This week brought another false start to the now four-month overdue state budget. All signs pointed toward “go” last week; the Senate even scheduled additional session days to come to Harrisburg and finally put this business to bed. But after three strikes – a failed attempt to enact a tax on commercial storage, a failed attempt to enact an additional hotel tax and a defeated effort to bring a severance tax bill to the floor for consideration – both chambers were out by Wednesday afternoon.
Seemingly fed up with the continued lack of agreement on a completed state spending plan, the Governor announced that he was going to forge ahead and pay the state’s bills despite the lack of new revenue. He will do so by securitizing future payments to the General Fund from the Liquor Control Board, and proceeding with whatever measures he can to effectuate savings through more efficient and streamlined state government. This move will leave our state related universities – Temple, Lincoln, Pitt and Penn State – out in the cold, but will allow the state to continue to pay its bills and not suffer additional credit downgrades.
Against the background of the state budget battle, there was some advancement on other legislative fronts this week. On Monday, the House passed H.B. 1657 (Maloney, R-Berks), providing further protections for bike lanes. The House Appropriations Committee reported S.B. 651 (Browne, R-Lehigh), a capital budget itemization bill, to the full floor for consideration, but no further action was taken on the bill. In the Senate, the Law and Justice Committee reported out H.B. 1547 (Harris, J., D-Philadelphia), a Liquor Code bill to address the increasing problem of “stop-n-go’s” in the City of Philadelphia. Finally, on Monday, the Senate passed H.B. 45 (Godshall, R-Montgomery), which gives terminally ill patients the “right to try” experimental medications. That bill was passed by the House on Wednesday and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Still hopeful that a budget deal could come to fruition by weeks end, on Tuesday the House Rules Committee reported out H.B. 542 (Thomas, D-Philadelphia), a comprehensive Tax Reform Code bill that ended up stalled as the legislature failed to reach agreement on exactly what taxes would be raised or imposed to balance the budget. In non-budget news, on Tuesday the House passed H.B. 401 (Grove, R-York), which would provide for the establishment of commerce courts, and H.B. 1613 (Cutler, R-Lancaster), which would reauthorize the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, and the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out H.R. 515 (Fritz, R-Susquehanna), urging the Delaware River Basin Commission to suspend consideration of a moratorium on natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin.
Finally, on Wednesday, the House Consumer Affairs Committee sent S.B. 242 (Baker, R-Luzerne), which would extend and amend the PA One Call Law, to the full floor for consideration. The bill was given first reading and was tabled. The House also passed H.B. 785 (Saylor, R-York), which amends the Capital Facilities Debt Enabling Act to reduce the amount of redevelopment assistance capital project (RACP) obligations that may be outstanding and the about of RACP projects the Governor may release annually.
The legislature also sent two bills to the Governor’s desk on Wednesday: H.B. 409 (Evankovich, R-Westmoreland), which includes long-awaited reforms and updates to the Pennsylvania Construction Code, and H.B. 59 (Moul, R-Adams), amending the Human Services Code. H.B. 59 has been in play since budget negotiations started in June, as the typical Human Services omnibus bill we see each year at budget time. However, the Governor has noted his objections to H.B 59., and has announced publicly that he plans to veto the bill.
A little bit of budget burnout coupled with the Columbus Day holiday will mean a quiet week in Harrisburg next week; no committee hearings have been scheduled as of this writing.
In Other News
- Governor Wolf announced $5 million in funding for naloxone to first responders.
- Republican Congressman Tim Murphy announced he will not run for a ninth term in office.
- The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could affect Pennsylvania’s next congressional map.
- Former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.
- The wife of the late Rep. Dan McNeill accepted the Pennsylvania Democrat’s nomination to fill her husband’s seat in HD-133.
- Governor Tom Wolf and First Lady Frances Wolf recognized 8 women as Pennsylvania’s 2017 Distinguished Daughters.