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Senator Mario Scavello

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 below.

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 Commonwealth
  • 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 plan.
  • Increasing state costs because fewer counties and municipalities are operating their own weights and measures programs and food safety inspections
  • The increase in dog license fees and the diversion of that money for unrelated programs.
  • 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 marijuana.
  • Increased cases of chronic wasting disease and how it is impacting deer herds.
  • The difficulty in maintaining a labor force to work in the agriculture industry.
  • 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.

Hearing Video

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 were:

  • 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 property.
  • The quality of the DGS IT system.
  • Budgeted upgrades at the Farm Show Complex.
  • Difficulty in disposing of surplus government properties.

Hearing Video

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 projects.
  • 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 operations.
  • 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 environmental studies.
  • Efforts to reduce litter along interstates.

Hearing Video

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 was allocated.
  • 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.

Hearing Video


State Supreme Court Justices Christine Donohue and Sallie Updyke Mundy answered questions on a variety of issues related to Pennsylvania’s court system including:

  • 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.

Hearing Video

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 expected.
  • 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 900,000 veterans.
  • 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.

Hearing Video

State-Related Universities

3/1/17 - State-Related Universities

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 included:

  • Rising tuition costs and student loan debt.
  • Potential changes in curriculum based on economic trends and student needs.
  • 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 packages.
  • The cost of advanced technical degrees.
  • PHEAA grants for students who complete all coursework online.

Hearing Video

Department of Conservative and Natural Resources

3/1/17 - Conservation & 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 impacted.
  • 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 needs.
  • 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.

Hearing Video

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Department of Corrections/ Probation and Parole

3/2/17 - Corrections and Probation & 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 parole.
  • 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 prison.
  • The use of boot camps for non-violent offenders.
  • Using risk assessments to transition non-violent offenders back into the community.

Hearing Video

PA Liquor Control Board

3/2/17 - 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.

Hearing Video

PA Emergency Management Agency/Fire Commissioner

3/2/17 - PEMA and 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 System) program
  • 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 funding.
  • The long-overdue rewrite of Title 35 and the need for worker’s compensation coverage for dually enrolled personnel who get injured on the job.

Hearing Video

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