Senate Appropriations Committee is holding
three weeks of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed
2017-2018 state budget. Summaries and video of this week’s hearings are listed
Monday, February 27, 2017
Department of Agriculture
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Agriculture
Secretary Russell Redding about major cuts that have been proposed this year in
programs that have been historically supported by the General Assembly.
Questions focused on:
- The governor’s proposal to eliminate funding for the University of
Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine given the significant role it
plays and that fact that it is the only school of veterinary medicine in the
- Funding cuts for agricultural research, flat funding for conservation
districts and the impact this would have on the protection of water quality
and other areas.
- Concerns about the Governor’s proposal to enter into a lease-leaseback
arrangement for the Farm Show Complex and the lack of data to evaluate the
- Increasing state costs because fewer counties and municipalities are
operating their own weights and measures programs and food safety
- The increase in dog license fees and the diversion of that money for
- Farmland preservation and how planned pipelines will affect the program.
- The better promotion of industrial hemp, which is a major PA product.
- The role the department will play in regulating growers of medical
- Increased cases of chronic wasting disease and how it is impacting deer
- The difficulty in maintaining a labor force to work in the agriculture
- Whether Pennsylvania is meeting its obligation to comply with EPA
requirements involving the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay.
- The PA Preferred Program and the fact that it is not self-sufficient.
- Managing water quality in an economically feasible way for farmers.
- The financial viability of the State Racing Fund over the long term.
Department of General Services
DGS Secretary Curt Topper discussed the Governor’s proposed appropriation for
his department, which is 3.1 percent lower than for 2016-17. Also discussed
- Plans for savings through procurement.
- Energy consumption and savings.
- DGS work with the Office of Administration.
- The Farm Show Complex leasing proposal.
- Efforts to reduce vehicle fleet size and manage transportation costs.
- Capitol building security and the recent incident of vandalism.
- Reductions in the use of state real estate holdings.
- The financial return using sole source contracts.
- Update on sale and transfer of former SCI Cresson property.
- The need to update antiquated laws governing sale of government
- The quality of the DGS IT system.
- Budgeted upgrades at the Farm Show Complex.
- Difficulty in disposing of surplus government properties.
Department of Transportation
Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards fielded questions on the
department’s proposed budget and ongoing efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s roads
and bridges. The hearing included questions on the following:
- An update on Act 89 – the Transportation Funding Act – and a progress
report on projects that have been completed.
- The need to speed up the grant process, particularly for multi-modal
- The effectiveness of Public Private Partnerships in Pennsylvania and on
a national level.
- A new emissions inspection program and the cost to small stations.
- Proposed legislation that would exempt newer vehicles from emissions
testing and the dichotomy of testing in different areas.
- The use of Project Labor Agreements in transportation projects, whether
they increase overall costs, and if non-union companies would be excluded.
- The impact of the governor’s early retirement proposal on department
- A statewide initiative to improve smaller roads that have not been paved
for many years.
- An assessment of the department’s information technology systems.
- The importance of aviation in the transportation network.
- Reviewing formulas used to distribute liquid fuels money.
- Unnecessary delays in transportation projects as a result of
- Efforts to reduce litter along interstates.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Labor and Industry
Lawmakers expressed frustration about persistent problems with the
Unemployment Compensation system during a hearing with Department of Labor
and Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino. Other topics of discussion included:
- How funding dedicated to the Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund
- The amount of funding lost to overpayments in Unemployment Compensation.
- The impact of additional layoffs for individuals serving the UC system.
- The criteria used in deciding which UC call centers were closed.
- The five-fold increase in wait times for UC callers in January 2017.
- Ways to reduce duplication of services in job training programs.
- Ongoing support for the Strategic Early Warning Network program.
- How calls to UC call centers are assigned to representatives.
- The potential need for additional funding for the Bureau of Occupational
and Industrial Safety.
- The cost of all necessary IT upgrades for the entire department.
- Steps to make the State Workers' Insurance Fund more user-friendly.
- The Wolf Administration’s proposal to boost the minimum wage.
- The number of employees covered by collective bargaining contracts.
State Supreme Court Justices Christine Donohue and Sallie Updyke Mundy
answered questions on a variety of issues related to Pennsylvania’s court system
- Effectiveness of specialty/problem solving courts.
- Cost saving measures adopted by the judicial branch.
- Specific judicial committees.
- Statewide uniform judicial system measures and initiatives.
- Consolidation of offices and reductions in district justice positions.
- Probation violations.
- Utilization of office space in the state Judicial Center.
- The impact of the opioid epidemic.
- Mandated sentencing.
- A proposed increase in common pleas judges.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Brigadier General Anthony Carrelli, the Adjutant General, joined by four
other military officials and a budget analyst, fielded questions on the
DMVA’s $374.7 million budget request.
The following issues were discussed:
- The current number of Guard members deployed and future deployments
- The financial stability of the Veterans Trust Fund, which now has a $2.2
million balance, and the need for more revenue sources.
- The need for $500,000 more for Veterans Outreach.
- The size of the Veterans Registry, as it aims to serve Pennsylvania’s
- The possibility of adding to the six veterans’ homes and expanding
geographic reach in underserved areas by either opening a new state home or
partnering with county homes.
- The relative cost of operating veterans’ homes compared to civilian
nursing homes, with veterans’ homes running at double the cost.
- The move toward the privatization and out-sourcing of services (food and
custodial) in some veterans’ homes.
- The solvency of the Veterans Education Assistance Program.
- The effect of the federal defense budget on Pennsylvania in terms of
jobs, infrastructure, our armories, transportation, equipment, and funding.
- The establishment of veterans’ courts in 20 counties and the
practicality of expanding to all 67 counties.
Senator Scavello commends Lincoln University for boosting
in-state enrollment and cutting health care and pension costs, while noting
increased telephone costs.
Presidents and Chancellors of Pennsylvania’s state-related universities
discussed the challenges facing their schools during a budget hearing with
members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other topics of discussion
- Rising tuition costs and student loan debt.
- Potential changes in curriculum based on economic trends and student
- Targeted goals for cost savings at each university.
- Projected tuition increases next year.
- Efforts to promote financial literacy among students.
- Four-year and six-year graduation rates.
- Allocation of medical center spending.
- Percentage of faculty that choose a defined contribution pension plan
instead of a defined benefit plan.
- The proposed reduction in PHEAA grants.
- Tuition differences at branch campuses.
- The impact on pension systems resulting from early retirement incentive
- The cost of advanced technical degrees.
- PHEAA grants for students who complete all coursework online.
Department of Conservative and Natural Resources
Senator Scavello notes the important work of the Jacobson
Environmental Center in Bushkill Township. He also noted the risk of DCNR
borrowing money for operations, and discussed funding of State Park operations,
Forest Fire Protection and Control, and walking trails.
Committee members asked Secretary of the Department of Conservation and
Natural Resources Cindy Adams Dunn questions about programs and services
provided by the agency, including:
- Concerns about the use of bond money for ongoing operations, the
long-term costs that will be incurred, and how future services could be
- The effectiveness of pilot programs aimed at reducing farmland
erosion and protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
- The results of a three-part audit of royalties received from oil and
gas well leases.
- Reusing abandoned coal mine sites for recreational activities,
including ATV trails.
- Pennsylvania's decision to not charge entrance fees to state parks.
- Boosting revenues from timber sales and how timbering is managed.
- A reduction in the department's employees and the impact on service.
- The department's online system for renting cabins in state parks.
- A new fee structure for various park services.
- The success of the state's Growing Greener Program and efforts to
pass Growing Greener III legislation to meet additional park and recreation
- Working to address impaired streams and improve water quality and
engaging landowners in the process.
- Replacing older buildings with energy-efficient structures to reduce
costs and become greener.
- Boards and commissions that come under the supervision of DCNR.
- The economic benefit of parks, trails and heritage areas.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
Department of Corrections/ Probation and Parole
Senator Scavello questioned the Secretary about state
“walk time” and overtime costs, as well as changes in the state prison
population in recent years.
Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel and Chairman of the Board of Probation
and Parole Leo Dunn answered questions during the hearing for the proposed
Department of Criminal Justice, merging the Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.
- The need to provide more community input and openness in the public
process of closing prisons.
- An update on the reduction in prison populations and high recidivism
rates – roughly 60 percent.
- The experience other states that combine corrections and probation and
- Making changes to the way technical parole violators are treated.
- The potential need for future prison closings.
- Reducing high employee turnover rate.
- Costs associated with mandatory overtime, particularly in light of 122
current vacancies, and how they impact pensions.
- Cost-saving measures being implemented through technology, health care
and other means.
- The use of mandatory-minimum sentences and how they are imposed,
particularly in cases of violent crimes and drug offenses.
- A $10 million cost for union-negotiated “walk time” – the cost of
compensating guards from the time they leave their post until they leave the
- The use of boot camps for non-violent offenders.
- Using risk assessments to transition non-violent offenders back into the
PA Liquor Control Board
Senator Scavello explored the issue of wine sales in
supermarkets and Sunday sales.
Representatives from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board outlined the
positive impacts of the modernization measures approved by lawmakers last year.
Other topics discussed during the hearing included:
- The impact on statewide wine sales resulting from the increase in the
number of wine retailers.
- The increase in the number of state-owned liquor stores open on Sundays.
- Inflated costs paid by the state for top-shelf liquor.
- Warehouse and transportation costs incurred by the wholesale system.
- Concerns about operating costs outpacing sales growth.
- The bidding process for auctioning licenses.
- The number of state stores that are losing money.
- Management and organizational structure of PLCB.
- Liquor law enforcement.
PA Emergency Management Agency/Fire Commissioner
Senator Scavello discussed efforts to recruit and retain
volunteer firefighters and the need to examine the SWIF program (State Workers’
Insurance Fund), in light of a recent incident in his district of a firefighter
injured on the job but not receiving SWIF assistance.
PEMA Director Rick Flinn, Executive Deputy Jeff Thomas, Deputy Boyle, and
Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay fielded questions about emergency response. The
following topics were discussed:
- The effects of the 911 re-write/re-authorization and the modernization
and consolidation of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs).
- The level of collaboration with the State Police on Next Gen 911 and the
P25 system, and with DCNR on the GIS mapping project.
- The number of applications for the volunteer firefighter grants.
- The rate of participation in PennFIRS (Fire Information Reporting
- The need for a “reboot” of Senate Resolution 60 to attract and retain
new firefighters, including online training for volunteer firefighters, as
called for in SR 6.
- Support for legislation to allow fireworks sales in Pennsylvania, with
proceeds directed to firefighter recruitment.
- The status and functionality of the new PEMA headquarters.
- The elimination of funding for search and rescue operations.
- Trends in the numbers and ages of volunteer firefighters, and the need
for more incentives.
- PEMA as the lead agency in the event of a four-department
health/aging/drugs and alcohol/and human services consolidation.
- The adequacy of funding for disaster relief and hazard mitigation
- The long-overdue rewrite of Title 35 and the need for worker’s
compensation coverage for dually enrolled personnel who get injured on the
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