role that universities play in economic development and their ability to attract and retain quality faculty and staff.
  • The amount of financial aid that the institutions offer and the percentage that is awarded to in-state students.
  • The rationale for admissions decisions and whether in-state students are treated equitably.
  • What return  Commonwealth residents see from their investment in universities, including health care.
  • A status report on retention and graduation rates.
  • Concerns about adequate funding for agricultural research and development.
  • A lack of state control over benefits and compensation and the need for greater transparency in compensation decisions.
  • Pension costs and how much they have increased in recent years.

Transportation

Monday, Feb 29

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PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards fielded questions from members of the Senate Appropriations Committee about the state’s new transportation funding program and a plan to eliminate registration stickers in favor of a more modern monitoring system.   Other topics discussed included:

  • Status of projects being funded under Act 89, the Transportation Funding Plan, particularly structurally deficient bridges.
  • The elimination of registration stickers and the use of license plate readers by police.
  • A proposal to change driver license renewal from four to eight years to cut costs.
  • Efforts to promote the use of natural gas in Pennsylvania, including the construction of vehicle fueling stations.
  • Legislation that would allow motorists who have minor infractions to avoid losing their license for long periods of time.
  • The need to maintain smaller rural roads.
  • Funding that is being diverted for use by the State Police.
  • The impact of a merger between Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific railroads.
  • The cost of responding to Winter Storm Jonas.
  • The decline in the department’s Shared Ride appropriation.
  • Duplication between the services provided by the Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Treasury

Tuesday, Feb 23

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The Wolf Administration’s questionable spending during the budget impasse was the main topic of discussion during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s hearing with Pennsylvania Treasurer Timothy Reese. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The potential consequences of unauthorized spending on future budget debates.
  • Spending practices in other states during a budget impasse.
  • The status of state investments and investment strategies.
  • Changes to the time frame for claiming unclaimed property.
  • Measures to improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars.
  • New methods to support small business growth and development.