The third and final week of budget hearings began on Monday with an all-day hearing before the House Appropriations Committee. The Department of Education’s budget hearing focused on higher education in the morning and on basic education in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Senate held three hearings on Monday. First, members heard from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board: Executive Director Kevin O’Toole reported that due to the new gaming law enacted last year, the board is asking for $2 million for video gaming terminals (VGTs) and $400,000 for administration of fantasy sports contests. Both these gaming mechanisms are new and approved by the legislature in Act 42 of 2017. O’Toole also discussed the newly established Category 4 (mini casino) licenses and the potential for the state to receive at least $165 million in revenue if all 10 licenses are sold.
The Senate then heard from Dan Hassell, Secretary of the Department of Revenue, and Drew Svitko, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Lottery. Svitko announced that Keno, iLottery and virtual sports are all new options the Lottery will be launching in the next few months, and anticipates that these new games will be successful and help raise revenue. Secretary Hassell stated that his department is still assessing the impact of the federal change to bonus depreciation on Pennsylvania corporate tax payers, and expects to have a recommendation for action to the Legislature sooner than later. Finally, Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin appeared before the committee, where he highlighted the opportunities for new businesses to relocate in the Commonwealth.
On Tuesday, the House held a hearing with the Department of Human Services (DHS). Acting Secretary Teresa Miller discussed issues ranging from Medicaid, home care, and the proposed consolidation of DHS and the Department of Health. Tuesday was the Senate’s final day of hearings for the week and began the day with the Department of Education, discussing school safety and career and technical education with Secretary Pedro Rivera. Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne followed, where she talked about the Community HealthChoices program and other issues such as the PACE program and area agencies on aging.
With a nor’easter looming, the Senate cancelled Wednesday’s scheduled hearings, but the House proceeded, weather notwithstanding. First, Commissioner Col. Tyree Blocker of the Pennsylvania State Police appeared before the committee, where he faced questions about the Governor’s proposed fee for municipalities that use PSP services, the opioid epidemic and the upcoming cadet class. Then, Pennsylvania Inspector General Bruce Beemer laid out the functions of his office and the types of investigations that have taken place during his tenure. Lastly, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board members testified before the committee. Discussion revolved around new revenue streams derived from last year’s comprehensive gaming bill.
On the last day of budget hearings in the House, Secretary of the Budget Randy Albright provided members with a summary of the Wolf Administration’s budget proposal and answered an array of questions. Republican members spent a majority of the hearing discussing the Farm Show financing agreement. They believe that the arrangement is more of a loan than a “lease-leaseback” agreement that was contemplated in last year’s Fiscal Code bill. Secretary Albright and members of the committee commended Democratic Chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) for his work; Markosek will retire at the end of this legislative session.
The Week Ahead
Now that budget hearings have come to a close, expect business as usual at the Capitol. The House of Representatives will be in Harrisburg next week for three days of session.
On Monday, the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee will consider H.B. 1412 (Barrar, R-Delaware), which would encourage the deployment and use of new technologies such as micro grids and energy grid storage capabilities. In the House Commerce Committee, members will vote on H.B. 1284 (Peifer, R-Pike), which would provide a one-stop-shop online permitting portal for businesses, and H.B. 2124 (Quinn, C., R-Delaware), which would require colleges and universities to send letters to students with information on their student loan debt.
Also on Monday, the House Transportation Committee will consider H.B. 1446 (Quinn, M., R-Bucks), which would create a framework for electric and natural gas vehicle infrastructure in the Commonwealth. The House Urban Affairs Committee will consider H.B. 2010 (O’Brien, D-Philadelphia), which would provide a uniform definition for the term “blight,” and H.B. 2039 (Moul, R-Adams), which would create a state verification process service or assistance animals for individuals with disabilities. Lastly, the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee will hold an informational hearing to discuss marketing activities and initiatives designed to attract business and travelers to the state.
Tuesday, the House State Government Committee will consider H.B. 1792 (Benninghoff, R-Centre), which would give the General Assembly the ability to initiate the repeal of any regulation in effect in Pennsylvania by a concurrent resolution, and H.B. 1959 (Rothman, R-Cumberland), which would require all agencies that issue permits to increase transparency of the permitting process. The House Judiciary Committee will take up two organ donation bills: S.B. 108 (Sabatina, R-Philadelphia) would prohibit the discrimination of any potential organ transplant recipient on the basis of a physical or mental disability, and S.B. 180 (Greenleaf, R-Montgomery) would modernize the Donate Live PA Act. On Wednesday, the House Aging and Older Adult Services will hold an informational meeting on the state of licensed long-term care facilities. In addition, the House Local Government Committee will consider H.B. 1890 (Kampf, R-Chester), which would authorize county commissioners to implement a Voluntary Real Estate Sales Verification Form Pilot Program. The committee will also vote on H.B. 1990 (Harper, R-Montgomery), which provides for training and qualifications of members of the boards of assessment appeals, and H.B. 1991 (Harper, R-Montgomery), which would exempt building permit information submitted to the county assessment office from the Right-to-Know Law.
In Other News
- Sands Casino in Bethlehem sold to Wind Creek Hospitality out of Alabama.
- Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski resigned after he was convicted last week of corruption charges.
- Pennsylvania will start collecting sales tax from Amazon.
- A federal court panel will hear Pennsylvania Republicans’ arguments on the constitutionality of the new congressional map.