Key Points from Senate Budget Hearings Tuesday, March 21

HARRISBURG – The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Scott Martin (R-13), continued public hearings on the proposed 2023-24 state budget Tuesday with the Pennsylvania Treasury and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $45.8 billion plan seeks to boost state spending by more than $1.3 billion above the current year’s budget. Projections indicate it will nearly wipe out the state’s Rainy Day Fund in five years.

PA Treasury

Treasurer Stacy Garrity testified that, with the national economy possibly facing recession, Pennsylvania has a choice: spend modestly now, or face a possible fiscal cliff as federal funds dry up and the Rainy Day Fund is depleted. She noted that Pennsylvania’s credit rating could be improved by reducing the structural budget deficit and boosting the Rainy Day Fund.

The committee also discussed the performance of the PA 529 college savings program and PA ABLE savings program for Pennsylvanians with disabilities. Getting more unclaimed property into the hands of citizens and protecting state investments were also topics covered. 

Full Hearing

Senator Martin on the Importance of the Rainy Day Fund, Responsible Budgeting and More

Video Highlights

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

DCNR is requesting a bigger budget while failing to take advantage of current revenue opportunities. Several committee members joined Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chair Gene Yaw (R-23) in noting that by refusing to allow non-surface disturbance leases for natural gas, DCNR is passing up revenue that could fund recreational programs and services across the state.

Secretary Cindy Dunn was also questioned about DCNR policies inhibiting efforts to connect more Pennsylvanians to broadband. Also discussed were invasive species management, the department’s readiness to implement carbon sequestration technology, the success of a program of ATV trails on state lands and other topics.

Full Hearing

Video Highlights

You can find the hearings schedule, livestreams, daily recaps and video from prior hearings at

CONTACT: Jason Thompson

Coleman Introduces Legislation to Open Up NIZ Finances to Public Scrutiny

HARRISBURGState Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-16) today introduced Senate Bill 534 to open up the finances of Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) to public scrutiny.

The measure would repeal the changes made to the Fiscal Code in 2021 that shielded many details of the Allentown NIZ from taxpayers.

“In June of 2021, the fiscal code was changed to stop the public from learning how tax dollars are moving through the NIZ. Accessing this information is vital to understanding whether the NIZ functions as advertised and sold to the public,” Coleman said. “Has it been an engine of economic development or real-estate development? Those two things don’t always line up. If we’re going to answer that question, then we need access to specific financial details.”

“The original fiscal notes, or calculations of cost to the Commonwealth, indicated that there wouldn’t be any negative impact to tax revenues. That conclusion assumed that activity in the NIZ was new activity. There are questions about whether that is what happened,” Coleman said. “Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue have been attributed to the NIZ. Questions surrounding the implementation of the NIZ law and its impact on the overall financial health of the Commonwealth can only be answered if we have access to this information. Taxpayers have a right to know if their money is being spent wisely.”


CONTACT: Leo Knepper

Norfolk Southern CEO at Senate Committee Hearing: Ignition of Rail Cars Following East Palestine Trainwreck was a ‘Success’


HARRISBURG – The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33), heard testimony Monday from Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, who described as a “success” the intentional ignition of dangerous chemicals in five railroad cars following the company’s trainwreck on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, just west of the Pennsylvania border.

“It was a success. It worked,” Shaw said, adding, “It was the right decision to make.”

“That flaming plume of toxic chemicals may have been a ‘success’ for Norfolk Southern and helped to get its trains running again, but it failed to protect the health of local residents,” Mastriano said. “Norfolk Southern’s epic failure is observable in the rashes, headaches, respiratory problems and other health issues that are plaguing local residents.”

While he called the ignition of the rail cars a “success,” Shaw was reluctant to pinpoint who made the decision to ignite the dangerous contents of the railroad cars.

Shaw first tried to place responsibility for the decision on the “unified command” – or group of federal, state and local officials – who led efforts to respond to his company’s trainwreck.

When pressed by Mastriano, Shaw attempted to pin the blame on the local East Palestine fire chief. Shaw didn’t identify him by name, but instead said the leader of the unified command structure – the local fire chief – made the decision to ignite the railroad cars.

“I find it hard to believe the fire chief of a local community made this decision that has ramifications on residents in multiple states,” Mastriano said. “If Shaw really believes the railroad car ignition was a ‘success,’ I would think he would want to give credit to whoever made the decision.”

Mastriano also asked Shaw about potential other options beside setting the railroad cars on fire and was surprised to learn no other options apparently were discussed. Shaw did confirm that PA state officials were included in the unified command structure and evidently did not object to the toxic chemical burn.

“During my time in the military, we always came up with multiple options to address a situation,” Mastriano said. “I’m curious to learn if the railroad car detonation was the only option, or if other options existed, but were withheld from the people who were making these decisions.”

Shaw made bold claims about Norfolk Southern’s commitment to safety, claiming, “We will not operate an unsafe train,” and “We run a safe operation.”

“I don’t believe the East Palestine trainwreck, ignition of several railroad cars full of toxic chemicals and the spread of those chemicals into surrounding communities matches up with his claims about safety,” Mastriano said.

Prior to hearing from Shaw, the committee heard testimony from Andrew Whelton, professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University.

Whelton said the testing that followed the trainwreck is too narrow and should be expanded to consider the levels of chemicals currently not included in the process. If the test is not looking for certain cancer-causing chemicals, he said, it obviously won’t find them.

“The numbers don’t matter. It matters what you test for,” Whelton said. “I tell agencies they need to throw the kitchen sink at it at first.”

Mastriano and his Senate colleagues on the committee asked Shaw during the hearing to provide additional information about the company’s air, water and soil testing process; its safety policies and procedures; the process used to decide to ignite the leaking railroad cars and a list of everyone involved in making that decision.

Mastriano said Shaw may be called again to appear before the committee if it does not receive satisfactory answers to the additional questions posed by committee members.

VIDEO: Mastriano tried to find out who made the decision to ignite the leaking railroad cars and seriously questions Shaw’s response pointing the finger at a local fire chief.

VIDEO: Mastriano questioned the decision to ignite and release toxic chemicals from the wrecked railroad cars.

VIDEO: Mastriano discussed the testing process to ensure the safety of the water, air and soil in the area surrounding the trainwreck.

VIDEO: Mastriano talked about the holistic approach Norfolk Southern must take to help local residents affected by the trainwreck.

VIDEO: Mastriano outlines the next steps the committee may take on this issue.

Constituents of the 33rd District can learn more about Mastriano by visiting his website at or following him on Facebook at


Media contact: Josh Herman

Key Points from Senate Budget Hearings Monday, March 20

HARRISBURG – The Senate Appropriations Committee today began the first of three weeks of public hearings on the proposed 2023-24 state budget.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $45.8 billion plan seeks to boost state spending by more than $1.3 billion above the current year’s budget, including hundreds of millions of dollars that backfill federal funding that was cut by the Biden administration at the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Independent Fiscal Office

Revenue estimates and the health of the Rainy Day Fund were the focus of questions for Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel, who said uncertainty at the national level has made it more difficult to make economic forecasts. Uncertainties include instability in the banking sector, debt ceiling debates in Washington and the pending legal challenge to student loan forgiveness.

Committee chair Sen. Scott Martin (R-13) and other members voiced concern over the IFO’s projection of annual structural deficits of more than $2 billion a year for the next five years if the governor’s budget is adopted. The state’s Rainy Day Fund, which was built up to $5 billion thanks to Senate Republican spending restraints, should be even larger, according to experts. Committee members noted it would be almost completely depleted by 2027-28 under the governor’s spending plan.

Also discussed were the impact of a new Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative tax on already rising energy prices and the ongoing demographic challenges Pennsylvania faces with its aging population and work force.

Full Hearing

Senator Martin on the Rainy Day Fund, RGGI and Economic and Demographic Challenges

Video Highlights

Department of Revenue

Acting Revenue Secretary Pat Browne was asked about administration revenue projections and the importance of Corporate Net Income Tax reductions as a way to spur economic growth and job creation.

The proposed expansion of the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program will take an additional $150 million from the Pennsylvania Lottery Fund. Several committee members questioned department officials about ideas for increasing lottery revenue. The implementation of PA EDGE tax credits and the health of the Rainy Day Fund, and differences in revenue projections between the department and IFO were among other topics discussed.

Full Hearing

Video Highlights

You can find the hearings schedule, livestreams, daily recaps and video from prior hearings at


CONTACT: Jason Thompson

Norfolk Southern CEO to Appear Before Senate Committee Monday

HARRISBURG – Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw is scheduled to appear before the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33), at a hearing on Monday, March 20, at 10 a.m. in Room 8EB of the state Capitol.

Shaw will appear before the committee to testify about the Norfolk Southern train wreck along the western border of Pennsylvania in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, and the decision to intentionally ignite five railroad cars full of dangerous chemicals on Feb. 5.

Shaw’s appearance follows two previous committee meetings where Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee members approved subpoenas to compel the Norfolk Southern CEO to testify and provide documents to the committee.

Monday’s hearing will also feature testimony from Bob Comer, a forensic railroad accident investigator who has investigated over 800 rail accidents nationwide throughout his career.

Watch live at or


Media contact: Josh Herman


Senate Committee Hears Powerful Testimonies about Veteran Suicide Prevention

CHAMBERSBURG – While many people may assume war-related trauma is responsible for most military veteran suicides, the stigma associated with seeking mental health care and civilian life crises often precipitate these tragedies.

That is what the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33), learned Thursday during a public hearing about veteran suicide held at Chambersburg VFW Post 1599.

“America is militarily superior when it comes to winning wars abroad, but our country needs to do more to win the war at home for the lives of our veterans,” Mastriano said. “One veteran suicide is too many and the numbers we see in Pennsylvania constitute a tragedy. We need our veterans to know that help is available and suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem.”

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs in 2018 estimated approximately 20 veterans die by suicide each day. There were 240 Pennsylvania veteran suicides in 2020 according to the department’s data.

Committee members heard tear-filled testimony from family members of military veterans who took their own lives.

“I cry every day in the shower,” said Bruce Bartz, whose son, Trent Bartz, served as a corporal in the U.S. Army Reserve before he took his own life on Aug. 19, 2015. “A lot of veterans are afraid to talk about mental health issues because of the stigma. Suicide, mental illness, depression and anxiety are the only diseases that we blame the person for having. People die from suicide just like they do from any other disease, but we blame them. One of the best ways to bring awareness to our mental health crisis is hearing testimonials like this.”

Gold Star Father Mike Wargo and Gold Star Mother Sarah Wargo shared the story of their son, Michael, who joined the military after Sept. 11, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003 and witnessed the death of 10 of his fellow soldiers. He struggled with survivor’s guilt, suffered night terrors and ended his own life on May 20, 2013. Michael left his parents a four-and-a-half hour video describing his experiences in Afghanistan, which they used to prove his death was related to his military service and secure benefits for his daughter.

“We need to convince veterans that it’s OK to ask for help,” Mike Wargo said.

Elizabeth Cooper – a U.S. Army combat veteran – serves as a veterans representative with PA CareerLink, Franklin County. She discussed suffering from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cooper detailed how staying home during the COVID-19 lockdown took away regular distractions and left her alone with her thoughts and memories. Despite her prior employment as a corrections officer trained in crisis and suicide prevention, she found herself battling the same issues she was trained to help others overcome.

“These ailments were not derived from war,” Cooper said. “They were derived from life.”

Cooper found help in the form of a volunteer peer support group, where she could share her struggles and receive encouragement from fellow female veterans who experienced their own life difficulties. She advocated for the benefits of peer support groups, saying they can play a pivotal role in the fight against veteran suicide.

The committee also heard from Dom Brown, a suicide attempt survivor who joined the Army when he was 17 years old. Brown served three tours of duty in Iraq and was deployed to various other countries – including Kuwait, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, among others – during his 16 years in the military.

Brown testified about feeling overwhelmed and attempting suicide when he was suffering from PTSD, caring for his newborn child and, ironically, studying for a soldier of the year award. He took more than 60 Trazadone pills before a friend took him to the hospital, where he spent 30 days in a coma. He now shares his experience with others to raise awareness and serves as a peer support mentor with the Wounded Warrior Project.

Operation Second Chance Founder Cindy McGrew testified about the various programs and services her nonprofit organization provides to help veterans struggling with mental health issues. She talked about several veterans who attended her organization’s programs and later told her they were considering suicide before they attended an Operation Second Chance event.

“We just love on them,” McGrew said, describing her organization’s approach to helping veterans. “We give them the dignity they so deserve.”

Franklin County Veterans Affairs Director Justin Slep described some of the programs he and his staff have implemented since he accepted his position in 2014. He discussed the Save-a-Vet, Save-a-Pet program that matches veterans with service dogs. He also mentioned a transportation program the office is working on to help veterans travel to health appointments across state lines. Slep said they have acquired a wheelchair-accessible van and are working with rabbittransit to find a driver.

Retired Brig. Gen. Maureen Weigl, deputy adjutant general with the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and Brig. Gen. Laura McHugh, deputy adjutant general with the Pennsylvania National Guard, testified about programs and services available to help veterans struggling with mental health issues.

Weigl said the Pennsylvania National Guard experienced 84 suicides dating back to 2007.

Veterans in crisis or their family members can contact the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988. Free and confidential support is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

A list of suicide prevention programs and initiatives is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs website.

Constituents of the 33rd District can learn more about Mastriano by visiting his website at or following him on Facebook at


Media contact: Josh Herman

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