Tuesday, March 6 | 3:00 p.m.
Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne discussed the challenges Pennsylvania is facing in meeting the needs of a growing aging population including:
- Outreach programs for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Projections in growth for the state’s senior population.
- Programs in the state budget that impact senior citizens.
- The importance of the State Lottery and the programs it funds.
- The role of Area Agencies on Aging in providing long-term care.
- Seniors selling prescribed opioids to pay for other medications.
- The aging population in Pennsylvania compared to other states.
- Adjustments in the PACE reimbursement program.
Wednesday, February 28 | 1:00 p.m.
Appropriations Committee members questioned Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding about several topics related to farming in Pennsylvania. Questions focused on:
- The formation of the Commission of Agricultural Education Excellence.
- Use of the proposed career technical education funding.
- Efforts to eradicate the Spotted Lanternfly infestation.
- The lease-leaseback of the Farm Show Complex.
- A proposed dog license fee increase.
- The impact of Chronic Wasting Disease on deer farms.
- Funding for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System.
- Funding for the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
- The shortage of farm workers.
- Status of the Milk Marketing Board.
- EPA requirements governing the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay.
- The decreasing number of active farms.
- Inspections conducted by the Department.
- Use of mobile technology.
- The financial viability of the Race Horse Development Fund.
- Growth in the poultry industry.
- Promotion of industrial hemp.
- The Governor’s proposed funding cuts for agricultural programs and services.
- Preparations to combat Avian Flu.
Tuesday, February 20 | 3:00 p.m.
The committee heard testimony from Jeff Zibelman of Barber National Institute, David Schultheis of The Pathway School, Todd Reeves of the Overbrook School for the Blind, and Steven Farmer of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Topics included:
- Tuition disparities among schools.
- Students coming from certain geographic clusters.
- Services to help children transition from school to independent living.
- Capacity issues at each school.
- Identifying children in need of early intervention.
- The breakdown of fundraising funding that goes to administrative costs and to services.
- The definition of “severe disabilities” and the individual services they require.
- The impact of basing annual funding increases on the percentage increase in the special education subsidy.
Wednesday, February 21 | 3:00 p.m.
During a budget hearing with Attorney General Josh Shapiro, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed ongoing efforts to combat Pennsylvania’s heroin and opioid epidemic. Other topics of conversation included:
- Efforts to combat human trafficking and support victims.
- The effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences.
- Cost savings through Justice Reinvestment Initiatives and other criminal justice reforms.
- Additional steps that can be taken to prevent abuse of incarcerated individuals.
- An update on the Equifax data breach.
- Discrepancies between the Attorney General’s budget request and the Governor’s budget proposal.
- Reimbursements owed to District Attorneys, and jurisdictional issues.
- Investigation of the difficulties in upgrading the statewide radio system.
- Lawsuits filed or joined in nationally.
- Natural gas royalty payments for landowners.
- Preventing elder abuse and financial exploitation.
- Potential school safety improvements.
Wednesday, February 21 | 1:00 p.m.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was asked to justify spend requests for his office. Other topics included:
- The possibility of extending performance audits to municipal authorities.
- Digitizing documents in the Auditor General’s Office.
- Purpose of requested funding increase for the Board of Claims.
- The need for performance audits of drug and alcohol treatment programs.
- The statewide backlog of untested police rape kits.
- Statewide radio system problems and cost overruns.
- Oversight of child welfare programs.
- Impact of non-mandated audits not being done due to lack of personnel.
- The need for General Services audit in instances where state is paying for vacant real estate.
- Public sector personnel costs versus lower private sector personnel costs.
- Excessive school district reserve funding beyond 20 percent.
- Frequency of school district audits.
- The financial penalty for fire companies that consolidate.
- Audits of multi-state basis commissions.
Thursday, March 1 | 10:00 a.m.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Probation and Parole Board Chairman Leo Dunn took questions on the merger of the two operations, with the committee covering other topics as well, including:
- A moment of silence for Sgt. Mark Baserman, a corrections officer killed by an inmate at SCI Somerset.
- A review of efforts to contain Corrections salary and benefits cost.
- Projections for future prison population growth.
- Probation and Parole efforts to reduce recidivism.
- Steps that need to be taken in the wake of the assault on Sgt. Baserman.
- The cost of caring for elderly inmates.
- The cost of maintaining closed state correctional facilities prior to sale.
- Questions about statistics showing PA crime going down during drug epidemic.
- Staffing required to manage supervision of mentally ill inmates.
- Details of the Administration’s merger of Department of Corrections with the Board of Probation and Parole.
- The need for the proposed Corrections/Probation merger to be done through legislation, not executive order.
- Sentencing guidelines from the PA Commission on Sentencing and the impact on prison populations.
- Solitary confinement for death row inmates.
- Use of telemedicine to save taxpayer dollars.
- The trend in assaults on officers and overtime costs.
- Strategies to deal with drug-addicted inmates.
- The effect of Administration’s moratorium on executions.
Monday, March 5 | 3:00 p.m.
Representatives of the Department of Community and Economic Development answered questions related to Pennsylvania’s business climate. Topics of conversation included:
- The state’s chances of submitting a winning bid for the new Amazon headquarters.
- Additional funding proposed for the PA First program.
- Steps the Department is taking to support Third Class cities.
- The impact of Governor Wolf’s proposed cut to the Marketing to Attract Tourists program.
- An update on vocational education and workforce development initiatives.
- How to best match available jobs to qualified candidates.
- Ways to measure the success of economic development programs.
- Reasons why some municipalities struggle to recover from financially distressed status.
- The department’s plans to implement the Federal Opportunity Zones Program.
- Coordination of programs for businesses and host communities.
- The impact of tax and regulatory proposals on Pennsylvania’s ability to attract and retain employers.
- The availability of career and technical education programs for adults.
- Resources available for residential utility assistance programs.
- The involvement of trade unions in job training programs.
- An update on the Neighborhood Assistance Program.
- The impact of international trade on Pennsylvania’s economy.
- The latest status of the ethane cracker plant in southwest Pennsylvania.
- Governor Wolf’s refusal to allow new applications for the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program.
Wednesday, February 28 | 3:00 p.m.
Committee members explored funding requests from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources with Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. Topics discussed included:
- The possibility of non-surface-disturbance natural gas development on public lands to generate $100 million for Growing Greener III environmental initiatives.
- The number of state parks visitors compared to other states.
- Details of a DCNR/PENNVEST loan to help a private company purchase forest land to promote water protection.
- Use of $3.382 million for upgrades for the statewide radio system use in state parks and state forests.
- Efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species.
- Timber sales at $24 million level but exceeding harvest goal.
- Possible locations for ATV parks.
- The need for more camping facilities in state parks.
- Several DCNR special funds are unsustainable without General Fund assistance.
Thursday, March 1 | 3:00 p.m.
The Senate Appropriations Committee closed its second week of budget hearings by questioning Secretary Patrick McDonnell about the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018-19. Topics included:
- A proposed gas well permit fee increase.
- Continuing delays in issuing permits.
- Spending levels planned to meet Chesapeake Bay clean up mandates.
- The costs associated with meeting federal drinking water mandates.
- Repeal of the summer gas mandate.
- West Nile Virus and Zika Virus control.
- Confusion regarding on-lot sewage regulations.
- Massive storm water management regulations hitting municipalities.
- The Delaware River Basin Commission’s fracking ban.
- Efforts to remove waste tire piles.
- The need to eliminate vacant state-leased office space.
- Details of DEP’s use of special funds.
Monday, February 26 | 1:00 p.m.
Department of General Services Secretary Curt Topper shared his perspective on a number of cost-saving measures during a hearing with members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Topics of discussion included:
- Repealing outdated regulations that increase public facility construction costs.
- Updating Pennsylvania’s procurement laws.
- The Department’s role in scoring applicants for medical cannabis licenses.
- How additional funding for the Capitol Police would be used to improve public safety.
- Efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce utility costs.
- An update on the Farm Show lease-back agreement.
- The consolidation of mail operations in order to offset or minimize increases in postage costs.
- The timeframe for implementation of the COSTARS program.
- Potential re-use of vacant state-owned office space.
- Delays in renovating the East Wing rotunda.
- The transition from COGENT to IDEMIA fingerprinting service.
- An update on efforts to upgrade the statewide radio system.
- Delays and cost overruns for completion of SCI Phoenix.
- Changes to the state’s vehicle fleet, including the use of electric vehicles.
- Criteria for establishing long-term capital budget priorities.
- The effect of flat-funding the Rental, Relocation and Municipal Charges appropriation.
Tuesday, March 6 | 10:00 a.m. Continued at 1:00 p.m.
The Appropriations Committee questioned Secretary Pedro Rivera about ways to ensure the massive state education budget is being spent efficiently and effectively. Topics covered include:
- The difficulty for parents finding school performance scores online.
- The delays in cyber-charter school renewals
- The Administration’s stance on a lawsuit seeking more spending for school districts.
- The financial unsustainability of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
- The shortcomings of the current Keystone Exam system.
- The lack of Administration assistance in finding an alternative to school property taxes to fund education.
- The need for state funding for school safety to have standards for efficient, effective spending.
- The prospect of allowing state funding for community colleges to be used on operational expenses.
- The advantages of all-day vocational education over transporting students from high school to vo-tech schools.
- The need to do more to help students prepare for technical careers.
- Senate-passed legislation allowing school districts to train staff to arm themselves to boost school safety.
- Lack of measurements to justify massive new spending levels.
- The status of a pending report on agriculture education.
- Disbursement of state PLANCON funds for school construction.
- The ongoing challenge of turning around academically distressed school districts.
- The method of school districts reporting school bullying data to the state.
- The Keystone Exam graduation requirement.
- The total cost of the Keystone Exams contract since 2010.
- Problems caused by level state support for school transportation while costs increase.
- The need for security risk assessment in PA schools.
- The finding that PA spends $15,000 per student compared to national average of $11,000, but without better results.
- The need to reform the outdated charter school funding formula.
Tuesday, February 27 | 4:00 p.m.
Inspector General Bruce Beemer outlined the ways his office is working to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in state government. Topics of discussion included:
- Cases handled by the Bureau of Special Investigations.
- A potential investigation of funds allocated to the statewide radio system.
- An overview of the process of investigating welfare fraud.
- Why the report regarding the Lt. Governor’s misconduct was not released to the public.
- Fraudulent activity resulting from the opioid epidemic.
- Restitution rates for fraud.
- Federal involvement in investigating welfare abuses.
- Punishments for vendors who accept fraudulent benefits.
- Recouping investigative costs in certain cases.
Tuesday, February 20 | 1:00 p.m.
Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) Director Matthew Knittel briefed the Senate Appropriations Committee on the economic outlook for the coming fiscal year and general revenue trends. Committee members focused on several topics:
- Senior citizens paying property taxes.
- The Marcellus Shale Impact Fee and the Governor’s proposed severance tax.
- The Governor’s proposed minimum wage increase.
- Impact of the Governor’s proposed combined reporting proposal and other business tax issues.
- The move to performance-based budgeting and the additional duties of the IFO.
- Impact of federal tax reform on Pennsylvania.
- Lottery revenues and the impact of expanded gaming.
- Projected economic activity and job growth in the state.
- Differences in economic projections by the Administration and the IFO.
Tuesday, February 27 | 1:00 p.m.
Supreme Court Justice Max Baer and Justice Sally Mundy answered questions about issues relating to Pennsylvania’s court system, efforts to fight crime, and the confusion and costs associated with the court’s decision to redraw congressional redistricting maps prior to the approaching primary election. Questions focused on:
- The added costs to counties as a result of the splits in municipalities created by the court’s current redistricting map.
- How much the court paid their out-of-state expert to draw maps that don’t seem to make districts any fairer and how he was chosen.
- Whether additional dollars are going to be provided to educate voters about changing districts.
- The opioid crisis facing Pennsylvania and the need to effectively treat those who are addicted.
- The activity of problem-solving courts across Pennsylvania.
- Possible violations of the Brady Rule requiring prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense.
- Concerns about sending violent juveniles back into the community too quickly.
- State office buildings that are not being used to their full potential.
- Whether there is a policy on out-of-state travel and if it is kept to a minimum.
- The use of mental health courts and other specialty courts to handle cases more effectively and how they are created in each county.
- A status report on a statewide study to determine if counties had the right complement of judges.
- Protecting the victims of human trafficking.
- Funding for the statewide judicial computer project.
Monday, February 26 | 10:00 a.m.
The Appropriations Committee questioned Labor and Industry Secretary Gerard Oleksiak about Pennsylvania posting a higher unemployment rate than the national average in recent years. Other topics included:
- The number of Unemployment Compensation employees called back from layoffs since passage of Act 60, which allocated $115.2 million for Unemployment Compensation operations.
- Information on the number and profile of minimum wage earners in Pennsylvania.
- The estimated job loss that would result from the Administration’s proposal to raise the mandated minimum wage to $12 per hour.
- The effectiveness of current workforce development and apprenticeship programs.
- The reduction in funding for vocational rehabilitation services in recent years.
- State regulations limiting apprenticeship opportunities for non-union shops.
- The proposed elimination of the $5 million loan Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund.
- The Administration’s opposition to work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients.
- Efforts to move welfare recipients into work.
- The need to reform prevailing wage laws that drive up the cost of local government projects by 30 percent.
- The problem of volunteer firefighters not being covered by workers compensation in some circumstances.
- Support for programs that help struggling businesses avert layoffs.
- The Administration’s proposal to end funding for the New Choices/New Options program for women.
- The growing problem of PA employers unable to find workers who can pass a drug test.
- The high number of skilled positions that go unfilled in Pennsylvania.
- Details of the department’s plan to increase personnel costs while decreasing operating costs, and the total 3.2 percent funding increase.
Thursday, March 1 | 1:00 p.m.
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board discussed the effectiveness of recent liquor reform measures during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Topics of discussion included:
- The impact of Liquor Code modernization on wine sales and staff complement.
- Holiday and overtime pay for state-owned liquor store employees.
- Increases in operating expenses and decreases in license fees.
- Slower growth in sales in comparison to the growth in operating costs.
- Liabilities for pensions, benefits, workers’ compensation and other employee expenses.
- The effect of product price changes on state system profits.
- The total costs for marketing and advertising.
- Compliance issues for new licensees.
- Efforts to protect against data breaches of consumer information.
- Expenses for alcohol education, awareness and treatment services.
- The number of state-owned stores that are not profitable.
- Revenue generated through direct shipments of wine to consumers.
- Exorbitant worker’s compensation costs for LCB employees.
- Ensuring accurate forecasting of expenses, sales growth and profits.
Wednesday, February 28 | 10:00 a.m.
Representatives of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs provided an update on the programs and services designed to help men and women who have served in the military. Topics of discussion included:
- Cost of care in state veterans’ homes in comparison to the cost of care for patients in nursing homes.
- Strategies to provide more home-based care to veterans.
- Outreach efforts to improve awareness of programs for veterans.
- The benefits of the increased use of telemedicine services.
- The decreased number of available beds in state veterans’ homes.
- Cost savings from privatization of some services.
- The importance of funding the Civil Air Patrol.
- Operations undertaken by the National Guard.
- Job placement for returning service members.
- Funding to help members of the military who are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Progress in addressing veteran suicide rates.
- The use of money dedicated to the state Armory Fund.
- New ways to promote donations to the Veterans’ Trust Fund.
- The impact of federal government shutdowns and continuing resolutions.
- Long-term benefits of the two-year federal budget deal and increased military funding.
Tuesday, February 27 | 3:00 p.m.
The committee focused on efforts to prepare students for future employment opportunities during the budget hearing with officials from the Pennsylvania College of Technology. Topics discussed during the hearing included:
- Compatibility of students with the college’s programs.
- Skilled labor development initiatives.
- Efforts to attract more students.
- The college’s request for an increased state appropriation.
- Plans to capitalize on the development of the shale cracker plant.
- Capital improvement plans.
- Tuition, associated costs and student debt.
Monday, March 5 | 10:00 a.m.
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fielded questions on how expanded gaming opportunities will impact the state and how they will be regulated. Other questions centered on:
- New jobs created by new Category 4 “mini casino” licenses and other expanded gaming.
- The impact of pension costs on the board’s budget.
- The implementation of Video Gaming Terminals at truck stops.
- Regulations that will be established to ensure proper control of Category 4 casinos.
- Ensuring proper surveillance and security of VGTs.
- Gaming options at airports.
- Efforts to support Pennsylvania’s horse racing facilities.
- The amount of slot machine revenue going toward property tax relief.
- The impact of casinos on local economic development.
- Help for gambling addictions and efforts to crack down on underage gambling.
- The continued presence of the PA State Police at casinos, whether it is warranted and who pays for it.
- A status report on slot machine revenues versus table game revenues.
Tuesday, February 20 | 4:00 p.m.
During a hearing with representatives of Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Units, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee explored potential cost savings through collaboration with school districts. Other topics of conversation included:
- The role of IUs in meeting the state’s requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
- How IUs can help low-performing schools.
- Negotiations regarding the cost of health care and prescription coverage for school employees.
- Head Start and Pre-kindergarten programs provided by IUs.
- IU involvement in helping school districts that are in financial distress.
- The effectiveness of early intervention services.
- Professional development strategies for teachers.
- The ability of IUs to continue providing services under the Governor’s budget proposal.
Thursday, February 22 | 3:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Rick Flinn and Acting State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego fielded questions about emergency response as the Senate Appropriations Committee closed out the first week of budget hearings. The following topics were discussed:
- Implementation of the statewide radio system.
- 911 revenue collections and system consolidations.
- GIS mapping.
- The rewrite of Title 35.
- Financial penalties for fire companies that consolidate.
- Sex offenders serving as volunteers.
- Volunteer Loan Assistance Program for first responders.
- Responding the growing opioid epidemic.
- Efforts to attract and retain volunteers.
- The varied roles of volunteers.
- Senate Resolution 6 Commission activities.
- Online volunteer training.
Thursday, February 22 | 10:00 a.m.
Committee members questioned representatives of the State System of Higher Education about multiple topics related to the 14 state-owned universities including:
- The huge growth in the state system’s net pension liability, and post-retirement health care costs.
- Graduation rates at SSHE universities.
- Salaries for professors and average hours worked by educators.
- Consolidation of programs based on interest and needs.
- The importance of student advisors to point students to majors that may lead to good jobs.
- Lack of innovation and flexibility in workforce development to respond to trade and high-skill jobs.
- Campus security and efforts to improve safety.
- Declining student populations at some campuses.
- Working with community colleges to meet the needs of students.
- Online learning and its role in providing an affordable education.
- Costs incurred in defending grievances of employees and professors.
- Concerns about the future of the State System in light of costs.
Monday, March 5 | 1:00 p.m.
Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell fielded questions regarding tax collections, revenue trends and new lottery initiatives. Other topics of discussion included:
- Spending for IT modernization.
- Efforts to increase efficiency.
- The impact of gaming expansion on lottery sales.
- Legal issues regarding medical cannabis.
- Spending for lottery advertising.
- The projected impact of the Governor’s proposed Marcellus Shale extraction tax.
- Anticipated revenues from internet lottery sales.
- Efforts to prevent fraud and identity theft.
- Natural gas impact fee revenues.
- Electronic filing of state income taxes.
Wednesday, February 21 | 10:00 a.m.
Committee members questioned Robert Torres, Acting Director of the Department of State, about several issues relating to Pennsylvania’s current voting system, including:
- The cost to counties associated with making recommended upgrades to voting machines used in Pennsylvania.
- The need for more information on that total cost, if there will be federal help available, and what safeguards are in place to ensure accountability with vendors.
- The reason for the previous Secretary’s departure, and when the Governor will nominate a replacement.
- Concerns about hacking, scanning and other breaches of the voter registration system and how irregularities are investigated.
- The delay in closing voter complaint investigations.
- The impact of the state Supreme Court congressional map ruling on counties in terms of costs and delays and whether there is a back-up plan in place for the primary election.
- The cost burden on counties of special elections.
- Measures the department is taking to ensure the security of the Commonwealth’s voting system and making voting more convenient.
- Complaints about the licensure process and how it can be better coordinated with the Attorney General’s Office.
- The electronic filing of lobbying and campaign reports.
Thursday, February 22 | 1:00 p.m.
The Senate Appropriations Committee explored a number of issues with State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker. The following topics were discussed:
- Police body cameras.
- The proposed $25 per capita fee for municipalities that rely on State Police coverage.
- Expanding police coverage of municipalities.
- Medical cannabis and enforcement of DUI laws.
- State Police staffing complement.
- The status of the statewide emergency radio system.
- The backlog of risk assessments of schools.
- Commissioner Blocker’s upcoming retirement.
- The State Police Academy cheating scandal.
- Criminal history background checks.
- State Police overtime costs.
Tuesday, February 27 | 10:00 a.m.
The committee took testimony from the leaders of Penn State University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University. Topics discussed included:
- Declining enrollment at the 14 state-owned State System of Higher Education schools and the impact on state-related universities.
- The need for universities to contain costs to ease the tuition burden on students and families.
- Efforts to ensure campus safety.
- Steps being taken to prepare graduates for viable careers.
- The need to coordinate education with community colleges and the State System of Higher Education.
- Connecting students with careers that are in demand.
- Creating entrepreneurs and making venture capital investments.
- The importance of agricultural education and research.
- The impact of pension costs on tuition hikes.
- The need to do more to attract in-state students.
- The average student debt for each school, and how much a six-year enrollment adds to education costs.
- The discipline policy for students who skip class to take part in political activism.
- How cost-drivers in the state budget have made it more difficult to increase funding for higher education.
Monday, February 26 | 3:00 p.m.
PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards answered questions on how efforts to maintain the state’s transportation system, including
- A status report on Pennsylvania’s Transportation Funding Plan and how many projects are being completed.
- The number of structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania and efforts to rehabilitate them.
- Debt associated with the PA Turnpike and a decrease in the number of drivers using the toll road.
- The implementation of Real ID, including the cost to drivers and public education efforts.
- Auto emission requirements that are costly, arbitrary and may no longer be necessary.
- The use of round-abouts at intersections to improve safety.
- Freeze/thaw cycles in Pennsylvania and how they affect road conditions.
- The Green Light Go Program, which helps to fund traffic signal improvements.
- The vital role that ports play in Pennsylvania’s transportation system.
- Problems with congestion and new initiatives to ease the problem through real time data.
Tuesday, February 20 | 10:00 a.m.
The Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed State Treasurer Joe Torsella’s budget request. Topics covered included:
- A status report on the ABLE Fund, which provides qualifying individuals with disabilities and their families a tax-exempt way to save for disability-related expenses, as well as efforts to reach more people.
- An update on the state’s current credit rating in comparison to other states and factors determining the rating.
- Different methods of investment for the Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program’s Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP) and Investment Plan (IP).
- Why Pennsylvania’s 529 College Saving Program is not as highly rated as other state programs.
- The impact of current low interest rates on investment funds.
- Concerns about whether the Commonwealth borrowing level is financially sound.
- Disparities in revenue estimates on unclaimed property.
- The implementation of a “lost contact” policy to help prevent the reporting of securities that are not abandoned and legislation that would continue that policy.
- Special funds distributed in various accounts that could be brought into one master fund to generate greater revenue.
- Whether the department has necessary funding to complete its IT modernization project.
- Takeaways from hearings held by the Task Force on Private Sector Retirement Security and how those recommendations can be applied to Pennsylvania’s public pension system.