Senate Budget Hearings – Key Points

Wednesday, March 11, 2021

Efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) and the Administration’s failure to engage with local communities regarding the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were key topics discussed at today’s Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearings with the Department of State and Department of Environmental Protection.

Department of State

Critical Election System Upgrades

The proposed budget includes a $4.5 million increase for the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE), including $2.3 million for continued system upgrades to assist in election modernization. Members sought assurances the upgrades would be completed on time and be effective, unlike several other IT projects undertaken by the administration.

Ensuring an Accurate Election Audit

Acting Secretary Veronica Degraffenreid was directed to provide details on the use of risk-limiting audits — a method of ensuring that election results match voter selections reflected on paper ballots. Information requested includes the exact audit parameters and other factors that would influence the accuracy of the audit.

Reimbursing Counties for Voting Machines

Under the Voting Machine Debt Service Act passed by the General Assembly in 2019, a total of $90 million of financing was available for counties to purchase new voting equipment in 2020. The hearing included discussion of the total amount of grant funding requested by the counties and how much has been reimbursed to the counties to date.

Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs Delays

The performance of the department’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs was discussed, including the fact that member constituents seeking professional licenses report long delays. Given this, the department’s proposed $1.4 million cut to bureau operations was questioned.

Department of Environmental Protection

Senators Strongly Oppose RGGI, Criticize Lack of Communication, Engagement

The Administration’s plan to require Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) drew strong opposition during today’s Senate Appropriations Hearing on the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) proposed budget.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne (R-16) strongly urged the Department and Administration to better engage with local communities, elected officials and economic development boards that will be most significantly impacted by the Commonwealth joining RGGI.

Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, questioned how the department can conclude that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has support, given the bipartisan opposition by the legislature and other groups and the $300 million price tag.

RGGI Will Cost Jobs, Devastate Communities

Senator Joe Pittman (R-41) told DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell that implementation of RGGI will shut power plants down and have a devastating economic impact on jobs and communities, making it more difficult to fund solar power, wind power and other energy initiatives.