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Week of July 11, 2016
In this Edition:
Wagner Votes Against New Taxes as State Budget is Completed
Over my objections, the legislature approved a revenue package that includes nearly $600 million in additional taxes with the passage of House Bill 1198. The Governor signed the bill on Wednesday night, completing the 2016-17 state budget.
As you may recall, the General Assembly approved a $31.53 billion spending plan on June 29th – increasing spending by $1.406 billion (4.7%) -- and has spent the last two weeks trying to figure out how to pay for it.
The $600 million in new taxes includes a $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase, taxes on tobacco and e-cigarettes, a new sales tax on digital downloads such as books and apps, and an expansion of the income tax to lottery winnings. One-time revenues from fund transfers are also heavily relied on. Unfortunately, transfers from the $4.3 billion that schools have in their reserve funds is not one of them. Instead, Pittsburgh School District, which a recent audit found to have a $129 million surplus, is getting an increase of more than $3 million in this year’s budget.
I am tired of this continued budgeting nonsense in Harrisburg. State government should establish its available revenue, and then budget its spending based on available dollars. Instead, the Legislature and the Governor drew up a wish list and then set out to raise the taxes to pay for it. This is not how families balance their budgets and not how I run my businesses.
I have identified realistic cost savings that would allow Pennsylvania to meet its obligations without hiking taxes. The 2016-17 tax package passed the Senate by a slim six-vote margin of 28-22. Seventeen Republicans and five Democrats voted against the plan. I believe there is a desire to change the way things are done in Harrisburg, and I will continue working to do just that.
Legislation to Establish Restricted Fund for ATV Activities Sent to Governor
Legislation to ensure that funds received through the registration, certification, and enforcement of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in Pennsylvania are used specifically to support ATV activities received final approval and was sent to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
Senate Bill 648 requires that monies generated through ATV-related operations are placed in a restricted account to be used for a variety of purposes including the construction and maintenance of ATV trails and acquisition of equipment, supplies, and interests in land.
Currently, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) does not separate expenditures related to ATV and snowmobile operations. As a result, these funds are being disproportionately allocated between user groups. While ATV operations contribute $1.4 million of the $1.6 million in the current fund, 80 percent of the total funding is allocated to expansion of snowmobile trails.
Additional Bills Sent to the Governor
House Bill 325 clarifies and updates the Auctioneer Licensing and Trader Assistant Registration Act and eliminates the Auction House license.
Senate Bill 533 establishes a uniform procedure for the disposition of contraband left in the possession of probation and parole agencies.
Senate Bill 514 amends the Generic Equivalent Drug Law to provide for the substitution of an interchangeable biological product for a brand name biologic.
House Bill 806 amends the Clean and Green law to prohibit the application of use values that result in assessments higher than fair market value.
House Bill 871 allows for the de-titling of vehicles which are recycled by a scrap metal processor.
House Bill 967 establishes an agricultural pilot program for industrial hemp research.
Senate Bill 1227 transfers the responsibilities of the Public Employee Retirement Commission with regard to pension legislation to the Independent Fiscal Office and the Office of the Auditor General.
Senate Bill 1221 reforms the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.
Senate Bill 1267 enhances the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Municipal Signal Partnership Program known as Green Light-Go.
Senate Passes Measure Expanding Nurse Practitioners’ Authority
The Senate approved a bill this week that would amend the state’s Professional Nursing Law to provide for the licensure of certified nurse practitioners by the State Board of Nursing.
Currently, nurse practitioners must be affiliated with, and pay a fee to, a physician. Under Senate Bill 717 nurse practitioners would still be required to practice for 3 years and 3,600 hours under a collaborative agreement with two physicians. After completing the transition-to-practice period, nurse practitioners could have full practice authority without the affiliation requirement.
The legislation is now before the House Professional Licensure Committee for review.
Additional Bills Sent to the House of Representatives
House Bill 568 amends the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act providing for the review of updated sections of codes. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Bill 1229 amends the Administrative Code providing for unconventional oil and gas regulations, the closing of state correctional facilities, solar credits, and the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund .
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the following budget-related bills this week, both of which I voted against:
House Bill 1605 is the 2016-17 Fiscal Code.
House Bill 1606 is the 2016-17 School Code.
The Senate returns to voting session on Monday, September 26th.
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.