House Republicans Pass Budget That Cripples Community-Based Environmental Protection, Recreation Efforts
The General Assembly and various Governors have spent more than 10 years cutting environmental agency budgets-- DEP’s General Fund budget alone has been cut 40 percent and its staff by more than 25 percent-- now with the action by House Republicans Wednesday to pass a budget that transfers over $317 million out of environmental and energy special funds, House Republicans are directly attacking support for local, community-based environmental protection projects.
House Republicans, in a 103 to 91 party-line vote, amended and returned House Bill 453 (Ryan-R- Lebanon) to the Senate containing the House Republican plan to transfer over $317 million out of environmental and energy special funds to the General Fund to help balance the state’s budget.
Each member who voted for the Republican budget was responsible for cutting over $3 million in environmental funding for local, community-based environmental restoration, protection, recreation and other projects.
The proposal would transfer a total of $630.5 million from special funds, which means environmental transfers make up more than half of the total transfers.
There is no natural gas severance tax in the proposal.
The intent behind the House Republican budget was made clear by one Republican member-- “We’re erasing 30 years of a lot of peoples’ work around here, and I’m sure a lot of people are upset about that.”
Another House Republican said of the Growing Greener Program-- “Two-thirds of the state is covered by woods, so “how much greener should we be?”
Here are the cuts (and yes, they are real cuts as an increasingly tall mountain of evidence shows-- see below) included in the House Republican plan--
-- Recycling Fund - $70 million
-- Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund - $70 million
-- Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund - $50 million
-- Multimodal Transportation Fund - $50 million
-- Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund - $100 million
-- County Conservation District Fund - $2.5 million
-- Industrial Sites Cleanup Fund - $10 million
-- Industrial Sites Environmental Assessment Fund - $7.5 million
-- Energy Development Fund - $3.96 million
-- Environmental Education Fund - $500,000
-- Coal Lands Improvement Fund - $2 million
-- Highway Beautification Fund - $500,000
-- Solid Waste-Resource Recovery Development Fund - $448,000
The bill includes other provisions related to the environment, including--
-- NEW. Extends, Not Repeals Newark Shale Moratorium: Extends the existing ban on drilling in the Newark Shale natural gas deposits in the Southeast to January 1, 2024 from 2018.
-- Stays: Air Pollution Act Transfer: $30.4 million from a settlement by the Attorney General relating to violations of the Air Pollution Control Act by Volkswagen received during the fiscal year to the General Fund.
-- Stays: Oil and Gas Lease Fund: Annually transfer $20 million [supposed to be $35 million] from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund for distribution to the Environmental Stewardship Fund and $15 million transferred to the Marcellus Legacy Fund to transfer to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund.
-- Stays: Small Water And Sewer System Funding: $15 million available for small water and sewer projects with a cost of not less than $30,00 or more than $500,000. Transfers an additional $10 million from Building PA Program to small water and sewer projects.
-- Stays: Susquehanna and Delaware River Basin Commissions: Authorizes the Auditor General to audit the river basin commissions and no more than 25 percent of the appropriations to the commissions may be spent in any quarter and the commissions shall reimburse the Auditor General for the cost of the audit.
-- Stays: Farm Succession Planning Grants: Allows the Department of Agriculture to use funds from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund for succession planning grants to continue agricultural operations.
-- Stays: Funding For Washington Crossing Historical Park: Requires $2.25 million of DCNR’s State Parks Operations line item to be expended on maintenance for Washington Crossing State Park.
-- Taken Out: Natural Gas Pipeline Fund: $6 million transfer from the Building Pennsylvania Program to the Natural Gas Pipeline Fund
-- Taken Out: Funding Sewer/Water Laterals: Allows public municipal authorities to use funds to replace private water and sewer laterals.
-- Taken Out: Temporary Cessation Of Oil & Gas Wells: Provisions relating to payments of royalties during periods of nonproduction.
The remainder of the package includes--
-- Tobacco Settlement Fund monetization $1 billion (was $1.3 billion)
-- Gaming Expansion - $225 million
-- Additional LCB Transfer - $50 million
-- Joint Underwriting Association Transfer - $200 million
Gov. Wolf has already said the House Republican plan is “nonsense” and “irresponsible.”
Senate Republican staff have said there isn’t near the amount of unused money in the accounts House Republicans plan to use and certainly not to balance the budget. They did give them points for trying.
Needless to say House and Senate Democrats are opposed to the plan calling it a “phoney budget” and “fake news.”
As promised, Gov. Tom Wolf Friday announced the state will delay paying over $1.7 billion owed to managed care organizations ($1.169 billion) and the PA School Employees Retirement System ($581 million) until at least September 21.
State Treasurer Joe Torsella Tuesday released a statement regarding Treasury’s Short Term Investment Pool (STIP), and warned that on September 15, the General Fund’s balance is projected to fall to zero.
As a result, without corrective action, $860 million in scheduled expenditures would be delayed until the General Fund has received sufficient revenue, which, of course, came true.
The Other Shoes
Remember, this is only the Fiscal Code bill, there is still the Tax Code-- House Bill 542 (Thomas-D-Philadelphia) and Administrative Code -- House Bill 118 (Kaufer-R-Luzerne)-- bills that both have troublesome provisions.
The House is not scheduled to be back in voting session September 25, although the House Speaker could call them in before that date.
The Senate is due back in Harrisburg September 18.
The Senate Rules Committee has scheduled an off the floor meeting for Monday, September 18 to consider the bill, which means it could meet at any time after the Senate convenes at 1:00.
More And More Opposition Piling Up:
[Posted: Sept. 13, 2017]
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