UPDATED: Senate Moves Agreed-To Budget, Pension Reform Bills, Fate Uncertain In House

(Dec. 7 6:30 a.m.)-- By a vote of 25 to 1, the Senate Appropriations Committee amended Senate Bill 1073 (Browne-R-Lehigh) with the agreed-to General Fund budget framework and reported the bill to the full Senate late Sunday evening. A final vote will take place as early as Tuesday.  

Click Here to read a copy of the bill as amended.

The Committee also amended and reported out Senate Bill 1082 (Browne-R-Lehigh) with compromise pension reform provisions by a vote of 21 to 5.  

Click Here to read a copy of the bill as amended.

“This is what we have the votes for and what the Governor will sign,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre).  He said he believes the price paid for this budget is reasonable and one that is fair and solves the most significant problem facing the Commonwealth.

Sen. Corman said they are still working on options to fund the $600 million in new revenue needed to balance the $30.8 billion General Fund budget and help fund the $350 million in new education spending.

They are still looking at eliminating Sales Tax exemptions as the main funding source, but they have not said which ones.

He added the Governor is also prepared to sign the pension reform bill reported out by the Appropriations Committee tonight.  Sen. Corman called the pension bill an  “historic accomplishment” by any measure around the country and he isn’t ready to give that up for anything.

The amendment created a hybrid pension system effective July 1, 2017 for new state employees and January 1, 2018 for new school employees.

Sen. Corman noted they are still working on a liquor privatization bill that he said should be done this week and are also working on the other bills needed to implement the budget, including the Fiscal Code and Welfare Code.

Click Here to watch his comments.

House Has No Budget Plan

Meanwhile House Republican and Democratic leadership met Sunday evening which apparently resulted in no discernible game plan on how the two sides will move the budget process forward over the next few days.

Earlier Sunday, House Republicans canceled a planned Appropriations Committee which was to consider a new  barebones $30.3 billion budget without tax increases pushed by conservative members.

Click Here to read Senate Bill 1073 as amended.  Click Here to read Senate Bill 1082 as amended.

Comparing FY 2014-15 To Senate Budget Bill

Here is a comparison of selected General Fund line items from last year’s budget bill-- House Bill 2328-- to the version of the budget reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last night-- Senate Bill 1073--

-- Environmental Protection

DEP General Operations-- $13.1 million, slight increase over last year $12.4 million

DEP Protection Operations-- $89.3 million, slight increase over last year $84.4 million

DEP Program Management-- $29.5 million, slight increase over $28.6 million

Conservation Districts-- $2.5 million, same as last year

Transfer To O&M Trust Account-- $500,000

Black Fly-- $3.3 million, same as last year

West Nile Virus-- $3.8 million, slightly less than last year $3.9 million

Sewage Facilities Grants -- $610,000, slight less than last year $700,000

DRBC-- $750,000 increase over $434,000 last year

SRBC, ORSANCO, Potomac River Basin Commission-- same as last year

-- Conservation and Natural Resources

DCNR General Operations-- $12.3 million, increase over $5.8 million last year

State Parks Operations-- $33.2 million (plus $21.4 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund), decrease over $2.2 million last year ($45 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund)

State Forest Operations-- $11.1 million (plus $10.5 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund), increase over $1 million last year (plus $17.5 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund)

Heritage Parks-- $2.7 million, same as last year

-- Agriculture

Agriculture General Operations-- $28.4 million, increase over $25.2 million

Conservation Districts-- $869,000, same as last year


Senate To Vote On Budget Despite House GOP’s Opposition

PLS: Senate Loads Budget, Pension Bills Facing Uncertain Future

Senate In Late-Night Session On Budget

Senate Moves On Budget, Pension Reform Bills To End Impasse

House Working On Own Fiscal Plan Jeopardizing Budget Deal

PLS: No Discernible Budget Game Plan In House

AP: Budget Process In Peril As House Canceled Sunday Session

Pension Reform Bill Makes It Optional For Lawmakers

PLS: Municipal Pension Reform Likely On Hold Until After Budget

Op-Ed: Can State Prohibit Re-Run Of Budget Showdown?

(Dec. 6 11:15 a.m.)-- The Senate (7:00 p.m.) and House (3:30 p.m.) return to voting session Sunday and may move competing versions of a state budget.

Some House Republicans are looking at a barebones $30.3 billion budget without tax increases pushed by conservative members.  They also want to set aside pension and liquor reform.

The Senate Republicans and Gov. Wolf are sticking with the budget framework calls for-- $30.7 billion budget with $600 million in revenue “enhancements.”

House Republicans just CANCELED the Appropriations Committee they had scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Sunday on its General Fund budget vehicle-- House Bill 1460 (Adolph-R- Delaware).

The Senate Appropriations Committee has scheduled a meeting Sunday off the floor (after 7:00 p.m.) to consider its version of a General Fund--  Senate Bill 1073 (Browne-R- Lehigh) and pension reform-- Senate Bill 1082 (Browne-R-Lehigh)-- bills.

Another bump in the road or a total collapse?  Stay tuned….


State Budget Framework Rattles Apart Over Tax, Spending Issues

Budget Agreement May Be Collapsing

Republicans To Consider Barebones State Budget

Senate, House Return To Vote Different Budgets Sunday

House Veers Away From Deal To End Budget Stalemate

Competing Budget Bills Could Emerge Sunday

Budget Imploded Again, Winners & Losers

Rep. Christiana Discusses Possibility Of Severance Tax

Op-Ed: Government Is Messy, Inefficient For Good Reason

Op-Ed: Legislature Working On Budget, But It Doesn’t Work

(Dec. 4 10:00 p.m.)--

The state budget situation is very fluid at this point.  As of late Friday evening, the Senate and House have adjourned without taking a single vote on any final budget related bill.  They have plans for working through the weekend, but so far-- nada.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) summed up what was happening very nicely early Friday evening when he told the PA Legislative Services they have to get vehicles in position to move, but nothing is in ink yet.

The latest news will be continuously available at the PA Environment Digest Daily Blog, Twitter Feed and on Google+ Circle.

Not Much New

Here’s what we know so far, which is not much different than what we knew before Thanksgiving.

Senate and House Republicans are working hard to find the votes to pass the budget they and Gov. Wolf agreed to last week.  The hardest nut to crack is raising $600 million, not to provide any property tax relief, but to balance what is expected to be a $30.7 billion General Fund budget and help fund $350 million in new education spending.

They have already, for the most part, ruled out raising the Personal Income and Sales Tax rates or enacting a new natural gas severance tax.

The one solution they’ve talked about is eliminating a laundry list of exemptions to the Sales Tax, including taxing items like museums, symphonies and businesses such as bowling alleys, amusement parks, golf courses, ski slopes and campgrounds, gym trainers and more.

Also on the table is an increase in the cigarette tax and other tobacco.

But nothing has been decided as of this writing.

In one possible bright spot, maybe, Philly.com reported Friday Gov. Wolf said there was an agreement with Senate and House Republicans on how to distribute the additional school funding to be included in the budget.

Talks also continue on changes to the state and school employee pension systems to incorporate a new 401(k)-type plan for new employees, but again, nothing is yet in the form of legislation.

Capitolwire.com reported late Friday pension language may not be ready to consider until late next week since it requires an actuarial note by the Public Employee Retirement Commission.

PennLive.com reported Friday, many lawmakers did not support making reforms in their own pensions, however.

A “lighter” version of liquor reform is also being discussed, but legislators are still far away from being ready to vote on any language.  House Republicans continue to push for full privatization of the system, but Senate Republicans have not supported the House proposal.  Gov. Wolf has been opposed to complete privatization.

Federal Funds Released

The Wolf Administration this week released federal funds, in this instance to fund local domestic violence shelters, at the apparent request of federal officials.

$30.4 Billion Already Spent

At a press conference Thursday, a group of conservative lawmakers unveiled a report saying the Wolf Administration has spent $30.4 billion in state and federal funding (mostly federal) since the budget impasse began on July 1.

At least $2.7 billion, they said, was through the use of waivers for spending previous fiscal year funds granted by the Administration.

"We've heard countless promises from Gov. Wolf pledging openness, accountability and transparency in his administration's operations," said Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson). "This report clearly demonstrates an absolute betrayal of those promises to the people of this Commonwealth. Beyond the governor's lack of transparency to the people, he is circumventing the responsibility of the executive branch to be accountable to the Legislature. He is not a king. The Legislature writes the laws. His responsibility is to execute those laws. This is a Republic, not a dictatorship."

Counties Withhold Funds

Chester County joined Bucks County in withholding payments of fines, fees and other monies they normally pass along to the state until the budget impasse is resolved.  For Chester that means about $4 million a month is being withheld from the state.

By the way, the state collected $1.8 billion more in tax revenue in November.

Stay tuned for more….


Christmas Spirit Can’t End Budget Impasse

AP: As Weekend Nears, Lawmakers Test Budget Options

Sen. Scarnati: Budget Deal Still On For Now?

All Sides Look To See If Budget Framework Can Be Turned Into A Deal

Wolf: PA Will Have A Budget Well Before Christmas

Drillers Get Off Cheap With Impact Fees

Hanger: Severance Tax Will Be In Next Wolf Budget

Reed: House Has A Lot Of Tough Decisions to Make

GOP Leader Says House Considering Broader Sales Tax

PA Budget Impasse Lingers, Few Details

Final Budget May Erase Longstanding Sales Tax Exemptions

AP: Thanksgiving Break Ends, Budget Stalemate Remains

PLS: Work Continues On House Of Cards Budget

State Budget Seems Unlikely This Week

PA Budget Fight’s Bottom Line-- Taxes

Some Lawmakers Go Hunting Despite Budget Impasse

Game Commission Reaps Revenue From Shale Gas

Congress Finalizes 5-Year Transportation Funding Bill


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