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Senator Bob Mensch

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am taking part in public hearings February 22-March 8 on Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2016-17 state budget. Below is a recap of hearing testimony, my questions to department heads and video of each hearing.  

Monday, February 22, 2016 

Governor’s Office/Governor’s Budget Office/Executive Offices 

Part I (2015-16 Appropriations)

2/22/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Budget Secretary

Senator Mensch admonishes the Budget Secretary for the Administration’s misleading comments regarding education funding, and notes the history of structural deficits and increased government spending.  

The Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Budget Secretary Randy Albright about Governor Wolf’s threatened huge cuts in education despite the General Assembly’s appropriation increasing funding for every school line item in 2015-16 budget. Other topics included:

  • The dangerous precedent of vetoing Legislature-approved appropriations and then seeking funds from state Treasury.
  • Concerns over transparency in spending of state funds when the Administration spends money not appropriated by Legislature.
  • School funding has increased every year, but Administration continues spreading debunked claim of “billion dollar education cut.”
  • Schools will have to close in March or April due to Governor’s veto of $3 billion in 2015-16 education funding.
  • The long history of Pennsylvania structural deficits, and the new spending driving Governor Wolf’s tax hikes.
  • Critical care access hospitals face closings due to Governor Wolf’s veto of Legislature’s funding.
  • The problem of the Administration planning to spend $200 million more than the Independent Fiscal Office projects in revenue.
  • The negative impact of the Administration’s cuts of key funding for farmers.
  • The need for cost efficiencies at state government and school districts.
  • Statistics show that academic performance is not based on how much tax money spent, but how it is spent.
  • The agreement to merge the Corrections Department with Probation and Parole will save tax dollars and cut recidivism.

Full Hearing Video

Part II (2016-17 Budget)

2/22/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Budget Secretary (2016-17 Budget)

Senator Mensch and Budget Secretary Albright discuss metrics used for establishing the state budget and how to pay for senior programs in the face of declining Lottery revenues.

Other topics covered by the committee included:

  • Pennsylvania casinos are facing new taxes on top of existing high taxes.
  • The need to consider zero-based budgeting.
  • The need to find funding for seniors programs in the face of declining Lottery revenues.
  • The feasibility of the Independent Fiscal Office analyzing the cost of collective bargaining agreements and their impact on budget.
  • The need to renegotiate pension management fees and cut waste in current education funding before allocating more.
  • The reliability of Marcellus Shale severance tax revenue estimates amid an industry downturn.
  • Welfare fraud investigations save $12 for every $1 spent on probes.
  • The problem of skyrocketing pension costs taking money out of classrooms.

Full Hearing Video

Independent Fiscal Office

2/22/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Independent Fiscal Office

Senator Mensch notes the fiscal pressures created by Pennsylvania’s aging demographic, growing pressure on the middle class and the need to reduce spending.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee discussed the need to address spending and cost-drivers in the budget during a hearing with Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) Executive Director Matt Knittel.

Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • The economic impact of Governor’s Wolf’s proposed tax increases and how they will affect seniors and middle-class working families.
  • Pension costs and long-term budget impacts of pension debt.
  • The effect of Pennsylvania’s demographics on long-term budget projections.
  • Projected economic activity and job growth over the next several years.
  • The reasons behind increased costs in the Department of Corrections in spite of the reduction in the inmate population.
  • The possibility of the IFO taking on some of the responsibilities of the Public Employee Retirement Commission.
  • Potential reductions in revenues from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee.
  • The impact of a minimum wage increase on employment.
  • Current taxation of casinos in relation to other states.
  • Projected growth in lottery revenue compared to the services funded by lottery proceeds.

Full Hearing Video

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


2/23/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Judiciary

Senator Mensch questions Supreme Court justices on the judiciary’s computer system and elder abuse.

During a hearing on the proposed budget for the Judiciary Justice Max Baer Justice Debra McCloskey Todd answered questions on a variety of issues related to Pennsylvania’s court system including:

  • Efforts to keep children out of foster care and in homes.
  • The high number of juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania and what role the Legislature should play in court challenges to those sentences.
  • How judicial vacancies are filled at the local level.
  • The effectiveness of special veterans courts in reducing recidivism and saving money.
  • Cost-cutting measures being implemented internally, including bans on out-of-state travel.
  • The impact of health care, retirement and pension costs on budget increases and actual dollar figures per year associated with them.
  • A status report on efforts to unify computerized functions in the judiciary, the costs associated with them and concerns about whether they are reaching too far.
  • An ongoing study of judges’ caseloads by county and the rationale in determining how many magisterial district judges are located in each area.
  • The growing incidence of elder abuse.
  • The need to make Pennsylvania better at handling commerce and business law cases.
  • The level of transparency regarding judicial salaries.

Full Hearing Video


2/23/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Treasury

Senator Mensch expresses concerns over the precedent set by Governor Wolf in spending funds not allocated by the Legislature by declaring it “emergency spending.”

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 on future budget debates.
  • 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.
  • Measures to improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars.
  • New methods to support small business growth and development.

Full Hearing Video

Auditor General

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

  • The need for the Auditor General’s Office to do the work of the Public Employee Retirement Commission closed by Governor Wolf.
  • The financial threat posed by ailing municipal pension plans.
  • The fate of school districts that are running out of money due to the Governor’s veto of $3 billion in education funding, but aren’t in a position to take out loans.
  • The final phase-in of technology funding for Auditor General’s Office.
  • Incidents of the Auditor General’s Office finding “missing” funds in Pennsylvania school districts facing tax increases.
  • The need for the Auditor General to have the authority to audit municipal authorities.
  • The use of independent audits when performing Auditor General audits.
  • How the state can alert taxpayers to school district cash balances.
  • The status of audits of 26 correctional facilities.
  • Progress in the audit of Philadelphia School District.
  • The need to trim pension management fees while not sacrificing investment returns.

Full Hearing Video

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

2/24/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: DCNR

Senator Mensch discusses the role the private sector can play in providing DCNR services.

The Senate Appropriations Committee sought details on Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 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.
  • Funding levels of Pennsylvania Heritage Areas.
  • State forest management.
  • The importance of Act 13 natural gas development impact fee revenue.
  • ATV riding trails, ATV fatalities and the number of youth safety instructors.
  • Governor Wolf’s veto of support for PA hardwoods promotion.
  • The performance of the Deer Management Assistance Program and its impact on hunting.
  • The necessity for greater use of public-private partnerships to save tax dollars.
  • The need for more information on the department’s request for $2.5M for the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps.
  • The status of oil and gas leases for land under Pennsylvania rivers.
  • Ideas for attracting more visitors to state parks and forests.
  • The Administration’s plan to raise waste haul tipping fees to fund DCNR programs.
  • The need for all state departments to control spending.

Full Hearing Video

State Police/Homeland Security

2/24/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: State Police

Senator Mensch asks about the possibility of establishing an Amber Alert system for special needs citizens and cadet recruitment and retention.

Acting 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.
  • Police use of body cameras.
  • The growing cost of State Police coverage of municipalities.
  • The number of troopers assigned to Gaming Enforcement.
  • Potential changes to Pennsylvania’s Amber Alert system.
  • A new electronic records management system.
  • Local law enforcement use of radar.
  • Impact of the heroin epidemic on police resources and communities.
  • The backlog in DNA testing for criminal cases.
  • The recent massive traffic accident on Interstate 78.
  • An update on full implementation of the statewide radio system.

Full Hearing Video

Drug and Alcohol Programs

2/24/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: Drug & Alcohol Programs

Senator Mensch discusses Pennsylvania’s heroin epidemic and the need to destigmatize treatment. 

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:

  • Medical and follow-up care for individuals with drug and alcohol addictions.
  • The use of Vivitrol (naloxone) in drug overdose and abuse treatment.
  • The potential benefits of criminal justice reform pertaining to drug crimes.
  • Costs associated with drug abuse.
  • Resources for police departments and other groups to combat the drug epidemic.
  • Public outreach and awareness efforts to combat drug abuse.
  • Follow-up care for patients after an overdose.
  • The effectiveness of prescription drug take-back programs.
  • Initiatives to combat gambling addiction.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug addiction among veterans.
  • Recovery schools for students being treated for addiction.

Full Hearing Video

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Department of Environmental Protection

2/25/16 - Budget Hearing Questions: DEP

Senator Mensch tells the DEP Secretary the department has not been responsive to concerns about groundwater quality in one 24th Senatorial District community.

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 possibility of a “Growing Greener III” initiative to pay for Chesapeake Bay’s multibillion-dollar cleanup.
  • The availability of natural gas and pipeline infrastructure.
  • The possibility of extending drill permits to boost natural gas development.
  • The size of the proposed Marcellus Shale tax and the existing community impact fee.
  • The need for ongoing public-private cooperation in coal refuse fired plants and mine reclamation.
  • The importance of listening to farmer feedback on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan. 
  • Efforts to help municipalities reduce groundwater runoff.
  • The need for DEP to act on local concerns about hazardous site cleanup projects and groundwater pollution.
  • The financial challenge facing the Hazardous Site Cleanup Fund and the Underground Storage Tank Fund.

Full Hearing Video

Department of Community and 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:

  • Opportunities to create and retain manufacturing jobs.
  • Ways to make Pennsylvania more business-friendly to attract employers.
  • The economic benefits of the Film Tax Credit program.
  • Ways to leverage public-private partnerships to increase tourism and attract new businesses to the state.
  • The possibility of further military base closures in Pennsylvania.
  • Proposed increases in funding for Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance.
  • The impact of the natural gas industry on economic development and job growth.
  • The cost and benefits of weatherization programs.

Full Hearing Video

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 Unit.
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing.
  • Pennsylvania’s war on drugs.
  • Funding for outside counsel.
  • Act 191 of 2014, which created a prescription drug monitoring system.
  • OAG’s Mobile Street Crimes Unit.
  • OAG staffing levels and pension obligations.

Full Hearing Video

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