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

Public Hearing to Strengthen Guardianship Laws, Prevent Elder Abuse Examines Shortcomings in PA’s Process


HARRISBURG – The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), held a joint public hearing with the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Judy Ward (R-30), on strengthening guardianship laws and preventing elder abuse in Pennsylvania.

When an adult of any age is deemed incapacitated by a court, a guardian may be appointed to become responsible for making certain decisions on their behalf, including financial, medical and personal matters.

“Our current court-appointed guardianship process in Pennsylvania needs to be improved,” Baker said. “We must ensure individuals requiring assistance are properly represented and have their rights safeguarded by properly certifying legal guardians, limiting the abuse of the system and enhancing our laws to protect the vulnerable.”

“Appointing a guardian for a person represents a serious step that must be taken with great caution and the utmost respect for the person’s basic rights,” Ward said. “This is an issue that can touch all Pennsylvanians. It’s important that we take a proactive approach and identify and address issues with our current system. With the information gleaned from this hearing, we can ensure that the Pennsylvania’s guardianship system meets the needs of our citizens in the 21st century.”

To strengthen the guardianship laws in Pennsylvania, Baker, along with Sen. Art Haywood (D-4), have recently introduced Senate Bill 506 to provide alternatives to appointed guardianships. The bill would require courts to automatically appoint counsel to individuals undergoing the guardianship process, consider other less restrictive alternatives before imposing a guardianship, and institute training and screening of professional guardians. This legislation originated from an unfortunate situation that occurred when Senator Haywood’s neighbor was taken advantage of by the unscrupulous practices of a professional guardian.

“While guardianship can be an appropriate tool to support some individuals who cannot make decisions themselves, it should be limited and used only as a last resort,” Baker said. “Alternatives to guardianship may prove equally effective at a substantially lower emotional and financial cost.”

“I am glad the Senate Judiciary and Aging and Youth Committees have taken a deeper look at guardianship issues. I am especially thankful to Chairwoman Baker, who has joined me in cosponsoring SB 506,” Haywood stated. “The bill adds important protections for vulnerable individuals from bad guardians, like those who stole from my neighbor, Mr. Frisby.”

During the hearing, testimony was given by professionals in the elder and disability law fields to provide input on the current flaws in Pennsylvania’s guardianship process. Panelists discussed how Pennsylvania is one of only eight states in the U.S. that does not automatically appoint counsel to represent alleged incapacitated persons, and highlighted the necessity for training and oversight of guardians to prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

“Unfortunately, cases where guardians have stolen or misused money belonging to the people they are legally charged with looking after are not uncommon,” Baker said. “We must have capable people step in and protect their financial interests.”

Senate Bill 506 has received bipartisan approval and is supported by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Disability Rights PA, and other advocacy groups because it helps prevent fraud, abuse, and exploitation, and increases representation.

CONTACT: Cara Laudenslager

Coleman Appointed to Legislative Budget and Finance Committee

HARRISBURGState Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-16) has been appointed to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee by Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-39).

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) is a bipartisan, Senate and House legislative service agency consisting of 12 members of the General Assembly.

The committee conducts studies and makes recommendations aimed at eliminating unnecessary expenditures and assuring that state funds are being spent in accordance as intended and within the law. To carry out these mandates, the LBFC is authorized to conduct a wide range of research on the operation and performance of state-funded programs and agencies.

“It’s critical to constantly look for ways to save tax dollars and review government performance to find greater efficiency,” Coleman said. “I look forward to serving on this panel and working on ways to make government work as intended.”

Recent committee reports focused on prescription drug pricing under the Medical Assistance Managed Care Program and the status of dental health services in rural Pennsylvania.



Bartolotta and Martin Introduce Child Reunification Act

HARRISBURG – Free child identification kits could be made available to parents to help relocate missing children under legislation introduced today by Senators Camera Bartolotta (R-46) and Scott Martin (R-13).

Senate Bill 460, known as the Child Reunification Act, would give parents a critical tool to help law enforcement identify missing children and return them safely to their families. The kits would include inkless fingerprinting materials, DNA collection swabs and other information that can be used to help identify a child in case of an emergency.

Both Senators emphasized that the personal information collected in the kits would only be held by parents and would not be entered into any sort of state or national database. The bill prohibits school districts from retaining the information and specifies that the identification kits are not a public record.

Under the bill, the kits would be distributed by school districts for all students in first grade at no cost to parents. Bartolotta and Martin have been working on the legislation for several months since they first announced the plan in October.

“In a nightmare scenario in which a child goes missing, any parent would want every tool at their disposal to make sure their son or daughter is located and returned safely,” Bartolotta said. “To the parents involved in these cases, the only thing that matters is getting their case resolved and getting their child back home as soon as possible. That’s exactly what these kits would accomplish.”

“When a child is missing, time is precious. Every second counts,” Martin said. “Law enforcement needs every advantage possible to help identify and locate a missing child. Although we hope no family ever has to use these kits, having that information at their fingertips can make a world of difference when the unthinkable happens.”

The Child Reunification Act is part of a national grassroots effort to expand child identification programs. The community safety initiative was started by the American Football Coaches Association in 1997 in response to the abduction of Amber Hagerman, for whom the Amber Alert was named. 

Across the nation, these efforts have been known as the Greene-Trumka Child Reunification Act, honoring the longtime support of Pittsburgh Steelers legend Joe Greene and the late AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka.

The legislation was designated SB 460 in recognition of the estimated 460,000 children per year who go missing in the United States each year.


CONTACT:           Jason Thompson (Martin)

                                Katrina Hanna (Bartolotta)

Mastriano, Senate Committee to Host Hearing about Veteran Suicide

HARRISBURG – The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33), will hold a hearing Thursday, March 16, at 10 a.m., to hear from experts about issues related to military veteran suicide in Pennsylvania.

The hearing will take place at Chambersburg VFW Post 1599, 747 Fourth St., Chambersburg.

Participants will include:

  • Chairman Mastriano,
  • Other members of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee,
  • Retired Brig. Gen. Maureen Weigl, deputy adjutant general, Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs,
  • Brig. Gen. Laura McHugh, deputy adjutant general, Pennsylvania National Guard,
  • Justin Slep, director, Franklin County Veterans Affairs Office,
  • Bruce Bartz, Bartz Brigade,
  • Cindy McGrew, founder, Operation Second Chance,
  • Dominique Brown, peer-to-peer support, Wounded Warrior Project,
  • Elizabeth Cooper, veterans representative, PA CareerLink Franklin County,
  • Mike Wargo, Gold Star father, and
  • Sally Wargo, Gold Star mother.

Watch live at or

Media contact: Josh Herman

School Finances Reviewed by Senate Education Committee

HARRISBURG – Sen. Dave Argall (R-29) chaired a public hearing of the Senate Education Committee today reviewing school budgeting and general fund balances. Much of the testimony focused on the guidelines for school budgeting outlined in Special Session Act 1 of 2006, which sets limits on the ability of school districts in raising property tax rates.

“No one would contest that every school should have money in their reserves for emergencies, but we need to ensure that taxpayers aren’t paying for unnecessary increases,” said Argall. “Today’s testimony was valuable as we review legislation to protect local taxpayers from unfair school property tax increases.”

Argall called the hearing after Auditor General Timothy DeFoor released a report in January questioning the practices used by twelve school districts that raised local property tax rates while holding millions of dollars in their reserves.

The Auditor General’s office testified at the hearing and shared three recommendations for steps the legislature could take to better protect local taxpayers, including updating the guidelines in Act 1 that they contend have been misused by the school districts.

Many of those who testified at the hearing pushed back on the conclusions drawn in the Auditor General’s report, noting that healthy general fund balances are crucial to ensuring schools districts can weather unexpected expenses.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators outlined challenges school districts face when developing budgets each fiscal year, including having to predict education funding levels from the state and not knowing how staffing levels will change or whether students will enroll who have special education needs.

CONTACT: Jim Brugger, 717-787-2637

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