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Senator Scott Hutchinson

Special Report: 2016-17 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its first week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2016-17 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from several cabinet secretaries and other officials over the four-day period of February 22-25, 2016. This special edition of Harrisburg Happenings provides day-by-day highlights from those hearings.

More information on the budget, as well as photos, audio and video from the hearings, is available at:

Monday, February 22, 2016

Governor's Budget Office/Executive Offices/Office of the Governor

The Senate Appropriations Committee opened its three-week series of hearings on the Governor’s proposed 2016-17 budget with an extensive discussion of the Governor’s Budget Office/Executive Offices/Office of the Governor with Budget Secretary Randy Albright. Issues discussed during the two-part hearing included:

  • Concerns about spending by the Administration that is not appropriated by Legislature.
  • The Administration’s problematic plan to spend $200 million more than what the Independent Fiscal Office projects to be available to the state.
  • The Administration’s continued claim of a “billion dollar education cut” when school funding has increased every year.
  • Statistics proving that academic performance is not based on how much tax money spent, but rather on how it is spent.
  • The problem of skyrocketing public pension costs taking money out of classrooms.
  • Schools and critical care access hospitals that will be forced to close due to the Governor’s line-item vetoes.
  • The negative impact of the Administration’s cuts of key funding for farmers.
  • The feasibility of analyzing the cost of collective bargaining agreements and their impact on the state budget.
  • The reliability of Marcellus Shale severance tax revenue estimates amid an industry downturn.
  • Welfare fraud investigations.

Video of the morning session.

Video of the afternoon session.

Independent Fiscal Office

Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel briefed the committee on the economic outlook for the coming fiscal year as well as debt levels and general revenue trends. Committee members focused on the following topics:

  • The impact of Governor Wolf’s proposed tax increases on senior citizens and middle-class working families.
  • The long-term budget impacts of public pension costs and debt.
  • Projected economic activity and job growth in the state over the next several years.
  • Potential reductions in revenues from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee.
  • The impact of a minimum wage increase on employment.

Video of the hearing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Justice Max Baer and Justice Debra McCloskey Todd answered questions on a variety of issues related to Pennsylvania’s court system including:

  • The level of transparency regarding judicial salaries.
  • An ongoing study of judges’ caseloads by county and the rationale in determining the locations of magisterial district judges.
  • The impact of health care, retirement and pension costs on budget increases.
  • The effectiveness of special veterans courts in reducing recidivism and saving money.
  • How judicial vacancies are filled at the local level.
  • The growing incidence of elder abuse.
  • Juvenile justice issues.

Video of the hearing.

Treasury Department

The Wolf Administration’s questionable spending during the budget impasse was the main topic of discussion during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s hearing with Pennsylvania Treasurer Timothy Reese. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The potential consequences of unauthorized spending and spending practices in other states during a budget impasse.
  • The status of state investments and investment strategies.
  • Changes to the time frame for claiming unclaimed property.

Video of the hearing.

Auditor General

The Appropriations Committee asked Auditor General Eugene DePasquale about several audits currently being conducted by the office. Discussions included:

  • The fate of school districts that are running out of money due to the Governor’s veto of $3 billion in education funding and are unable to secure loans.
  • The Auditor General’s Office assumption of some duties of the Public Employee Retirement Commission since it was defunded by Governor Wolf.
  • The financial threat of ailing municipal pension plans.
  • The uncovering of “missing” funds in Pennsylvania school districts facing tax increases.
  • Pension management fees.

Video of the hearing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

The Senate Appropriations Committee sought details on Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) funding requests from Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. Topics included:

  • Declining oil and gas lease revenue hits and the possibility of opening additional land to leasing.
  • Plans for DCNR to purchase more land.
  • State forest management and ideas for attracting more visitors to state parks and forests.
  • ATV riding trails, ATV fatalities and the number of youth safety instructors.
  • Governor Wolf’s veto of support for PA hardwoods promotion.
  • The Administration’s plan to raise waste hauling tipping fees to fund DCNR programs.

Video of the hearing.

State Police/Homeland Security

State Police Commissioner Colonel Tyree Blocker provided an update on the cadet class cheating investigation at the State Police Academy during the Appropriations Committee budget hearing on the Pennsylvania State Police and the Office of Homeland Security.

Other issues discussed during the hearing included:

  • Funding for future cadet classes.
  • Current and projected complement of troopers and the impact of impending retirements.
  • Use of body cameras.
  • State Police coverage of municipalities.
  • Troopers assigned to Gaming Enforcement.
  • Local law enforcement use of radar.
  • Impact of the heroin epidemic.
  • The backlog in DNA testing.
  • Status of the statewide radio system.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

The drug abuse epidemic in Pennsylvania was the main point of discussion during a public hearing with Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis. Topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The use of Naloxone and resources for police departments and other groups to combat the drug epidemic.
  • Costs associated with drug abuse.
  • The effectiveness of prescription drug take-back programs.
  • Initiatives to combat gambling addiction.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug addiction among veterans.

Video of the hearing.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Department of Environmental Protection

Senate Appropriations Committee members questioned DEP Secretary John Quigley about his department planning to implement new federal coal regulations despite being stayed by a court ruling. Other topics included:

  • The availability of natural gas and pipeline infrastructure and the possibility of extending drilling permits to boost natural gas development.
  • The Governor’s proposed Marcellus Shale tax and the existing community impact fee.
  • Public-private cooperation in refuse coal fired plants and mine reclamation.
  • The importance of listening to farmers’ feedback on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan.
  • Efforts to help municipalities reduce groundwater runoff.

    Video of the hearing.

Department of Community & Economic Development

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin regarding the impact of funding delays created by the governor’s budget vetoes.

Other topics included:

  • Efforts to create and retain manufacturing jobs and ways to make Pennsylvania more business-friendly to attract employers.
  • Ways to increase tourism and attract new businesses to the state.
  • Military base closures in Pennsylvania.
  • The impact of the natural gas industry on economic development and job growth.

Video of the hearing.

Attorney General

The Senate Appropriations Committee closed out its first week of budget hearings by focusing on the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) with Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The OAG’s Child Predator and Mobile Street Crimes units.
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Pennsylvania’s war on drugs.
  • OAG staffing levels and pension obligations.

Video of the hearing.

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