Pennsylvania Senate Republicans
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Senate Appropriations Committee
Budget Hearings
FY 2014-2015


Aging
Thursday, Feb. 27

Listen
During the Department of Aging’s hearing, senators asked Secretary Brian Duke about a wide range of programs and services related to senior citizens including:

  • Strategies to address Alzheimer’s disease
  • An update on the Apprise program which provides free health insurance counseling to help older Pennsylvanians with Medicare
  • The high cost of long-term care and efforts to keep seniors in their homes
  • The effectiveness of the Family Caregiver Support Program
  • Growing Lottery resources
  • The role that senior centers play in providing services

Agriculture
Tuesday, Feb. 25

Listen
Members of the Appropriations Committee questioned Secretary of Agriculture George Greig about the development of agriculture resource centers. They also discussed:

  • Licensing and registration fees
  • The PA Preferred program
  • The economic impact of livestock shows in Pennsylvania
  • Ride inspections at amusement parks
  • Restaurant inspections
  • Demographics of farming families
  • Impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on agriculture
  • State support for the State Food Purchase Program
  • Dog licenses and regulation of kennels

Attorney General
Tuesday, Feb. 11

Listen
Attorney General Kathleen Kane answered questions about her department’s efforts to crack down on crime and the budgetary challenges they are facing. Other areas of discussion included: 

  • Increased efforts to crack down on child predators and drug trafficking
  • The growing threat of heroin use and prescription drug abuse
  • An update on the department’s new child predator unit, which has been effective in tracking and prosecuting those who prey on children
  • Enforcing provisions of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement to ensure that Pennsylvania continues to receive funding through the program
  • The results of the Gun Violence Task Force, which investigates and prosecutes the sources of illegal firearms used in crime
  • How Pennsylvania is faring in the war on drugs and new models to battle drug traffickers, particularly drug cartels
  • The effectiveness of the state’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Law, and whether it needs to be amended to provide further protections to homeowners

Auditor General
Tuesday, Feb. 11

Listen
During a budget hearing with Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed the performance of public employee pension funds. Other topics included: 

  • Efforts to reform the Delaware River Port Authority
  • Collaboration with the Department of Education to improve school safety
  • Previous finds of waste in the Department of Public Welfare
  • Staffing and IT issues
  • Drinking water quality
  • Potential challenges for municipal pension systems
  • Liquid fuels audits

Banking & Securities
Wednesday, Feb. 26

Listen
Secretary of Banking and Securities Glenn Moyer provided an update on the merger of the Department of Banking and Pennsylvania Securities Commission. Other issues discussed included:

  • Proposed increases in licensing and examining fees
  • Mortgage issues
  • Department oversight of bank fraud investigations
  • Vitality of Pennsylvania’s banks
  • Elder abuse; payday lending
  • Reducing the timeframe for holding unclaimed property
  • Flood insurance rates

Community & Economic Development
Monday, Feb. 24

Listen
DCED Secretary Alan Walker discussed the need to leverage private dollars to supplement tourism promotion and boosting Pennsylvania exports, as well as:

  • Workforce development
  • Progress of the cracker plant project in Beaver County
  • Marketing to attract businesses
  • Innovative PA Program status
  • Job market outlook for 2014
  • Natural gas industry job creation
  • Energy-independent companies
  • Building more industrial parks
  • Boosting veterans procurement initiative numbers
  • Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance and Ben Franklin Partnerships
  • Helping veterans hire veterans, and older adults
  • Future of downtown Main Street/Elm Street programs
  • Historic rehabilitation
  • The need to update Act 47
  • Film tax credit
  • Base Realignment and Closure Commission
  • Public-private redevelopment of state owned property

Conservation & Natural Resources
Wednesday, Feb. 19

Listen
DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti was asked about how the proposed budget will impact the department’s mission, which includes maintaining 120 state parks and managing the 2.2 million acres of state forest land. Topics included:

  • Horizontal drilling adjacent to state parks and forest land
  • $200 million Enhance Penn’s Woods initiative
  • Dirt and gravel road projects in new transportation funding law
  • Heritage Parks funding
  • Timber harvest revenue projections
  • Vendors in state parks
  • Pest management being addressed by DCNR
  • Rail to Trail connectors and delays
  • Land trusts and preservation
  • Upgrade of the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory

Corrections & Probation & Parole
Thursday, Feb. 20

Listen
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel discussed trends in the state prison population, along with:

  • Parole violations and efforts to reduce recidivism
  • Mental health issues related to prisoners
  • Outsourcing of food service for prisons
  • Victims’ testimony at parole hearings
  • Potential prison closures and capital improvement projects
  • Expungement of criminal records
  • Courts and services for veterans
  • Inmate pay scales
  • Supervision of sex offenders
  • Abuses of the Right to Know Law by inmates
  • Gang activity in prison

Drug & Alcohol Programs
Wednesday, Feb. 12

Listen
Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis testified about programs and initiatives to reduce abuse, prevent recidivism and encourage long-term recovery. Questioning focused on:

  • The alarming increase in heroin use, and more fatalities associated with stronger strains of the drug
  • The opportunity for more drug treatment options under the Healthy PA plan
  • The legalization of medical marijuana
  • Abuse of prescription drugs – particularly among young people
  • The success of the prescription drug take-back program

Education
Wednesday, Feb. 26

Listen
Acting Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq was asked about K-12 education funding in the proposed budget, as well as:

  • Unused Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit funds
  • Intermediate Unit contracts and students
  • Ready to Succeed scholarship formation and implementation
  • Hybrid learning programs
  • Ready to Learn Block grant initiatives
  • Impact of Special Education Funding Commission recommendations
  • PlanCon backlog of construction projects 
  • School district subsidies in the proposed budget
  • Support for growing school districts
  • School district administrative staffing
  • Snow days and making the 180-day school requirement
  • School funding formula
  • Anti-bullying initiatives
  • Transportation in rural areas
  • Safe School grant distribution
  • Cut in school library funding
  • Early intervention nonrecurring costs line item
  • The importance of families in education
  • Pennsylvania Common Core implementation
  • Community Colleges
  • The 3.5 percent increase in K-12 funding
  • Effect of rising pension costs on school funding
  • STEM education

Environmental Protection
Tuesday, Feb. 18

Listen
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Secretary of Environmental Protection Chris Abruzzo regarding several issues relating to the natural gas industry, including an update on the well setback provisions in Act 13; the level of funding available to deal with unforeseen emergencies such as the recent well fires in Greene County; ways to improve emergency response to similar emergencies; potential health studies for residents living in the Marcellus Shale region; and how funding from fee increases for gas well permits will be utilized.

Other issues of discussion included:

  • Improving the permitting process
  • Funding for Conservation Districts
  • Additional funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund
  • Status of the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program
  • Funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission
  • Emission testing standards
  • The department’s plan to clean up waste tire piles

Gaming Control Board
Wednesday, Feb. 19

Listen
During a budget hearing with Gaming Control Board Chairman William Ryan, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed the decline in gaming revenue so far this year. They also addressed:

  • The effect of competition from other states
  • Grants for local law enforcement agencies
  • The effect of table games on slots revenue
  • Regulation and expected revenue from small games of chance expansion
  • Crime and the use of State Police in casinos
  • Compliance with the Clean Indoor Air Act

General Services
Wednesday, Feb. 12

Listen
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee raised several issues with Secretary Sheri Phillips during a public hearing on the Department of General Services budget, including:

  • The cost savings realized through a reduction in the state vehicle fleet, including reduced maintenance costs
  • A progress report on the effectiveness of the downtown location act
  • Keeping down energy costs

Governor's Office/Governor's Budget Office/Executive Offices
Monday, Feb. 10

Listen
The Senate Appropriations Committee opened its three-week series of hearings on the governor’s proposed 2014-15 budget with a discussion of the Governor's Budget Office/Executive Offices/Office of the Governor with Budget Secretary Charles Zogby. Issues discussed during the hearing included:

  • The governor’s public pension reform proposals
  • Revenues from small games of chance in taverns
  • The proposed transfer of funds from the Oil and Gas Fund
  • The Ready to Learn Block Grant proposal
  • Welfare fraud investigations
  • Funding for the statewide radio system
  • Gas and oil drilling in state parks and forests
  • The keno proposal and the use of Lottery Fund revenues
  • Concerns about overoptimistic revenue projections
  • Charter school reform initiatives
  • ObamaCare and Medicaid expansion
  • Privatization of food service operations in the Department of Corrections
  • Taxes paid by Marcellus Shale gas extraction businesses

Health
Wednesday, Feb. 19

Listen
Secretary of Health Michael Wolf and committee discussed:

  • The department’s efforts to expand quality care in rural regions and underserved areas
  • The effect of cuts to community health centers
  • Incorporating telemedicine in rural areas
  • Efforts to improve newborn screening

Independent Fiscal Office
Monday, Feb. 10

Listen
The Senate Appropriations Committee discussed several issues with Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) Director Matthew Knittel, including:

  • Various property tax reform proposals
  • The differences between the governor’s revenue projections and those of the IFO
  • State unemployment and job growth trends
  • Growth in lottery revenues and the impact of adding keno
  • Taxes on the Marcellus Shale gas extraction industry

Insurance
Wednesday, Feb. 12

Listen
Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine discussed several issues including Children’s Health Insurance Program enrollment and the impact of ObamaCare on the program.

Other topics included:

  • Unfunded liability of the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund
  • Trends in the medical malpractice liability insurance marketplace
  • Medicaid expansion versus the governor’s Healthy PA proposal
  • “Steering” of consumers by insurance companies to pre-approved auto repair garages
  • Federal changes to the flood insurance program
  • MCARE unfunded liability and potential phase-out
  • The ongoing dispute between Highmark and UPMC

Judiciary
Monday, Feb. 10

Listen
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned representatives of the Judiciary about a number of issues related to the state’s judicial system including:

  • The effectiveness of the state’s 17 Veterans Courts in handling cases in a more efficient and cost-effective manner
  • Computerization, technology updates and other modernization efforts and their role in promoting cost savings
  • The impact of changes in mandatory retirement ages for judges and judicial retention elections
  • Specialized courts, such as drug courts to divert non-violent offenders from the traditional court system

Labor & Industry
Tuesday, Feb. 25

Listen
Secretary Julia Hearthway was asked about the fiscal health of the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund and the impact of Act 60 reforms. Other topics included: 

  • Legislation to change overtime and UC eligibility calculation
  • UC and seasonal employment
  • CareerLink and disabled workers
  • JobGateway
  • The Strategic Early Warning Network
  • Jobs initiatives for veterans
  • The State Workers' Insurance Fund and firefighter insurance
  • The sharing of information between county assistance and L&I info
  • Hiking the minimum wage
  • Wage reimbursement program during training
  • Early Reach and Single Point of Contact programs
  • Workforce training programs
  • Misclassification of employees for workers comp, taxes
  • Pennsylvania labor outlook 
  • Federal cuts for UC service centers

Liquor Control Board
Wednesday, Feb. 19

Listen
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Liquor Control Board Chairman Joe Brion on several issues, including:

  • Ways to improve the application process for small games of chance
  • Preventing drunk driving
  • Sunday liquor sales
  • Preventing point of sale security breaches
  • The number of current state liquor stores that are not profitable
  • Marketing restrictions and advertising costs
  • Efforts to promote Pennsylvania wineries and distilleries

Military & Veterans Affairs
Tuesday, Feb. 18

Listen
The hearing on the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs featured state Adjutant General (Major General) Wesley E. Craig. Issues discussed included: 

  • Veterans’ Trust Fund activities
  • Veteran designation on drivers’ licenses
  • Veterans’ outreach programs
  • National Guard deployment status
  • Impact of federal funding reduction
  • Sales of obsolete armories
  • Support programs for service members and military families
  • Funding, staffing and waiting lists for Pennsylvania’s veterans’ homes
  • Efforts to help homeless veterans
  • The statewide radio system and its adaptability for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ needs. Elimination of funding for the Civil Air Patrol
  • A pilot program for outreach to veterans in rural areas

PASSHE
Thursday, Feb. 20

Listen
PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan and the president of Slippery Rock University discussed efforts to address declining enrollment. Other topics included: 

  • Solutions to provide additional flexibility for universities
  • Matching curriculum to the needs of Pennsylvania employers
  • Distance learning programs
  • The need for remedial education
  • An update of strategic long-term plans
  • How the Pennsylvania’s funding model compares to other states

PEMA
Thursday, Feb. 20

Listen
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Director Glenn Cannon and State Fire Commissioner Ed Mann answer questions on recent emergencies and statewide planning. Topics included:

  • Recruitment and retention of emergency responders
  • Chevron site accident in Greene County and well site safety
  • Legislation regarding distribution of 911 surcharge funds
  • The Volunteer Fire Company and Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Program
  • Response to downed power lines after major storms
  • PEMA headquarters construction update
  • Mandatory training requirements for Pennsylvania firefighters
  • Hazardous materials mitigation in the budget
  • Need to establish a statewide disaster assistance program

PHEAA
Monday, Feb. 24

Listen
Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency CEO James Preston discussed the agency’s efforts to help students cope with the rising cost of a college education. Other topics of discussion included:

  • Factors the agency uses to consider loan and grant eligibility
  • Assistance for distance learning students
  • Debt education tools for students
  • Preventing data breaches
  • Programs designed to assist veterans
  • Certificate programs

Public Utility Commission
Thursday, Feb. 27

Listen
Senators told members of the PUC that they have been inundated by calls from consumers who have seen their electric bills skyrocket in recent weeks because of variable rates offered by alternative electricity suppliers. Questioning also focused on: 

  • How consumers can file complaints about high electric bills
  • Educating consumers about alternative pricing
  • Pipeline safety efforts in PA – particularly with the growth in the gas industry
  • Ensuring the safety and reliability of power service
  • A growth in the number of alternative cab services

Public Welfare
Monday, Feb. 24

Listen
Secretary of Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth discussed health care coverage for low-income Pennsylvanians and the governor’s Healthy Pennsylvania plan. Other topics of discussion included:

  • The Human Service Development Block Grant Program
  • The positive impact of child protection law improvements
  • Adult protective services
  • Additional staffing needs
  • Home- and community-based care services
  • Accessibility of services for disabled individuals
  • Utilization of funding for programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities
  • Funding child advocacy centers
  • Reducing waste and abuse
  • Exploring ways to incentivize work
  • Services for veterans
  • Funding for hospitals in rural communities

Revenue
Tuesday, Feb. 18

Listen
State Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser discussed options for covering the unfunded liabilities of the state’s public pension funds and trends in lottery profits, as well as: 

  • Sales tax collections from online transactions
  • Gaming expansion and the potential impact of adding keno
  • The tax liability for Marcellus Shale businesses
  • A proposed change to the timeframe for disposal of unclaimed property
  • The governor’s revenue projections
  • The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program
  • Revenues expected from small games of chance in taverns
  • Differences between the projections by the Administration and the Independent Fiscal Office
  • Cigarette taxes and taxation of other tobacco products
  • Technology improvements
  • Pennsylvania’s recovery from the recession

SERS/PSERS
Tuesday, Feb. 18

Listen
The committee questioned officials representing the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). Topics included: 

  • Estimates for combined unfunded liabilities standing at $50.5 billion
  • The effect of ACT 120 rate collars on school districts, and the act’s impact on the systems
  • The use of hedge funds in the systems and returns compared to traditional investments
  • Use of Pennsylvania-based asset managers
  • Plans to transfer $225 million in cash and investments from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to PSERS
  • Cash flow problems caused by underfunding of the systems
  • The probe into the actions of the SERS Chief Investment Officer and safeguards to protect funds
  • The payment of high basis points for bond management, and consultant fees
  • The legislature’s need for guidance in debate over pension reform

STATE
Wednesday, Mar 19

Listen
The Senate Appropriations Committee held a budget hearing on the Department of State with Secretary Carol Aichele. Topics discussed included the special election for the 28th Senatorial District. Also covered were: 

  • Nominating petitions
  • Electronic filing of expenses
  • Online voter registration
  • Military and overseas voters
  • Voter ID
  • Reports from professional licensing boards
  • The reporting of gifts received by elected officials
  • The costs incurred to advertise constitutional amendments
  • Campaign finance reform

State Police/Homeland Security
Wednesday, Feb. 26

Listen
State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan discussed trooper cadet training classes and the state police complement, as well as:

  • The ongoing war on drugs and the increase in heroin usage
  • A pilot vehicle towing/recovery program
  • The ongoing implementation of the statewide radio system
  • School safety issues
  • Mandatory retirement issues and the impact of pension reform on the state police
  • The Overdose Rapid Response Task Force
  • State police coverage of areas without local police departments
  • DNA testing capacities and backlog; trooper presence in casinos
  • A proposed grant program for local training efforts
  • The vehicles used by the state police
  • Background checks for gun purchases
  • Enforcement of laws pertaining to office betting pools
  • Legalization of marijuana

State-Related Universities
Tuesday, Feb. 25

Listen
The committee questioned the presidents of Penn State University, Temple University and Lincoln University and the chancellor the University of Pittsburgh about the effect of spending restraints and their efforts to control costs in lean budget years. Other topics covered were:

  • Penn State Extension funding
  • In state tuition at Penn State Law School
  • Temple’s “Fly in 4” grant program
  • Jobs going unfilled by Pennsylvania graduates
  • Cutting male sports to comply with Title IX requirements
  • Allowing universities to authorize charter schools
  • Graduation rates at branch campuses
  • Drop in student enrollment in state system
  • Efforts being taken to reduce costs
  • Penn State’s involvement in state pension system
  • Size of boards of trustees
  • Retaining medical school graduates in Pennsylvania
  • Percentage of students graduating in four years
  • Tuition rates for out-of-state students
  • Veterans outreach efforts
  • The need to make higher education spending a priority

thaddeus Stevens College
Wednesday, Mar. 19

Listen

The Senate Appropriations Committee held a budget hearing with William Griscom, president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. Topics discussed during the hearing included: 

  • The special role of the college in serving as a bridge out of poverty
  • Percentage of the school enrollment who are financially disadvantaged
  • Preparing students for technical jobs in the modern workforce
  • Capital investments; alumni involvement
  • Outreach efforts for prospective students
  • Costs incurred by students

Transportation
Thursday, Feb. 27

Listen
PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch discussed the importance of the recent transportation funding package, the timetable for repairs and the impact that it will have on Pennsylvania’s infrastructure. Other topics of discussion included: 

  • Reducing traffic congestion
  • Salt shortages in municipalities
  • Repairing road damage due to winter weather
  • Salt run-off into streams
  • The economic impact of rail
  • Traffic signal upgrades
  • Regional cooperation
  • Investments in passenger rail
  • The status of federal highway funding

Treasury Department
Tuesday, Feb. 11

Listen
State Treasurer Rob McCord was asked to defend his request for increased staffing and provide an update of the multiyear request for IT improvements. Also discussed was:

  • The different debt service estimates from Treasury and the Corbett Administration, whether it's sustainable and its effect on the commonwealth’s bond rating
  • Competing pension reform proposals focused on defined benefits vs. defined contribution plans, and the impact of Act 120 of 2010
  • Ways to safeguard school districts facing skyrocketing employee retirement payments
  • Proposals to reduce the time before unclaimed property can be turned over to Treasury
  • The health of Pennsylvania 529 college saving plans and their performance compared to those of other states
  • The impact of legislation implemented to reform the Appeals Board of Finance and Review
  • The effect of the probe of the Chief Investment Officer of the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System

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