Authors Posts by Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips

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Mr. Phillips is responsible to assist the association with health policy, which primarily includes member communication and advocacy with the Governor’s office, General Assembly, and state regulatory agencies. Mr. Phillips was most recently at the Pennsylvania Department of State as Director of Legislative Affairs.

The Planning Committee for State Representative Dan Miller’s Annual Disability & Mental Health Summit is seeking session proposals for workshops geared towards people impacted by disabilities and mental health concerns. Those attending the summit consist of parents, family members, caregivers, advocates, service providers, educators, medical professionals, government officials, legal professionals, inclusive employers, and mental health professionals. Sessions are 60 minutes in length, and should include 10–15 minutes for Q&A.

Representative Miller’s Disability & Mental Health Summit provides the largest collection of resources and workshops in Western Pennsylvania. Over the past six years, this event has made a difference in the lives of thousands of people. In 2020, the summit will recognize and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act in a bigger venue, doubling the crowd, providing more resources, and increasing the summit’s scope across the state! You can visit this website to view last year’s program. Please feel free to share this with your peers and other organizations.

The 2020 Disability & Mental Health Summit will take place on March 6, 2020 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

Submission deadline is September 30, 2019.

Questions, please contact Jack Phillips, RCPA Director of Government Affairs.

This September, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Recovery Month. DDAP is seeking participation in their Annual Recovery Month Kickoff, which will take place on September 4 from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm. The event will be a bit different from previous years and will be held in the atrium at Strawberry Square; a focal point of downtown Harrisburg with a lot of foot traffic from community members.

By moving the event location from the Capitol Rotunda to Strawberry Square, DDAP hopes the venue change will attract more interaction with community members. DDAP is looking for providers to participate in the September 4 event by setting up a display table with information about your organization and the services that you provide.

Please note that space is limited and participation will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. To secure a table, please email DDAP Communications Director Rachel Kostelac. Questions, please contact Jack Phillips.

Prior to the July 4 holiday, the House and Senate passed legislation to extend Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) funding from June 30 through July 14. The bill, sent to President Trump for his signature, can be seen here.

RCPA is requesting members to contact their state legislators and ask them to reach out to Governor Wolf and the Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller, to have them accept the federal extension of CCBHC funding.

The areas in Pennsylvania that have CCBHC facilities are as follows:

  • Philadelphia;
  • Delaware and Montgomery counties;
  • Berks County;
  • Allegheny County;
  • Clearfield, Clarion, and Centre counties; and
  • Bradford County.

Please contact RCPA Director of Government Affairs Jack Phillips with any questions.

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PA Senate GOP Warns Lt. Gov. Fetterman to Avoid Repeat of Last Week’s Rule-Breaking

Capitolwire.com – Under The Dome™
Wednesday, July 3, 2019 8:06 am

Maybe Senate Republicans would have “moved on” from June 26’s sad display on the Senate floor, as urged by Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on Tuesday, if not for Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, taking a victory lap, of sorts, on Monday evening during MSNBC’s “Hardball” talk show regarding her role in the June 26 state Senate blow-up … and not letting everyone “move on.” Instead, on Tuesday, the Senate GOP – all 28 of them – sent a letter to Fetterman (and provided Wolf with a copy) containing a stern warning he not repeat what even he, in a Twitter post, acknowledged was an intentional violation of the Senate’s Rules (he wrote he allowed Muth to speak “against Senate rules”).

In addition to stating in their letter that a recurrence of his “usurping legislative authority” and his “self-righteous defiance of the Rules” would immediately result in him being replaced as presiding officer, as per the Senate’s rules, the Senate GOP wrote that he should refrain from ever again mistreating the Senate’s Parliamentarian/Secretary, Megan Martin. Lost in Muth’s narrative that the GOP was trying to silence her – a woman – on June 26 is the fact that Fetterman as presiding officer of the Senate dismissed and ignored Martin – the first woman elected (unanimously) as the Senate’s parliamentarian – as she attempted on several occasions, during the chamber’s June 26 blow-up, to indicate to him his next appropriate actions, as per the Senate’s rules.

But maybe that’s a bit too nuanced for some, particularly those who act like or suggest the facts are only opinions – and simply to be ignored – when they don’t support the partisan political narrative they’re trying to advance?

Questions, please contact Jack Phillips.

Capitolwire: Gov. Wolf signs into law bill allowing Pennsylvania to operate its own health insurance exchange, create reinsurance program.

By Alyssa Biederman
PLCA Intern

HARRISBURG (July 2) – Legislation hoping to make health insurance more accessible and less expensive for Pennsylvanians was signed into law on Tuesday by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“This bill is a huge step toward making health insurance affordable and effective for all Pennsylvanians,” said Wolf, indicating the hope is for the new law to make it so “everyone pays less.”

House Bill 3 was a bi-partisan effort to allow Pennsylvania to create its own state-run health insurance exchange, which will minimize Federal costs and allow the state to subsidize premiums.

HB3 prime sponsor and House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said healthcare is an issue for everyone, regardless of political party, that has to be solved.

“For too long people have been frustrated with healthcare,” Cutler, a former X-Ray technician, said. “Instead of focusing on making things better, we too often focus on what things cost.”

He added that the enactment of this bill — which will be effective for the Fall 2020 open enrollment and insurance coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2021 — will “significantly” decrease costs for Pennsylvania’s more than 400,000 private health insurance consumers that currently obtain their insurance from the federally-run exchange.

The bill will achieve this by transferring Pennsylvania’s existing health insurance exchange from federal to state control. Becoming state-run, Wolf said, will save money that will ultimately be used to decrease the amount health insurance consumers have to pay each month.

Pennsylvania has relied on the federal health insurance exchange since the implementation of 2010’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. According to the Wolf administration, to cover costs, the federal government charges insurers a 3.5-percent fee on premiums paid by ACA enrollees each month, a projected $98 million for Pennsylvania insurers in 2019. This user fee is expected to be cut to 3 percent beginning in 2020, which would equate to approximately $88 million dollars from Pennsylvania insurers. Eliminating the need for insurers to pay that fee will allow for a redirection of that funding to help pay for a reinsurance program, which will allow insurers to price their products lower by limiting their exposure to very high, unpredictable medical expenses incurred by their members; the reinsurance program covers some of those expenses when they exceed a certain threshold.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said she believes this change will incentivize more Pennsylvanians to apply for health insurance in the state.

Altman added that although the signing of the bill is a step forward, the state must continue to make health insurance more accessible.

“The passage of this legislation is analogous to registering for a marathon,” Altman said. “The race is still before us. We have a lot of training to do and roads to run before we reach the finish line.”

Cutler said he is confident that Pennsylvania’s four legislative caucuses will be able to keep passing legislation that will improve Pennsylvania’s health insurance landscape after seeing the collaboration that went into HB3. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate last week.

This plan was inspired by an executive order by President Donald Trump which provided states with more flexibility regarding the operation of their own health insurance exchanges.

“Regardless of how you feel about the status of things in Washington, D.C., we have a responsibility to govern here in Pennsylvania,” said Cutler. “That’s what this bill demonstrates better than anything else.”

Questions, please contact Jack Phillips.

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By Robert Swift
Staff Writer
Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (July 1) – Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law Monday making it easier for newcomers to Pennsylvania with out-of-state occupational licenses to get work more quickly in their professions.

The Governor said he hopes the law, formerly House Bill 1172, will be the first of a coming wave of changes to Pennsylvania’s occupational licensing system.

The law requires state licensing boards to issue licenses by endorsement to someone who holds the same license in another state and meets similar requirements. Act 41 takes effect in 60 days.

This license can be issued on an individual basis if the licensing requirements in another state, territory or country are determined to be substantially similar to Pennsylvania’s requirements.

The law also creates a provisional endorsement license.

Its enactment means that many licensed professionals from other states won’t have to complete Pennsylvania’s entire licensing process to be able to work here.

Military spouses will especially benefit from the law since they move often and will no longer find themselves unable to work for long periods of time while they go through a licensing process, said Wolf.

“They [spouses] can’t be forced to lose weeks, even months of employment,” he added.

Occupational licensing is a target for reform at a time when some employers face shortages of qualified workers and the state’s policymakers are focused on workforce development.

Wolf has also proposed making the licensing process more efficient, replacing 13 job licenses with less restrictive requirements and repealing the automatic 10-year ban on licensing someone convicted of a drug felony.

Lawmakers of both parties recently introduced bills to set new standards for occupational boards to use when considering licenses for applicants with criminal records.

Questions, please contact Jack Phillips.

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The 2019/20 budget season is over and the Governor has signed HB 790, the 2019/2020 General Appropriations budget, and HB 33, which eliminates the General Assistance Fund, a welfare program that provides cash grants of about $200 to Pennsylvania’s poorest residents. Despite an intense dust up amongst members of the Senate, the budget process was relatively calm.

According to summaries from the House Republican and Democrat Appropriations Committees, the 2019/20 budget highlights include:

General Budget

The General Appropriations Budget spends $33.997 billion budget for FY 2019/20.

  • That is an increase of $596 million or 1.8%;
  • There are no new taxes or fees in this budget;
  • The budget is $149 million less than Governor Wolf’s February budget proposal;
  • The budget transfers an estimated $250 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund.*
    *The Rainy Day Fund is essentially the state’s savings account and is utilized when the economy hits a downturn and revenue collections are weak. By saving money, this budget protects taxpayers from future tax increases.

Drug and Alcohol Programs

The proposed legislation provides level funding for assistance to drug and alcohol programs, which provides grants to single county authorities across the commonwealth to develop and implement substance abuse education, prevention, and treatment programs.

Funding for general government operations would increase by $793,000 – 42.5 percent – to bolster administrative resources needed to effectively implement state and federal programs, which mirrors Gov. Wolf’s request.

Outside of the department, the proposed legislation includes $1.5 million in new funding through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to supply additional doses of Naloxone to first responders.

Education

Basic education funding contains a $160 million increase in basic education funding through the fair funding formula, according to the latest information available. Comparatively, Gov. Wolf’s 2019/20 budget proposal called for a $166 million increase in formula-driven funds.

Special education funding includes a $50 million, or 4.4 percent, increase for special education funding, which was the amount requested by Gov. Wolf in February.

Early intervention funding, which provides funding for developmental support services for 3- to 5-year-olds, receives a $15 million increase for 2019/20 on top of a $14 million supplemental appropriation for 2018/19.

Early childhood education funding in Gov. Wolf’s 2019/20 budget proposed a $40 million increase for Pre-K Counts and a $10 million increase in Head Start Supplemental Assistance. The budget lowers these amounts to $25 million and $5 million, respectively.

The School Safety and Security Grant Program are being funded at $60 million. $45 million is coming from General Fund revenues and $15 million is from the courts.

The Public Library Subsidy will receive a $5 million, or 9.2 percent, increase is the first real state funding boost for libraries since drastic cuts in the wake of the Great Recession. However, the $59.5 million funding level for 2019/20 remains well below the $75.8 million peak in 2007/08.

The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) will receive $25 million in additional funding.

Health

The proposed budget legislation includes funding to the Department of Health that is largely in line with the governor’s request. It also offers several additional, targeted increases to specific programs.  The budget, at a minimum, would restore funding for all disease line-items that the governor had proposed to eliminate.

Human Services

The budget provides $12.7 billion in state General Funds to the Department of Human Services, a $97.3 million increase from the revised 2018/19 budget that counted a supplemental appropriation increase of $650.5 million.

  • The proposed 2018/19 supplemental increase includes $200 million to backfill the funding gap created in Medical Assistance-capitation when the court blocked the transfer from the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA) The transfer was anticipated by June 30, 2019.
  • The administration has appealed the court’s decision and the proposed budget assumes the JUA transfer will occur in 2019/20. Consequently, the 2019/20 appropriation for Medical Assistance-capitation is predicated on the success of this appeal and transfer of $200 million to help pay program expenditures.

The proposed legislation would fully restore funding for hospitals and medical centers to the physician practice plan and academic medical centers appropriations in line with the prior year funding amounts.

Funding for existing long term living waiver programs continues to shift to Community HealthChoices – the statewide managed care program for seniors and individuals with physical disabilities – as the program becomes active statewide. The final phase of implementation will occur on Jan. 1, 2020, to add the remaining regional zones, including Lehigh/Capital, Northwest, and Northeast alongside the Southwest (implemented Jan. 1, 2018) and Southeast (implemented Jan. 1, 2019).

  • The budget offers $12 million, a 2 percent rate increase, for personal assistance services provided by direct care workers. The proposed increase is across long-term living appropriations including: home and community-based services, services to persons with disabilities, attendant care, and Community HealthChoices.

Intellectual Disabilities and Autism funding in the current budget supports several important initiatives directed to Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. State funds totaling $15.003 million (with $15.309 million in federal matching funds) would provide services to an additional 865 individuals currently on the emergency waiting list that now counts 5,306 individuals. Of this total, $10.959 million would be used to place 765 people in the community living waiver while $4.044 million would be used to place 100 people on the consolidated waiver.

Mental Health Service funding will have an additional $26.3 million which includes funds to provide home and community-based services for 45 individuals currently residing in state hospitals.

Children and Youth funding in the budget reflects an increased use of federal block grants funds to significantly reduce state spending on child-care services and child-care assistance. Federal block grants will also be used to fund new initiatives for the coming fiscal year.

The waiting list for child-care services currently stands at 4,700. The proposed budget includes an additional $15 million in federal funds to remove 970 infants from the waiting list. The proposal would also utilize $9.986 million in federal funds to increase the reimbursement rates to STARS 2, 3, and 4 providers.

An additional $5 million in state funding would be spent on community-based family centers, providing access to evidence-based home visiting services to 800 more Pennsylvania families, bringing total spending to $18.558 million.

Labor and Industry

A minimum wage increase was contained in Gov. Wolf’s February budget address. The Governor’s proposal would have raised the minimum wage to $12/hour effective July 1, 2019, followed by 50 cent increases annually until 2025, when the minimum wage would reach $15/hour. House and Senate Republicans rejected the governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage, and the final budget plan does not assume or include any change to the minimum wage.

The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation will receive a $2.3 million increase; however, the increase will likely not offset declining federal funds, creating pressure on OVR’s ability to provide services to Pennsylvanians with disabilities seeking employment during the coming fiscal year. Along with a number of cost containment strategies, OVR plans to close the “order of selection,” which creates a waiting list for services.

The Centers for Independent Living would receive a 2.0 percent increase.

Health and Human Service Code Bill

Senate Bill 695 prevents the Department from entering a contract with a broker until an analysis of non-emergency medical transportation and other human services transportation programs has been completed (See pages 3 and 4); provides for an analysis of a uniform statewide preferred drug list; and extends the Nursing Facility assessment and the Intermediate Care Facilities for Persons with an Intellectual Disability.

Questions, contact RCPA Director of Government Affairs Jack Phillips.

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The Pennsylvania budget is set to be completed towards the end of this week. On Monday, June 24, the House voted HB 790, the state general fund budget bill, out of the House Appropriations Committee. The House will take a final floor vote on HB 790 today and it will then go over to the Senate. The Senate is expected to take a final vote on HB 790 on Thursday, June 26.

After the House voted the general fund budget bill out of committee yesterday, the House released the 2019–20 General Fund Budget House Appropriations Analysis, the 2019–20 Budget General Fund Appropriations Spreadsheets, and the General Fund Financial Statement.

Yesterday, the Senate voted HB 33, the Health and Human Service Code bill, out of the Senate Health and Human Service Committee on a party line vote. HB 33 eliminated the general assistance fund for the disabled, and the bill should have a final vote on Wednesday. SB 695 is another Health and Human Service Code bill, which is on Second Consideration in the House.

The other code bills should be finalized sometime this week, but as of late yesterday, the Fiscal Code bill still had numerous issues that need to be resolved. All four caucuses and the Governor’s office continue to work on the Fiscal Code. Contact RCPA Director of Government Affairs Jack Phillips with any questions.

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By Chris Comisac, Robert Swift and Alyssa Biederman
Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (June 24) – While there’s still a bit more work to be done by lawmakers, the Fiscal Year 2019-20 state budget’s primary document – the General Appropriations budget – is a “done deal” that legislative leaders said will get to the Governor’s desk by Thursday.

Those leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf have agreed to a plan they say will spend $33.997 billion during the coming 2019-20 Fiscal Year, which starts on July 1.

House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said the expenditures within House Bill 790 represents a 1.8-percent increase in spending from the current year’s total. That assumes the current year’s spend total is $33.4 billion, which is $700 million more than the amount lawmakers in June 2018 said the FY2018-19 budget spent, which at the time they said was $32.7 billion. Compared to the budget that was passed last June, the planned FY2019-20 spend total represents a roughly 4-percent increase.

Republican leaders, since Wolf unveiled his proposed 2019-20 state budget in February, have said they intended to spend less than the $34.1 billion Wolf said his plan would cost.

And since April’s General Fund revenue collections delivered a significant amount of unexpected revenues, GOP leaders have also indicated they would push to increase the state’s Rainy Day Fund, currently containing about $22.5 million, by whatever amount of surplus revenues exist at the end of the current fiscal year.

Last week, Saylor suggested there wouldn’t be much of the more than $800 million surplus left – maybe $65 million – due to unbudgeted spending that occurred as part of the FY2018-19 state budget, pushing the overall expenditures for FY2018-19 to $33.4 billion.

However, on Monday, after his committee voted 27-9 to report HB790 to the full House, Saylor said between $200 million and $300 million (it appears to be about $212 million) would be deposited into the fund.

He later explained the bulk of that deposit into the fund would come from previously unspent state dollars (lapsed funds) the Wolf administration will make available. Senate Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, later said the money is coming from the state’s “positive revenue position,” and explained anything contributing to that revenue position could be the source of the Rainy Day funding.

Although lawmakers said HB790’s spend total is $33.997 billion, there are hundreds of millions of dollars of spending moved out of the General Appropriations (GA) budget, including $245.2 million of payments for things like the debt service payment for the Tobacco Settlement Fund borrowing that was used to close a $1.5 billion hole in the FY2017-18 state budget ($115 million); the debt service on the Farm Show Lease Fund borrowing that was also used to satisfy the FY2017-18 budget deficit ($13.3 million); a $45 million deposit of collected Personal Income Tax revenue for the School Safety and Security Fund; and debt service payments for the PlanCon and Growing Greener II programs ($20 million each).

Browne acknowledged that spending is in addition to the $33.997 billion included in HB790.

There are several other transfers that appear to be at work in various GA lines items, as well as “aggressive” estimates regarding human services cost growth.

Human Services/Health

The largest of those transfers appear to occur within program lines for the state Department of Human Services.

Similar to last year, the department’s overall spend total for the department manages to be less than the prior year expenditure for the agency and its programs, including Medicaid. This time around, DHS spends $97.3 million less than it did a year ago.

Some of the funding changes are transfers to the state’s Community HealthChoices Medicaid managed long-term care program, while another $36 million in spending for child care services and assistance is replaced with federal funding, but it appears as though roughly $300 million to $400 million in spending disappears from the agency’s line items.

Regarding the significant drop in human services spending, House Republican spokesman Mike Straub later on Monday said $200 million is due to a transfer from Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), which was established by the General Assembly in 1976 to provide healthcare providers with medical malpractice insurance. Lawmakers have been trying to transfer a significant portion of the JUA’s reserves to the General Fund, but have been blocked three prior years by the federal courts.

The other $200 million is due to the required costs paid to managed care organizations being dropped by that amount.

Later in the day, Browne characterized the reduced human services spending as being aggressive about the expected use of the state’s Medicaid and other human services program.

“A different calculation of human service caseload and rates,” explained Browne. “We are being a lot more aggressive as to the calculation of rates and caseload estimates, believing that will hold.”

He acknowledged that same aggressiveness didn’t hold during the current budget year, as Wolf sought nearly $750 million in supplemental appropriations, most of it to address unbudgeted expenses in the Department of Human Services.

“That’s the question: will it hold for this cycle?” Browne said. “I think it will at this point in time.”

The budget also assumes a savings of $7.17 million due to the elimination of the General Assistance cash assistance program. A few House Democrats, during Monday’s Appropriations Committee meeting to consider HB790, decried the decision to end the program, citing that as one of the reasons for their votes against the bill.

Later in the day, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the plan is for the Senate to run House Bill 33 with the language currently in the bill and send it to the Governor. Some Democrats suggested Wolf should veto HB33 as there are other legislative vehicles that could accommodate the other components of HB33 – such as a hospital assessment that helps provide funding to Philadelphia hospitals as well as the Medicaid program – unrelated to the cash welfare program.

“I’m pretty confident – at least hopeful – the Governor will sign it or at least allow it to become law,” Corman reacted to the Democrats’ urging that Wolf veto the bill.

Notable increases within departmental lines include an $84.8 million, or 5.2-percent, increase in funding for the Community Waiver Program for those with intellectual disabilities, which will provide home and community-based care for 865 individuals currently on the emergency waiting list. Wolf had proposed a $15 million increase in funding for services to individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. And the budget devotes $12 million to provide a 2-percent increase, effective January 2020, for homecare workers who care for seniors and those with physical disabilities.

There’s also an additional $26.3 million for Mental Health Services which includes funds to provide home and community-based services for 45 individuals currently residing in state hospitals.

Additionally, Republicans and Democrats praised the 10-percent increases in funding for domestic violence (up $1.736 million) and rape crisis services (up $993,000).

And while not in the Human Services Department lines, all of the Health Department line items zeroed out by Wolf’s proposed budget (something most governors do every year) – for things like Cooley’s Anemia, Hemophilia, Lupus, Sickle Cell, Regional Poison Control Centers, Trauma Prevention, Epilepsy Support Services, Bio-Technology Research, Tourette Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Support Services and Leukemia/Lymphoma – are restored by HB790.

Education

The state budget includes a 3.5-percent increase in spending for K-12 education – $432 million according to the House GOP – and a 2-percent, across-the-board increase for higher education

Pre-K funding was increased compared to the prior, but not quite as much as Wolf wanted: HB790 contains a $25 million increase for Pre-K Counts, and a $5 million hike for Head Start; the Governor had sought increases, respectively, of $40 million and $10 million.

Basic education funding goes up by $160 million, not the $200 million Wolf had wanted, while special education funding will increase $50 million and early intervention will go up $15 million – both amounts sought by Wolf as part of his February budget proposal.

Making it more difficult this year to determine the growth in basic education funding is the fact that most of the budget’s line item for School Employees’ Social Security payments is merged with the basic education funding line item, though Rep. Saylor said school districts will continue to get their payment the same way.

The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), a bone of contention given legislation pushed through the General Assembly in recent weeks and then vetoed by Wolf, got a funding increase, just not the type of increase contemplated by the legislation vetoed last week. The credit will go up by $25 million.

School security grants are again provided for by the state budget, with a total of $60 million again being made available for school districts ($45 million, as noted above, by way of a Personal Income Tax transfer, with the other $15 million, say legislators, coming from a court-related reserve account).

The Legislature restored some lines for which it requests funding annually, but which governors – Republican and Democrat – zero out in favor of their own funding proposals. Two such instances in education are trauma-informed education, which not only was restored but also got a $250,000 increase, and STEM education (Mobile Science and Math Education Programs), which was restored with a $750,000 funding increase.

Legislators from both parties talked up the $10 million increase for career and technical education (the same amount Wolf sought, although HB790 devotes $7 million of the increase to career and technical education and $3 million to career and technical education equipment grants.

HB790 also increases spending on adult and family literacy by $400,000, which Wolf proposed to cut by $400,000, but keep funding for the professional development of teachers flat, at $5.3 million, where Wolf had sought to increase it by $650,000. The budget also allocates $5 million more dollars to public libraries, a more than 9-percent increase from last year and something Republicans and Democrats praised.

House Democratic Minority Appropriations Chairman Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, pointed out that the budget contains “good news” and reflects the reality of a divided state government. He also said the state’s revenue surplus gave the legislators an opportunity to allocate more funds to education.

“[The surplus] makes it easier to stand with the Governor to make up for some cuts by an earlier administration,” he said. “We can actually see the changes we so desperately need to make to early education.”

About one billion dollars in one-time federal stimulus funding discontinued at the start of this decade, with that hole, at that time, not filled by state funding. Since then, legislators on both sides of the aisle have been attempting to address that hole.

Wolf’s proposed budget did not account for any spending increases in higher education, but HB790 increases funding for many of the state’s higher education options, with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the commonwealth’s state-related and community colleges receiving two-percent hikes.

Reacting to the budget’s education components, Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said, “With this year’s investments, Gov. Wolf has secured nearly $1.2 billion in new education funding since the beginning of his term.”

According to the Governor’s Office, that $1.2 billion figure includes this year’s funding increase of $265 million for education. Additionally, with this year’s 2-percent increase for higher education, the administration notes that over the last five years, higher education funding has increased by $188 million.

Penn State University also received an additional $4 million for its College of Technology. Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology was also appropriated a four million dollar increase – about 27 percent more funding for the college overall.

“We have prioritized career and technical education,” said Saylor. “We are rewarding [these colleges] on placing students in real jobs across the commonwealth.”

Job training and education programs within the department’s budget – another item the Legislature had to reinstate after Wolf zeroed out funding for the program – will see a $6.25 million, or 19.7-percent, increase

Technical training, Saylor said, would improve the skill-sets of the job force and move people out of minimum-wage jobs – a recurring theme from the GOP since leaders said there won’t be a minimum wage hike as part of the budget.

While several House Democrats voted against HB790, Bradford voted for the budget bill, though he lamented the “lost opportunity” of not including a minimum wage hike.

“While there is much good that is in this budget, that missing component is for many of us a bitter pill to swallow,” said Bradford.

For nine Democrats on the appropriations panel, the lack of a minimum wage provision and lack of funding for health care and some other priorities led to their voting no on the budget bill.

“This is a terrible message we are sending to the workers of Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, who has offered minimum wage hike bills in the current and past legislative sessions.

Environmental Protection/Conservation and Natural Resources

The new budget bill would tap about $26 million from special funds to support the operations of the two key state environmental agencies, the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

This is about two-thirds less than the $78 million in funding transfers to support the two agencies proposed by Wolf in his February budget address.

“It’s significantly less,” said Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott.

Sen. Corman said the funding transfers in the budget bill reflect what the governor asked for.

The reduction reflects discussions with lawmakers and advocacy groups that led to a compromise, said Abbott.

Under HB790, DEP’s operations would be supported by $21 million in transfers from the Environmental Stewardship Fund and DCNR’s operation would be supported by an additional $5 million in transfers from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund. DCNR’s Heritage Parks program would be mostly supported by transfers from the stewardship fund.

The stewardship fund is built on revenue from trash tipping fees and a share of natural gas drilling impact fees. The oil and gas fund is built on royalties from oil and gas drilling in state forests.

If the bill is adopted, DEP’s share of funding from the taxpayer-supported General Fund would decline by 13.4 percent and DCNR’s share of funding from the General Fund would decline by 4.5 percent

The Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund, a popular venue for funding local park and recreation projects, would no longer be tapped to support DCNR as was proposed initially, said Abbott.

Wolf proposed the transfers as a way to achieve a no-tax budget and in anticipation of passage of his Restore Pennsylvania plan which calls for levying a state severance tax on natural gas production to help support a wide range of infrastructure projects, including projects in state parks and forests.

But the governor drew criticism from some Democratic lawmakers during last winter’s budget hearings about the scale of the fund transfers. They voiced concerns that fewer local projects would receive state aid as a result and the environmental agencies would have to rely more on gas drilling revenue.

Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders have said any talk about Restore PA is off until the fall amid talk they may push their own infrastructure plan that doesn’t include a severance tax.

Despite that, Abbott said, “There is not going to be any letup for Restore Pa from us.”

Agriculture

For the past two months, Gov. Wolf and lawmakers of both parties have been developing a bipartisan package to aid Pennsylvania’s economically troubled farmers.

The unveiling of HB790 reveals the appropriations price tag for this package will be $19.5 million.

The Department of Agriculture is slated to receive $171.2 million in state funding in the next fiscal year, an increase of $19.5 million. House Republican leaders said the additional $19.5 million in funding will ensure farmers have the tools they need to succeed.

The spending initiative includes four new or revamped line items: Agriculture Preparedness and Response, including an existing appropriation to combat the Spotted Lanternfly, $4 million; Agriculture Business and Workforce Investment, $4.5 million; Livestock and Consumer Health Protection, $1 million and Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission, $2 million.

The House and Senate are at work sending enabling legislation for specific programs within these new line items to the other chamber as the spring session nears an end. The package will likely include state tax credits and low-interest loans to help farmers that may be included in fiscal code bills.

The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee on Monday approved five House-passed agricultural aid bills, including House Bill 1516 to create an agricultural disaster response fund; House Bill 1514 to provide for farm-to-school grants; House Bill 1590 to create a $5 million dairy capital investment program; House Bill 1520 to create a state grant program to help small meat processors and House Bill 1526 to create a program to help farmers implement best management practices.

“June may prove to be the most productive month ever for pro-Dairy legislation,” said PA State Grange President Wayne Campbell referring to SB585 to create a state commission looking at the future of the dairy industry and HB 1590.

What’s not in the budget

As noted above, a minimum wage hike won’t be considered as part of the budget, though legislative leaders said discussions continue, with Republicans maintaining they’ll only consider a “reasonable” wage hike proposal while indicating that’s not how they see the Governor’s current proposal: to immediately go to $12 an hour, with stepped increases to an hourly rate of $15, and thereafter adjusting the rate annually based on the consumer price index.

Other notable items not in the budget:

  • Money for counties to purchase new voting machines. Republicans have said the Governor created the current situation by signing an executive order stating all counties must purchase new machines that leave a paper trail, so he’s on the hook for finding a funding solution or deciding not to decertify machines; Corman did suggest that some funding might be found as part of ongoing discussions about other election code bills, however he said there’s been no agreement as part of that larger conversation as yet, nor does it necessarily have to be resolved this week;
  • A per-capita tax on municipalities that don’t maintain their own police forces – instead, the budget adds $97 million in the General Fund for State Police, with that amount of funding to lower the amount of Motor License Fund dollars going to the State Police (which will also get a $9.7 million appropriation for three more cadet classes);
  • Additional funding for the U.S. Census, which the Wolf administration and others had hoped would get $12.8 million to help with efforts to count the state’s population – Republicans argued the Census is a federal government function for which the state doesn’t need to appropriate additional funds;
  • Changes to the state Corporate Net Income Tax and implementation of combined reporting, as proposed by Wolf in February.

Questions, contact RCPA Director of Government Affairs Jack Phillips.