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Senator Pat Browne

 

2016-17 Senate Appropriations Committee 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.

One of the main themes through the first week of hearings was the large escalation of pension costs across the board and the issue of proposed department spending increases for 2016-17 far outpacing current state revenues.

Here are some of the highlights and videos from the first week of budget hearings.


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

During the morning budget hearing with Budget Secretary Randy Albright, Senator Browne asked Secretary Albright about spending for departments that were line-item vetoed by the Governor or beyond the appropriated level in the 2015-16 budget passed in December.
Watch

In the afternoon budget hearing with Secretary Albright, Senator Browne asked the Secretary about spending increases across departments that far outpace revenues being generated by the state.
Watch

Discussion during the 2-part hearing (2015-16 State Budget & 2016-17 State Budget) included:

  • Concerns about spending by the Administration that is not appropriated by the 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.
  • 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.

Independent Fiscal Office

Senator Browne discussed with the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) how important it is for there to be confidence that costs will be contained to match future revenues.|
Watch

Discussion during the hearing included:

  • The impact of Governor’s 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.

Judiciary

Among the topics discussed at the Judiciary's budget hearing was Pennsylvania’s Veterans Court system, which 18 counties have.
Watch

Discussion during the hearing included:

  • 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.

Treasury Department

The budget hearing with the Treasury Department included a discussion about the importance of appropriating state funds in a suitable and transparent manner.
Watch

Discussion 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.

Auditor General

Senator Browne and the Pennsylvania Auditor General discussed the problem of rising pension costs and the benefit to municipal officials to know exactly what their payments will be.
Watch

Discussion during the hearing 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 of the 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.

Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

During budget hearings, Senator Browne discussed the need to balance support for DCNR’s operations with the challenges that the oil and gas fund faces.
Watch

Discussion during the hearing 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.
  • The Administration’s plan to raise waste haul tipping fees to fund DCNR programs.

State Police/Homeland Security

Senator Browne conveyed the need for efficiency and cost controls in the State Police during the department’s budget hearing.
Watch

Discussion 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.
  • Status of the statewide radio system.

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

Senator Browne applauded the leading role that the Drug and Alcohol Programs Department takes with addiction services.
Watch
Discussion 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.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug addiction among veterans.

Department of Environmental Protection

Senator Browne raised concerns that the proposed budget shows some DEP funds will show a deficit in the coming years.
Watch

Discussion during the hearing included:

  • The availability of natural gas and pipeline infrastructure and the possibility of extending drill permits to boost natural gas development.
  • The Governor’s proposed Marcellus Shale tax and the existing community impact fee.
  • Efforts to help municipalities reduce groundwater runoff.

Department of Community & Economic Development

During the budget hearing with DCED, Senator Browne discussed the good work the department does but also relayed some concerns that the department bureaucracy is at times still too complex.
Watch

Discussion during the hearing 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.
  • The impact of the natural gas industry on economic development and job growth.

Attorney General

Senator Browne discussed the role that the Attorney General’s Office will play in the proposed initiative to combat Pennsylvania’s heroin epidemic during the department’s budget hearing.
Watch

Discussion during the hearing included:

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

More information on the budget and the Senate Appropriations Committee Hearings is available at: http://appropriations.pasenategop.com/


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