Budget Hearings Recap

Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings and Videos
FY 2020-2021

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

Aging

Monday, February 24 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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Funding for prescription assistance, Adult Protective Services and other programs to support senior citizens were discussed during a budget hearing with Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres. Topics covered during the hearing included:

  • Reducing the waiting list for services for older Pennsylvanians.
  • Concerns about the rollout of the new Community HealthChoices program.
  • How supplemental funding cuts in last year’s budget and increased funding in next year’s budget would affect the waiting list for services.
  • Delays in funding for senior centers.
  • The importance of supporting Adult Protective Services and programs to help seniors age in place.
  • Whether funding in the Governor’s budget would be sufficient to meet the needs for Adult Protective Services and other services for older Pennsylvanians.
  • Potential savings in prescription assistance programs and how those savings would be used.
  • The use of prescription rebate programs to save money.
  • The impact of skill games on the Lottery Fund.
  • Reimbursement rates for struggling service providers.
  • The number of Adult Protective Services reported and substantiated.
  • Efforts to combat dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • How the Department of Aging is working to enroll eligible seniors in PACE or PACENET.
  • Concerns about the declining number of available beds at nursing homes and other care providers and the impact of a minimum wage increase.
  • Improvement projects that could be completed at senior centers under the Governor’s proposed budget.

Agriculture

Monday, March 2 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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Senate Appropriations Committee members discussed several topics of interest to Pennsylvania’s farmers during the budget hearing with Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding. The topics included:

  • The proposed transfers from the Race Horse Development Fund.
  • The Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program.
  • Efforts to support dairy farms.
  • Amusement ride inspections.
  • Farm land preservation.
  • Efforts to make it more convenient to license dogs.
  • The economic potential of agri-tourism.
  • The PA Preferred program.
  • The impact of prevailing wage requirements.
  • Addressing food insecurity.
  • Efforts to meet the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay watershed requirements.
  • The impact of MS4 on farmers.
  • Funding to address the Spotted Lanternfly and Chronic Wasting Disease.
  • USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
  • State grants to promote agriculture.
  • Biosecurity initiatives.
  • The future of industrial hemp agriculture in Pennsylvania.
  • Issues surrounding organic farming.

Attorney General

Thursday, February 20 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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Topics discussed in the hearing included:

  • The recent opioid settlement and how proceeds would be distributed to Pennsylvania communities.
  • Plans for the budget of the Safe2Say Something program aimed at reducing school and community violence.
  • Efforts to reduce prescription drug and fentanyl overdose deaths.
  • The governor’s proposed 75-percent cut to school safety budget.
  • The Attorney General’s controversial legal opinion on sales of 80-percent receivers, which are not considered firearms under federal law.
  • The lack of a consistent data breach strategy across state agencies.
  • An update on the lawsuit over natural gas drilling payments owed to landowners.
  • Details about the office’s new Conviction Integrity Unit, and efforts to combat illegal gambling operations. 
  • The impact of the office receiving less funding under the proposed budget than requested.
  • Treatment for drug offenders, including medically assisted treatment and abstinence based.

Auditor General

Monday, February 24 | 1:00 p.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed a number of topics with Auditor General Eugene DePasquale including:

  • The impact of reductions in funding on operations in the Auditor General’s Office.
  • Fraud, waste and abuse in the Department of Human Services.
  • Pharmacy benefit managers and transparency in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Audits of managed care organizations.
  • The Auditor General’s public advocacy of the legalization of marijuana.
  • Cybersecurity initiatives.
  • Voter registration integrity.
  • The Governor’s proposed fee for state police service.
  • Enforcement of the state Dog Law.
  • Bidding for school transportation services.
  • Performance audits and reviews of workforce development agencies.

Board of Pardons

Wednesday, February 19 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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A budget hearing with Pennsylvania Board of Pardons Secretary Brandon Flood offered members of the Senate Appropriations Committee an opportunity to discuss the Board’s critical role in the criminal justice system. Some of the topics of discussion included:

  • How modernization, reform measures and improved communications could improve the pardons process.
  • Ways to reduce recidivism and help more pardoned individuals successfully reintegrate into society after incarceration.
  • The differences between clemency, pardons and commutations.
  • The amount of time needed to review applications and complete the pardons process.
  • How many of the individuals whose sentences were commuted went on to commit subsequent crimes.
  • The disadvantages of Board members expressing personal opinions on controversial criminal justice topics.
  • How the Board works cooperatively with the Office of the Victim Advocate.
  • The cost and impact of IT upgrades.
  • An update on the Expedited Review Program for non-violent marijuana convictions.
  • How technology upgrades could change the makeup of applicants.
  • Special considerations for veterans.

Budget Secretary/Governor’s Executive Office

Wednesday, March 4 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee closed out three weeks of budget hearings with a session with Budget Secretary Jen Swails. Topics discussed included:

  • Transfers from the Race Horse Development Fund.
  • The cost of higher education.
  • The prevailing wage’s impact on taxpayers.
  • The proposed fee for State Police Service
  • Reduced funding for school safety.
  • Changes to the state’s contract for the expansion of internet service.
  • Solvency of the hazardous site cleanup fund  
  • The reliance on supplemental appropriations
  • The year-end revenue estimate for FY 2019-20.
  • Projections for the Lottery Fund.

Community and Economic Development

Thursday, February 27 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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During the budget hearing on the Department of Community & Economic Development, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed a number of issues with Secretary Dennis Davin including:

  • Policies affecting affordable housing.
  • The performance of Ben Franklin Technology Partnerships.
  • The effectiveness of tax credit programs.
  • The benefits of Erie’s Opportunity Zones.
  • The impact of the CRIZ program.
  • Levels of international investment in Pennsylvania.
  • The governor’s threatened veto of legislation providing for an energy and fertilizer manufacturing tax credit.
  • The impact of the Governor’s proposed carbon tax.
  • The implantation of a Hotel Occupancy Tax in PA counties.

Conservation and Natural Resources

Tuesday, March 3 | 1:00 p.m.

 

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Committee members sought proposed spending details from Secretary Cindy Dunn, and discussed the following topics:

  • The request for more state park and forest rangers, and the scope of their authority.
  • DCNR involvement in Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.
  • The projected increase in personnel costs and decrease in operating costs.
  • The need to permit more cell and radio towers on DCNR land.
  • The importance of agri-tourism in attracting extended-stay visitors.
  • The projected decline in timber sales.
  • The quality of state park radio system.
  • A timeline for closing the gaps in PA Heritage Trails.
  • The impact of the state moratorium on oil and gas leases on state park land.
  • The impact of the reduction in Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenue.
  • The status of deployment of the P25 State Radio System on DCNR land.
  • Efforts to remove hazardous low-wall dams.
  • High water levels at Presque Isle State Park and the dire need to study alternative breakwater strategies.
  • Efforts to reduce acid mine drainage.
  • Recreational ATV riding in state parks and forests.
  • The slight decline in state park attendance last year.
  • Impact of the spotted lanternfly on state parks and forests.
  • The level of sustainable General Fund support of DCNR operations.

Corrections/Board of Probation and Parole

Wednesday, February 19 | 1:00 p.m.

 

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The committee questioned Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Board Chairman Theodore Johnson about the following topics:

  • Assurances the proposed Corrections budget did not contain hidden taxpayer costs and that no more prison closures were planned.
  • The success of inmate drug treatment and efforts to limit overtime costs.
  • Safety and other issues facing the transition into SCI Phoenix and the status of the old prison.
  • Reducing the number of parolees committing violent crimes and ensuring the safety of corrections officers.
  • Staff exposures to mailed substances, recidivism rates for community corrections centers, and the work of Quehanna Boot Camp.
  • Efforts to protect female inmates from human trafficking.
  • County drug treatment referrals and potential delays in treatment.
  • An increase in inmate suicides, and legislation that would postpone consideration of parole if an inmate commits violence while incarcerated.
  • Administering the Prison Rape Elimination Act while protecting the due process rights of corrections officers accused by inmates.
  • The need for inmates to find work after release.
  • Requiring the state Victim Advocate to be a licensed attorney to represent victims before the Board of Probation and Parole. 
  • The use of medical parole to cut costs, and dealing with absconder parolees who avoid monitoring and apprehension.

 

 

Drug and Alcohol

Tuesday, February 18 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Drug and Alcohol Secretary Jen Smith about the following topics:

  • Departmental funding and federal funding.
  • The impact of methamphetamines in communities.
  • Funding to address the Hepatitis C epidemic in Johnstown.
  • The proposed “Recovery to Work” program.
  • Gambling addiction programs and potential correlations between gambling and opioid abuse.
  • Abuse of drugs obtained from veterinarians.
  • The effectiveness of faith-based recovery programs.
  • State support for local EMS programs, especially related to overdose cases.
  • The use of medication-assisted treatment programs.
  • Costs incurred by patients with insurance coverage.
  • The lack of accountability regarding a $10 million grant from the Bloomberg Family Foundation.
  • The impact of the Governor’s proposal to drain the Horse Racing Fund on gambling addition programs
  • The use of methadone in treatment programs.
  • The average length of methadone treatment.

Education

Thursday, February 27 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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1:00 p.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Education Secretary Pedro Rivera about a number of issue related to school funding and education, including:

  • How the governor can justify cutting funding for school safety grants from $60 million to $15 million, given their vital importance in protecting students.
  • The increased capital costs associated with providing full-day kindergarten. 
  • Ongoing efforts to expand a pilot dyslexia program statewide and fund more career technical schools in Pennsylvania.
  • The administration’s unfunded all-day kindergarten mandate and its effect on school property taxes.
  • A new program that would require CPR education in schools.
  • The statewide rollout of Act 64 providing school districts with flexible instruction days.
  • Funding allocations for remediating “toxic schools” that pose health risks to students.
  • Why it has taken so long to address asbestos and lead issues in schools.
  • The role that telemedicine can play in providing students with access to doctors and counselors.
  • A new agricultural education curriculum for students.
  • The pending approval of a community college in Erie and how that college would be funded.
  • Improving literacy and providing earlier screening for dyslexia.
  • The popularity of the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program and the need to fund it.
  • The effectiveness of mental health assessments for students and how often they should be done.

Environmental Protection

Wednesday, March 4 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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Questions for DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell included:

  • The request for additional Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Source Abatement staffing.
  • Oversight of stream and river buffer projects to reduce sediment.
  • Pennsylvania’s spending and performance in Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts versus Maryland’s and Virginia’s.
  • The solvency of the Hazardous Site Cleanup Fund and the administration’s proposed $1 per ton increase to the tipping fee on municipal waste landfill deposits to bolster it.
  • The administration imposing additional fees on entities considered “public water supplier,” hurting churches and others.
  • Cleaning up PA’s scrap tire and waste coal piles.
  • The need for NOAA weather data to back up the administration’s RGGI & TCI climate change plans, which will hit PA consumers with new costs. 
  • Help Presque Isle State Park, which is being ripped apart by erosion and reducing Lake Erie algae blooms
  • PA farmers implementing costly measures to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
  • While residents are forced to pay stormwater management fees, some state agencies are refusing to pay.
  • What the administration plans to do for dislocated coal plant workers.
  • Making DEP’s budget financially sustainable.

Health

Wednesday, February 26 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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During the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the budget request for the PA Department of Health, senators raised concerns about the Coronavirus, Lyme Disease and other health threats with Health Secretary Rachael Levine.  They also asked about:

  • Reductions in Lyme disease funding, given the rise in cases in Pennsylvania.
  • The effectiveness of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program in fighting opioid abuse.
  • A potential bias in a health study on the impact of fracking.
  • New conditions that are being added for eligibility in the state’s Medical Marijuana Program and how profits are being taxes. 
  • What is being done to regulate the delivery devices used for vaping.
  • The important role that telemedicine can plan in making health care more available and affordable. 

Human Services

Wednesday, February 26 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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Committee members questioned Secretary Teresa Miller about Pennsylvania being ranked low in moving residents from welfare to work. Other topics included:

  • How the state will fund counties’ needs-based budget requests.
  • Reducing the waiting list for intellectuals with disabilities.
  • Managed Care Organizations and Community HealthChoices.
  • Regulation changes for serving individuals with intellectual disabilities.
  • Preventing nursing homes closures.
  • Ensuring that $3 million PA funding for Planned Parenthood would not be used for abortions.
  • Reimbursement rates for independent pharmacies.
  • The need to use school to curriculum to help break the cycle of poverty.
  • Getting students into all-day technical schools to avoid need for state assistance later.
  • Including lottery winnings in calculating public assistance.
  • Increasing awareness and providing services for mental health issues within farm families.
  • Rising Medical Assistance Transportation Program costs and how to prevent abusing the aid.
  • Elimination of the PA Workwear program.
  • Assurances that the administration has dropped its plan to raise taxes on local ambulatory service centers, which save tax dollars.
  • Details on nontraditional child care services offered by the commonwealth.
  • Performance Based Budgeting Board review finding that DHS performs worse than other states in many areas.

Independent Fiscal Office

Tuesday, February 18 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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The committee and Director Matthew Knittel discussed the following topics:

  • The prominent spending figures in the proposed 2020-21 state budget, beyond General Fund numbers.
  • Confidence in economic growth, and the need to be cautious.
  • Competing estimates on how the proposed combined reporting requirement would expand the tax base.
  • PA’s skyrocketing property taxes impacting the ability of seniors to stay in their homes and contribute to the economy.
  • The net benefit of the Film Production Tax Credit.
  • The effectiveness of workforce development programs to move workers from retail to skilled jobs.
  • The urgent need for welfare reform to bring able-bodied workers into our aging workforce.
  • The impact a $15 minimum wage would have on PA job losses.
  • The effect of games of skill on PA Lottery sales.
  • The misuse of tax credits designed to give PA communities better access to high-speed internet.
  • A constitutional amendment to end the tactic of using supplemental state budgets to cover up annual cost overruns.
  • The ability of Performance-Based Budgeting to change budgeting behavior.
  • The projected impact of changing demographics on the workforce, and how to attract younger workers.
  • The effect of challenges facing PA agriculture on the PA economy and the effectiveness of the two-year-old Dairy Investment Program.
  • PA’s tax rankings for PIT, Sales, Property Taxes and total versus national average.
  • The impact administration proposals on natural gas development and the economy’s reduced reliance on oil prices.
  • Cost estimates for most recent collective bargaining agreement with unionized state workers.
  • The governor’s failure to fund career and technical education and the opportunity to boost wages.
  • The potential use of dynamic modeling to assess effects on the future PA budgets.

Labor and Industry

Monday, February 24 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak about a number of concerns regarding unemployment compensation, vocational rehabilitation and workforce development. Topics of conversation include:

  • Technology upgrades to improve the unemployment compensation system.
  • How the Department can address the waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Ways to boost workforce development, including internships and apprenticeships.
  • How the Department and the General Assembly can work together to fill the gap created by the rising number of retiring workers.
  • The importance of modernizing apprenticeship programs.
  • The solvency of the unemployment compensation system.
  • The impact of potential minimum wage increases.
  • How we can support job training programs in skilled trades.
  • Financial benefits of allowing school boards to exempt construction projects from prevailing wage requirements.
  • How we are measuring the performance of the state’s workforce development programs.
  • The decline in the number of approved disability claims and how the Department is working to improve efficiency.
  • Costs and benefits of job training programs.
  • How we track job losses in the agriculture industry.
  • Focusing workforce development programs on the next generation of farmers.
  • Benefits of the Strategic Early Warning Network in preventing job losses.
  • An update on the Employment First program for disabled Pennsylvanians.
  • Why the state has not updated the state’s prevailing wage requirements in nearly 60 years.
  • The importance of helping young people learn skilled trades and technical skills needed to compete for high-demand, family-sustaining jobs.
  • The impact of minimum wage increases on senior citizens due to inflation.
  • The importance of supporting new job opportunities in the natural gas industry and related fields.
  • Increases in personnel costs.
  • Lead and asbestos remediation.
  • Funding for the Industry Partnerships program.

Liquor Control Board

Tuesday, February 25 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned members of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board about Liquor Code modernization and enforcement during a budget hearing today. Other topics of discussion included:

  • Spending and borrowing proposed for facilities and equipment.
  • Whether current level of transfers from LCB to the General Fund are sustainable.
  • Changes to packaging and territorial agreements and its impact on alcohol sales.
  • A $475 million no-bid contract that was awarded to an out-of-state company for warehousing and distribution in the southeast.
  • The number of state stores that operate on limited hours and whether LCB would reevaluate the merit of expanding hours.
  • Replacing LCB’s enterprise resource planning system and converting to the same system used by the Commonwealth.
  • The percentage of sales that are conducted online.
  • How the Board is working to upgrade its e-commerce system to meet the demands of consumers.
  • Steps taken to prevent data breaches and hacking.
  • Future plans to upgrade facilities in Lancaster.
  • Whether LCB has the flexibility to adjust personnel and staffing.
  • The number of out-of-state wineries who have applied for licenses.
  • Enforcement of underage drinking offenses.
  • The condition, selection and availability of state-owned liquor stores in the Erie region.
  • How LCB is working to improve transparency.
  • The percentage of sales made with credit and debit cards and how LCB works to reduce fees.
  • How modernization measures could affect profitability and future transfers to the General Fund.

Military and Veterans Affairs

Wednesday, February 19 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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During the budget hearing for the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, senators discussed a wide range of topics impacting the Commonwealth’s veteran population and how the state can better serve them.  Questions focused on:

  • The implementation of Pennsylvania’s new Military Family Educational Program.
  • Efforts to stem the growing tide of veteran suicides, aid homeless veterans and treat those with addiction.
  • Potential barriers in federal funding for the creation of veterans day care programs.
  • Providing vouchers for veterans to use in county homes closer to where they live.
  • The success and effectiveness of veterans courts and how their use can be expanded.
  • Ongoing efforts to provide certification reciprocity for military veterans who are coming out of service.

PA Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association

Wednesday, March 4 | 1:00 p.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA) President Susan Sersha about factors affecting the medical liability insurance market. Some of the topics of discussion included:

  • Staffing, operations and the number of policyholders covered.
  • Legal changes that have affected JUA.
  • The current market for medical liability insurance.
  • Expanding access to health care to underserved areas.
  • Investments, reserve funds and competitiveness of rates.
  • The amount of surplus money that could safely be appropriated to other causes.

PA State System of Higher Education

Thursday, February 20 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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During the budget hearing for the State System of Higher Education, senators raised concerns about tuition costs, declining enrollment and keeping the system viable with Chancellor Daniel Greenstein.  Senators also asked about:

  • The impact of projected downturns in enrollment on instructor complement, and downturns in community college transfers.
  • Steps being taken to implement recommendations made by the Rand Commission, which provided a report on the long-term viability of the state system.
  • The need for Pennsylvania to “right-size” its higher education footprint so that there are not too many campuses straining the system.
  • Why top-performing schools are getting the least amount of state funding.
  • The critical role that community colleges play in workforce development.
  • How the state system is faring in meeting four-year graduation rates, particularly given the higher student loan debt.

Penn College of Technology, Thaddeus Stevens College and Community Colleges

Tuesday, March 3 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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Senate Appropriations Committee members emphasized the importance of career and technical training during a hearing with representatives of the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, and Pennsylvania’s community colleges. Topics of discussion included:

  • Potential tuition and fee increases.
  • Changes in enrollment.
  • The success of dual enrollment programs.
  • Differences in tuition for out-of-state students.
  • How the institutions are working to “right-size” programs for students.
  • The diversity of enrolled students.
  • The value and challenges of articulation agreements.
  • The importance of financial literacy programs.
  • Programs eliminated based on a lack of demand from both students and employers. 
  • Steps community colleges and technical schools are taking to encourage high school students to attend.
  • Efforts to meet the demands of today’s workforce.
  • The return on investment and opportunity cost related to budget requests.

Penn State University Ag Research and Ag Extension

Monday, March 2 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Penn State’s agricultural research and extension services, senators asked about programs and services that are being provided to the agriculture community.  Topics discussed included:

  • What is being done to provide mental health first aid in PA farming communities.
  • Promoting participation in the census.
  • What farms are doing to reduce sediment and nitrogen runoffs and to how to encourage best practices.
  • Efforts to survey farmers on what they are doing to control pollution.
  • Concerns about the growing incidence of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania.
  • Ongoing attempts to suppress the Spotted Lanternfly population.
  • Concern about the impact of insecticides on honey bees.
  • Growing enrollment numbers and placement statistics.

Revenue/Lottery

Tuesday, February 18 | 1:00 p.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed financial challenges facing the Pennsylvania Lottery and the Commonwealth as a whole during a budget hearing with Secretary of Revenue C. Daniel Hassell and Pennsylvania Lottery Executive Director Drew Svitko. Topics of discussion included:

  • The impact of the availability of skill games on Lottery sales.
  • Potential ways to mitigate the financial effect of skill games on the Lottery Fund.
  • The impact of the Governor’s proposed carbon taxes.
  • Precautions to ensure Lottery technology upgrades are completed efficiently.
  • The ability to work with the Department of Human Services to combat welfare fraud.
  • How the potential legalization and regulation of skills games would affect future Lottery sales.
  • Concerns about sales tax audits in the lodging industry.
  • Discrepancies in staffing and costs related to the Pennsylvania Lottery.
  • The use of the Enhanced Revenue Collection Account to deal with delinquencies.
  • How state agencies are working to ensure companies are held accountable if they fail to meet job creation targets when applying for tax credits.
  • The amount of money spent by the Lottery on advertising, as well as other factors that go into determining the advertising budget.
  • IT initiatives to prevent data breaches and protect the personal information of Pennsylvanians.
  • The costs associated with the new I-Lottery system and the services funded by these revenues.
  • New revenues generated by closing loopholes related to the tourism industry.
  • How much revenue the state is expected to collect from medicinal cannabis and future projected revenues from the industry.
  • How sales are monitored and sales taxes are collected from out-of-state online retailers.
  • A ruling on whether the sales tax applies to certain association events.
  • How to help more seniors participate in the Property Tax Rent Rebate program.
  • The sustainability of Lottery revenues in future years.
  • The participation rate in the Property Tax Rent Rebate program.

State

Thursday, February 20 | 1:00 p.m.

 

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The Senate Appropriations Committee discussed the following topics with Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar:

  • Election modernization efforts.
  • Reporting of election night results.
  • Issues with the printing of ballots.
  • Preparations for the upcoming primary election.
  • Efforts to prevent human error in the election process.
  • Personal privacy and fraud prevention.
  • State licensing issues.
  • Public education efforts for the election changes under Act 77.
  • Fraud prevention efforts regarding absentee and mailed ballots.
  • Security issues regarding online voter registration.
  • County election expenses.
  • Campaign finance system upgrades.
  • Efforts to increase voter registration and turnout.

State-Related Universities

Tuesday, March 3 | 10:00 a.m.

 

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At a public hearing on the state-related universities, (Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln), members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed many challenge facing institutions of higher learning including:

  • The use of satellite campuses to make higher education more available and affordable.
  • Benchmarking faculty costs in the state-related universities and how they compare to other institutions.
  • High student loan debt and increased tuition costs.
  • How the state-related universities are coping with flat funding while also keeping tuition costs down.
  • What is being done to keep in-state students and help them manage debt wisely.
  • The increased competition resulting from declining enrollment.
  • A strategy for recruiting out-of-state students.
  • Successful efforts to help students graduate in four
  • The competition between the state system and state-related universities.

Transportation

Tuesday, February 25 | 1:00 p.m.

 

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The hearing with the Department of Transportation featured the following discussions with Acting Secretary Yassmin Gramian:

  • Wait times for processing REAL ID applications.
  • Funding moving from regional projects to interstates.
  • Transfers occurring from the Motor License Fund to fund operations of our State Police.
  • Cost overruns and delays with the I-83 Melrose Interchange project, and how to prevent contractors from doing the same on other projects.
  • Regional passenger rail needs
  • Why the department does some projects with PennDOT employees rather than use private-sector contractors.
  • Removing complying PA counties from the emissions testing requirement.
  • Sructurally deficient bridges and the need for state/local coordination on transportation planning.
  • The mild winter will free up funds for projects aimed dealing with landslides.
  • Funding the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River & Bay.
  • Opposition to implementing toll roads to pay for road maintenance.
  • Concern about the environmental impact of road salt runoff.
  • PA’s overreliance on federal #transportation funding and the need for an alternative funding study to find a way to meet capacity needs.

Treasury

Tuesday, February 25 | 3:00 p.m.

 

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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned PA Treasurer Joe Torsella about the state’s current financial condition and efforts to ensure that the Commonwealth’s fiscal picture remains strong.  Issues include:

  • A discrepancy in debt services number between the department and the governor and whether Pennsylvania is financially sound.
  • The percentage of debt versus revenue, the entire debt load that Pennsylvania carries and efforts to be transparent about those numbers
  • Growing concerns about high property taxes and the continued growth in state spending.
  • Whether General Fund short-term borrowing and cash flow fluctuations are common practice.
  • The fact that growth in government union salaries is outpacing the state’s ability to pay for them.
  • Efforts to monitor compliance with the state’s Unclaimed Property Program and the outcome of changes to the program. 
  • The department’s request for increased general government support and what will be sacrificed if funding does not go up.

University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

Monday, March 2 | 1:00 p.m.

University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

 

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Senate Appropriations Committee members discussed a number of issues during the budget hearing on the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, including:

  • Benefits from the state’s investment in the school.
  • The percentage of graduates who stay in Pennsylvania and the student loan debt they incur.
  • Abuse of opiates provided by veterinarians.
  • Impact of avian Influenza.
  • The shortage of veterinarians in certain fields.
  • Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.
  • Dual enrollment programs in health care and social services.
  • Consolidation of facilities at the school.
  • Drug testing of race horses
  • Challenges presented by African Swine Fever.