Key Points from Senate Budget Hearings with PA Game Commission, PA Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Agriculture

HARRISBURG – Officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) detailed how they plan to spend their considerable reserves to support the state’s wildlife and aquatic resources during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee today.

PA Game Commission & PA Fish and Boat Commission

The Game Commission’s budget has increased from approximately $130 million in 2019-20 to approximately $350 million in 2024-25. The Fish and Boat Commission anticipates a budget of approximately $95 million in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of $3.4 million.

The Game Commission maintains reserves totaling more than $500 million due to a windfall of new revenue from oil and gas leases in the past several years. PGC plans to spend $250 million over the next 10 years to advance priorities originally proposed by Senate Republicans last year to support clean water and wildlife habitat. The plan would NOT jeopardize federal funding from the Pittman-Robertson Act.

Fish and Boat Commission reserves currently total more than $150 million, approximately $56 million of which is discretionary. PFBC detailed ongoing efforts to use its reserve funds to improve dams, fish hatcheries and boat ramps throughout the state.

Full Hearing

Majority Leader Pittman questioning the need for both the PGC and PFBC, making the best and most efficient use of existing resources, the financial impact of PGC land purchases on taxpayers, and more

Appropriations Chair Scott Martin on using hunting and fishing revenue responsibly, supporting clean water and wildlife habitat, public money held in accounts outside of Treasury, and more

Sen. Martin Closing Remarks

Video Highlights

Concerns were raised about the significant growth in PGC’s budget and whether the new spending would be one-time expenses or recurring expenses that could create future budget holes.

The impact of PGC land purchases on local taxpayers was questioned. The Game Commission currently owns more than 1.5 million acres of land, which shifts a greater portion of the property tax burden onto homeowners and small businesses.

PGC denied offering a position or any advocacy on legislation approved by the Senate last year to use oil and gas royalty revenue to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Questions were also raised about PGC’s conversations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services pertaining to this issue.

PGC testified it will continue to monitor hunters’ opinion of the change in the opening day of deer rifle season from Monday to Saturday.

PFBC spending to improve infrastructure for anglers was detailed.

An update was provided on PGC’s efforts to respond to Chronic Wasting Disease in deer. There are concerns CWD could soon affect the elk herd as well.

PGC was encouraged to support wildlife rehabilitation centers.

An update was provided on PFBC programs to support disabled veterans.

PGC negotiates with the Office of Administration on employment contracts, which creates challenges in hiring.

Department of Agriculture

The state’s efforts to combat avian influenza were highlighted during a hearing with Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding today.

Farming education initiatives and the performance of tax credit programs for PA farmers were also discussed.

Concerns were also raised about Gov. Josh Shapiro’s plan to legalize adult-use marijuana. The budget includes $5 million for the proposed adult-use cannabis program.

Full Hearing

Sen. Martin on the potential impact of legalization of adult use cannabis without answers to key public safety and health questions

Sen. Martin on combatting avian influenza, creating rapid response teams, storage of the state’s current emergency stockpile, efforts to bring a large milk processor to PA, improvements to Farmers Market Nutrition programs, and more.

Video Highlights

An update was provided on water and soil sampling in communities near the Norfolk Southern train derailment last year. No issues have been identified, although the department intends to remain vigilant.

The impact of misguided energy policy on preserved farmland was explored.

Concerns were raised about the potency and public health impacts associated with legalization of adult use cannabis. The Secretary confirmed that no cross-cabinet discussions have taken place about what the public health costs would be to taxpayers.

An update was provided on the department’s efforts to protect pollinators.

Questions were raised about how to make the best use of funding for hardwoods research and development.

The department’s response to the most recent avian influenza outbreak in Northumberland County was applauded.

Gov. Shapiro’s plan to divert funding from the Racehorse Development Fund was scrutinized.

An update was provided on the Fresh Food Financing Initiative program.

The proposed increase in the Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory was questioned.

The success of the tax credit program for beginning farmers championed by Senate Republicans was highlighted.

The department was encouraged to explore ways to make better use of the state’s AgriLink Program that provides low-interest loans to support Pennsylvania farmers.

The secretary provided an update on improvements to the state’s Dog Law.

You can find recaps and video from every Senate budget hearing at PASenateGOP.com.

CONTACT: Jason Thompson

Law to Prevent Pennsylvania Taxpayers Dollars from Supporting Russian War Crimes Takes Effect

HARRISBURG – As the world reflects on the two years of carnage that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sen. Dave Argall (R-29) and Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity announced today that a new law has taken effect that bans companies connected to the governments of Russia and Belarus from receiving state contracts, grants, or tax credits.

“My constituents of Ukrainian descent have been clear. They do not want their tax dollars supporting the war crimes committed by Russia,” said Argall. “We should not be investing in companies that support the attempt of Putin’s Russia to extinguish democracy in Ukraine.”

“After Vladamir Putin’s unjustified and illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, I immediately ended the Pennsylvania Treasury Department’s investments in any Russian and Belarusian entities,” said Treasurer Garrity. “I strongly support Senator Argall’s work to ensure that no state funds are given to any company connected to Russia or Belarus.”

Argall introduced the bill that would become Act 57 of 2023 at the outset of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The bill ultimately received unanimous, bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Shapiro on December 14, 2023.

Act 57 of 2023 prevents companies from receiving state contracts, grants, or tax credits if they are determined by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Treasury Department to be owned, controlled by, or acting on behalf of the Russian or Belarusian governments.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, from the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022 to January 31, 2024, records show that 10,378 Ukrainian civilians were killed and 19,632 were injured. The office expects the actual figure to be much larger due to the difficulty of gathering data in active combat zones. Military casualties on both sides of the conflict are estimated to be higher than a half a million.

Last year, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the war crime of unlawful deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia.

CONTACT: Jim Brugger (Argall), 717-787-2637
Samantha Heckel, Press Secretary (Treasury), 717-418-0206

Bipartisan Committee to Audit Allentown Tax Zone, Study Job Prep Programs Based on Coleman Resolutions

HARRISBURG – A bipartisan committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly today agreed to produce two reports based on measures introduced by State Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-16) – one that calls for an audit of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) and another analyzing the effectiveness of Pennsylvania workforce development programs.

“Citizens need this kind of information to hold accountable their government,” Coleman said. “People want to know if their tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently.”

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) will produce the two reports based on resolutions introduced by Coleman and approved by the Senate.

Coleman’s Senate Resolution 110 directs LBFC to conduct a performance audit of the NIZ and Allentown NIZ Development Authority programs administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

Pennsylvania’s NIZ program was first established by law in 2009. State and local taxes collected within the NIZ are used to repay debt service and bonds issued by the Allentown NIZ Development Authority to fund various economic development projects within the zone, including the PPL Center arena.

More than $500 million has been invested in Allentown’s NIZ during the past decade.

While the authority allocated a lot of money, Pennsylvanians have no way of knowing if the NIZ has been an effective means of generating economic activity.

“The Allentown NIZ audit will give taxpayers their first significant look at how their hundreds of millions of tax dollars are being used by the authority,” Coleman said. “My goal is to give taxpayers the information they need to hold accountable an authority that is supposed to be serving and benefitting them.”

When the NIZ program first was established, estimates suggested it would have no negative impact on tax revenues. That conclusion assumed the NIZ would attract new economic development projects and businesses. The NIZ instead has in some cases resulted in businesses relocating from one municipality to another with no discernible net gain to the local economy.

“Taxpayers deserve to know if their money is being used to create jobs, or if it’s being given to companies that relocate from one part of town to another,” Coleman said. “Moving a company from one location to another doesn’t necessarily create jobs or grow our economy.”

Coleman’s Senate Resolution 169 directs the LBFC to study state workforce development programs and make suggestions to improve delivery of services to better help workers and employers. The resolution gives LBFC up to one year to produce its report.

Pennsylvania state government annually spends hundreds of millions of dollars on workforce development programs, but many unemployed workers lack the skills necessary to obtain good-paying jobs and employers struggle to find qualified applicants to fill open positions.

Pennsylvania operates several workforce development programs under the Department of Labor and Industry, Department of Education, Department of Human Services, and Department of Community and Economic Development.

“Despite the alphabet soup acronyms for various agencies and programs providing workforce development initiatives, we still have companies that can’t find qualified employees and workers who lack the necessary job skills,” Coleman said. “With all the money Pennsylvania spends on workforce development, companies should be able to fill positions and workers should be able to find jobs.”

LBFC is a bipartisan legislative agency serving the state House and Senate, and is composed of 12 members of the General Assembly. Coleman serves as one of LBFC’s members.

The committee, established in 1959, conducts studies and makes recommendations aimed at eliminating unnecessary state expenditures, promoting efficiency in state government, and assuring state funds are spent in accordance with legislative intent and law.

Coleman’s resolutions give LBFC up to six months to complete the NIZ audit and one year to complete the workforce development study.

Residents who want to learn more about Coleman can visit his website at www.SenatorColeman.com, follow him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SenatorJarrettColeman and sign up for email newsletters at www.SenatorColeman.com/eNewsletters.

CONTACT: Leo Knepper

Key Points from Senate Budget Hearings with Department of Labor and Industry, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

HARRISBURG – During a public hearing today, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee raised questions about the need for tens of millions of dollars in additional spending for Unemployment Compensation (UC) services when the state is experiencing a period of historically low unemployment.

Department of Labor and Industry

Much like the governor’s overall budget, proposed spending for the Department of Labor and Industry significantly underestimates expenses over the next five years and fails to take into consideration realistic growth.

Secretary Nancy Walker was questioned about her request to increase department staffing to COVID-era levels despite Pennsylvania experiencing low levels of unemployment.

Walker told the committee that $70 million in fraudulent unemployment compensation claims were sent out in 2023, and committee members sought details on how the department was trying to recoup the money.

Members also sought details on the new Career Pathways program, which appears to duplicate the services provided by PA CareerLink.

Full Hearing

Committee Chair Sen. Scott Martin on creating job opportunities for Pennsylvanians, job training, apprenticeship programs, workforce development, skills-based hiring, and more

Video Highlights

The governor’s budget included an additional $68 million for the Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund to improve UC services, despite the current period of low unemployment.

The state’s UC system paid $70 million worth of fraudulent claims in 2023.

Job classification issues could threaten Pennsylvania’s ability to make full use of federal dollars to expand broadband to unserved and underserved communities.

The department is aiming to get wait times down for UC calls to 15 minutes, but they have not yet achieved that goal.

Questions were raised regarding the use of funding for the Career Pathways initiative and how it is different from the services already offered through PA CareerLink.

Concerns were expressed about the increased costs of certain prevailing wage requirements.

Pennsylvania ranks slightly below the national average in terms of labor force participation.

The department was encouraged to continue to improve efforts to provide a broader range of apprenticeship programs to help connect more Pennsylvanians to quality jobs.

Approximately 80% of department employees work from home on at least a part-time basis.

A recent Commonwealth Court ruling pertaining to prescription drug costs for Workers’ Compensation participants could create severe financial challenges.

Concerns were raised regarding the current situation in the Department of Corrections in which some corrections officers are working 70-80 hour weeks on a weekly basis.

Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

Lawmakers discussed what the Pennsylvania National Guard would need to increase support at the U.S. border in Texas during a budget hearing with Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Mark J. Schindler.

Committee members also explored what the department was doing to ensure Pennsylvania’s 700,000 veterans know about benefits available to them and their families and offer assistance in applying.

The status of Veterans Treatment Courts – which help veterans charged with crimes and struggling with addiction or mental illness – was discussed, as well as homeless veterans.

Full Hearing

Sen. Martin on providing necessary resources to veterans, Veteran Service Officer Days, outreach to veterans, protecting the border, and more

Video Highlights

Numerous bills championed by Senate Republicans to support Pennsylvania’s veterans and military families were highlighted. Approximately a dozen bills have been approved by the Senate and await action in the House of Representatives.

The importance of codifying the state’s VetConnect program was discussed to ensure services are accessible for veterans and their families. Increased outreach and marketing for the program was also suggested.

Staffing at Pennsylvania Veterans Homes continues to pose a challenge.

The department operates 25 Veterans Treatment Courts throughout the state with plans to add another early this year.

The possibility of deploying the National Guard to support border security and reduce the flow of deadly fentanyl into the U.S. was discussed.

The committee received an update on National Guard members currently deployed and potential challenges in terms of outreach to veterans.

The department was encouraged to explore new solutions to help address veteran homelessness.

Concerns were shared about the potential impact of regional cell phone outages if National Guard members need to be recalled.

You can find recaps and video from every Senate budget hearing at PASenateGOP.com.

CONTACT: Jason Thompson

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