Senate Budget Hearings – Key Points

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

PA Liquor Control Board (PLCB) 

Improving E-commerce, Customer Convenience

Senate Appropriations Committee members raised concerns about the PA Liquor Control Board’s effectiveness issues with its e-commerce system and stressed the need for better customer convenience. 

Questions were also raised about who makes decisions regarding what products to sell in state stores, how the public can provide input and how the PLCB sets benchmarks for inventory.

Impact of Pandemic on Employers

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne wanted to know how the PA Liquor Control Board increased its profitability during one of the most challenging years ever and asked how that profitability performance can be continued in the future.

Senate committee members also asked what the PLCB can do to help job-creators that sell wine and spirits get back on their feet following the negative effects the pandemic has had on their businesses. 

Office of Attorney General

Safe2Say program funding

Republican Appropriations Committee members discussed with PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro the Safe2Say program, which is a resource to anonymously report safety concerns or threats to schools or to individuals, and if it is being properly funded. General Shapiro indicated the program is working well and is being emulated by other states. He also thanked Senators Pat Browne, Vincent Hughes and Scott Martin for their work in helping create the Safe2Say initiative in PA. 

Increased Funding Request Questioned 

Committee members pressed Shapiro on why his office’s budget proposal exceeds the funding request from the governor’s proposal. He indicated the office’s budget is a “cost-to-carry” budget that supports drug enforcement efforts, defends state laws and the constitution in court, administers the Safe2Say program and more.

Role of the Attorney General in Constitutional Amendment Process

In response to questions by Senators, Shapiro highlighted the role of the office in amending the state’s constitution saying the office writes a long-form explanation of the ballot question also known as the “plain-English statement.” He said the office does also review the actual ballot questions prior to publication, approving them for “form and legality.” 

Department of the Auditor General

Increased Oversight Needed for State Grant Programs, Stimulus Spending

Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill raised concerns about the state’s ability to ensure proper oversight and accountability of state grant programs and federal stimulus spending programs. Auditor General DeFoor shared these concerns, saying that grant programs and unemployment programs were major targets for fraud during the pandemic with an estimate of potentially 20 percent of claims for all pandemic relief programs are suspected to be fraudulent.

Reduced Funding Requires Creative Solutions

Funding for the Department of the Auditor General has been reduced in recent years. Senator Bob Mensch encouraged Auditor General DeFoor to take a closer look at how his office could perform existing audits more efficiently, including reforming statutorily required audits and undertaking equipment upgrades.