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Senator Scott Wagner

 

As a follow-up to my Budget Hearing Recap on Tuesday, below you will find videos from all of my Q&A sessions with department heads during this week’s budget hearings conducted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Additionally, I have included highlights of topics covered by other members.

We will reconvene on Monday, March 7th for our final two days of hearings – 6 more left – so be sure to tune in at pasenategop.com to watch live.  Also, follow me on Facebook and Twitter to get updates as they happen.


MONDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2016

Corrections/Probation and Parole

2/29/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Corrections

During the Department of Corrections budget hearing, I asked Secretary John Wetzel questions pertaining to the time-recording system used for their 17,000 employee operation, the potential for privatizing some prison facilities, the number of employees out on workers comp, and the number of union grievances that are unresolved.

Other topics covered by the committee included:

  • Rising costs, driven by pensions and overtime, while inmate numbers decrease
  • Challenges of handling inmates with mental health issues
  • Threats to Corrections Officers' safety due to overcrowding
  • Saving millions of dollars due to SCI Camp Hill's use of natural gas
  • Use of Vivitrol, a heroin overdose drug, in prisons
  • Costs of aging, high-risk inmates
  • Use of state funds for diverting prisoners to county facilities for short-term sentences
  • The effect of Veterans Courts on Corrections system
  • Abuse of leave time by Corrections personnel

Full Hearing

Transportation

2/29/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Transportation

While questioning Secretary of Transportation Leslie Richards, I expressed concern regarding costs associated with switching to natural gas vehicles in the PennDOT fleet, Pennsylvania having the highest gasoline tax, and the amount of money going to the State Police from the Motor License Fund dedicated to road and bridge projects.

Secretary Richards also fielded questions from members of the Senate Appropriations Committee covering topics such as:

  • Status of projects being funded under Act 89, the Transportation Funding Plan, particularly structurally deficient roads and bridges
  • Elimination of registration stickers and the use of license plate readers by police
  • A proposal to change driver license renewal from four to eight years to cut costs
  • Legislation that would allow motorists who have minor infractions to avoid losing their license for long periods of time
  • Maintenance of smaller rural roads
  • The cost of responding to Winter Storm Jonas
  • Duplication between the services provided by the Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

Full Hearing

Labor and Industry

2/29/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Labor & Industry

In questioning Secretary of Labor and Industry Kathy Manderino, I raised concerns regarding the skilled labor shortage, and we talked extensively about the costs and the amount they charge for inspections. She also gave an overview of the department’s technology needs that would make her staff more efficient.

Other topics discussed by committee members included:

  • The Vocational Rehabilitation Fund and potential changes to the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Centers for Independent Living and assistive technology
  • State employment indicators
  • Unemployment Compensation reform/seasonal workers/call center wait times

Full Hearing

TUESDAY, MARCH 1, 2016

Department of General Services

3/1/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Dept. of General Services

Secretary of the Department of General Services (DGS) Curt Topper highlighted savings that have been realized through the Governor’s GO-TIME initiative. I requested a specific breakdown of these savings, as well as further information regarding the rent for 7 million square feet of leased real estate, which costs approximately $1,757 per square foot.

Other topics covered by the committee included:

  • The PA Standards Laboratory and whether it is duplicative with other departments
  • The need to improve and better implement technology to cut costs and be more effective
  • Use of natural gas in state buildings to save money
  • The sale of the State Hospital in Harrisburg the effect on displaced workers, and potential savings
  • Costs for leasing and maintaining state vehicles

Full Hearing

Department of Aging

Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne discussed the state services provided to the 2.7 million Pennsylvanians over the age of 60 during her department's budget hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Topics discussed included:

  • Services provided by senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging
  • Home- and community-based services
  • Decreasing Lottery reserve funds and the potential for lottery machines in state stores
  • Support and demand for PACE/PACENET and prices charged for medications
  • The property tax burden on senior citizens
  • The growing impact of Alzheimer’s disease

Full Hearing

Agriculture

Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding discussed the Governor’s proposed zero funding in Fiscal Year 2016-17 and line-item vetoed funding in Fiscal Year 2015-16 for key agriculture programs and initiatives during a budget hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The Race Horse Development Fund and the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania
  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed strategies and their impact on farmers
  • The role of Conservation Districts
  • Flat state funding of agriculture research and extension
  • Avian influenza
  • State support for fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show
  • Dog licenses and dog law enforcement
  • Food safety inspections

Full Hearing

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2, 2016

State-Related Universities

3/2/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: State-Related Universities

In an effort to bring to light exactly where your money goes, I requested financial documentation from each of our four state-related universities – Penn State, Pitt, Lincoln, and Temple. Specifically, I am looking for balance sheets reflecting reserve funds and cash on hand, revenue and expense statements for each institution, and a list of employees with salary and benefit costs.

Presidents of the State-Related Universities took questions from other members of the committee on several issues related to higher education, including:

  • The affordability of college education and the large amount of debt students are incurring
  • The amount of funding requested particularly during the current budget crisis
  • The amount of financial aid that the institutions offer and the percentage that is awarded to in-state students
  • The rationale for admissions decisions and whether in-state students are treated equitably
  • A status report on retention and graduation rates
  • A lack of state control over benefits and compensation and the need for greater transparency in compensation decisions

Full Hearing

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education

3/2/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: State System of Higher Education

During the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) budget hearing, I called out several items from their financial report that point to rising costs and the need to identify mechanisms to save our higher education schools money.

State System of Higher Education Chancellor Frank Brogan, Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael Driscoll, and East Stroudsburg University senior Drew Johnson fielded questions on topics including:

  • Strategic planning for the system’s future
  • The size of universities’ reserve funds
  • Impacts of subsidizing underperforming universities
  • The ability to eliminate redundancies of services
  • The impact of rising pension and benefit costs
  • Percentages of graduates working in their field of study and staying in Pennsylvania
  • PASSHE programs for veteran

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency

PEMA Director Richard Flinn fielded questions related to the state’s ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies, including:

  • PEMA’s new facility and when the move will be completed
  • Hiring a state meteorologist and whether it is duplicative, costly and unnecessary
  • Coordination among county emergency management planners
  • Outreach efforts to disabled individuals during disasters
  • The high cost to municipalities of paid fire and police personnel
  • The renewal of county hazard mitigation plans
  • Training to first responders in train derailments involving hazardous chemicals

Full Hearing


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You can also find me on Twitter at @SenScottWagner as well as on Facebook.
 

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