As of our last writing, the General Assembly had sent Governor Wolf a budget bill in time to meet the June 30 deadline, but failed to pass legislation that would raise the revenue needed to foot the bill. By the end of July, the Senate had passed a revenue package, lobbed it to the House and there it sat until this week, when the House of Representatives returned to session after about a month’s hiatus.
Early in the week, all signs pointed toward the House’s consideration of the “Putting People First Budget.” By Wednesday, the plan was before the House (in the form of a House bill, amended by Senate, then further amended by the House). The budget plan, spearheaded by Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) balances the 2017-2018 budget (now three months late) through a series of fund transfers, allows for the sale of Tobacco Settlement funds, includes money from the settlement of lawsuits and anticipates revenue through gaming expansion. In particular, the bill, H.B. 453, includes the following:
- $9 million from various court settlements;
- $20 million from legislature reserve accounts;
- $50 million from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board profits;
- $200 million from the reserves of the Joint Underwriting Association;
- $225 million from a yet-to-be-determined gambling expansion;
- $400 million in unspent funds from past years; and
- $630 million in special fund transfers.
This plan does not, at this time, contemplate a natural gas severance tax, despite calls from House Democrats and a number of Republicans from the southeastern part of the state to impose the tax as a new continuing stream of revenue.
But we did see some action on a severance tax bill this week. The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee called up Rep. Harper’s H.B. 113, which would have imposed a 3.5% tax on the severance of natural gas. However, the bill was amended in the committee to simply rename the state’s current natural gas “impact fee” as a severance tax, making it difficult to gauge whether or not there will be an effort to enact the tax and if this bill will be a vehicle.
In addition, the House Health Committee moved three bills out on Wednesday. H.B. 358 (Baker, R-Tioga), which provides civil liability to volunteer healthcare practitioners in certain circumstances, was reported as committed with the Democrats voting against the measure. H.B. 1613 (Cutler, R-Lancaster), which modernizes the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) and H.B. 1739 (Baker, R-Tioga), which allows the use of the direct primary care payment model, both moved through committee unanimously.
A Look Ahead
The House has cancelled tomorrow’s scheduled session day, and stands in recess until the call of the chair. The Senate will return next week and may take action on H.B. 453 by concurring in the bill or amending it back to the House in this legislative ping pong match. Stay tuned here for budget updates.
As of now, there isn’t a lot of action anticipated in the Senate standing committees, but that is bound to change by early Monday. Updates can be found here.
In Other News:
- Congratulations to Leesa Allen, appointed this week to the National Board of Medicaid Directors
- Governor Wolf joined the Governors of Delaware and New York in approving a resolution to permanently ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin.
- The Governor also announced a decrease in the state’s uninsured rate.
- Some issues have been raised in Pennsylvania’s newly established medical marijuana program that could slow down its implementation.
- Finally, on a sad note, we send our heartfelt regards to the family of former Rep. Bud George (D-Clearfield), who passed away on September 1 at 89 years old, as well as the family of Rep. Dan McNeill (D-Lehigh/Northampton), who passed away on September 8 at age 70. Godspeed, gentlemen.