Govt. Affairs

Message from Department of Drug and Alcohol Progams (DDAP) Secretary Jennifer Smith:

The department has some staffing updates I’d like to make you aware of effective July 1, 2019.

Derrick Pelletier has accepted a new position within the department as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. In this role, he will lead the coordination with DDAP’s stakeholders, advocates, and constituents on administration and departmental priorities. Derrick was previously the Policy Director for the department after relocating to Pennsylvania from Rhode Island.

Jordan Lewis will assume the role of DDAP’s Policy Director after spending two years with the department as our William Penn Fellow. Jordan has a PhD in neuroscience and has worked closely with Derrick during her time with DDAP as a Policy Analyst.

Congratulations to both individuals on their new roles. I hope you will all join me in wishing them well in their new positions!

0 214

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.

(Message on behalf of Acting Deputy Secretary Valerie Vicari)

I am pleased to announce the addition of two new staff members to the OMHSAS team.

Jamey Welty has been appointed as the new director for the Bureau of Policy, Planning & Program Development.  Many of you are familiar with Jamey as he was previously the director of the Bureau of Quality Management & Data Review and was with OMHSAS for seven years in other capacities.  Jamey brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience in operations and quality management of behavioral health, juvenile justice, and children’s services and has been an instrumental leader in the successful implementation of departmental initiatives throughout his 23-year career with the Department.  Jamey most recently served as Director of the Bureau of Policy, Programs and Operations within the Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Joshua Haubert joins us as the Executive Secretary, and is located in the Deputy’s Suite.  Josh most recently worked for the Department’s Office of General Counsel where he served as a Legal Assistant 1 to Chief Counsel Doris Leisch and Deputy Chief Counsel Sallie Rodgers. Prior to Josh’s time as a Legal Assistant 1, he served as Clerk Typist 3 in the Office of Medial Assistance Programs (OMAP), filling in as Executive Secretary to current OMAP Deputy Secretary Sally Kozak and OMAP Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Kelley. Josh joins the OMHSAS team with over three years of experience working for the Department where he got his start as a Temporary Clerk Typist in the Office of Children, Youth, and Families Childline Division. Josh enjoys many outdoor activities including camping, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, and marksmanship. He is also well versed with computers and technology.

Please join me in welcoming both Jamey and Josh to OMHSAS!

0 305

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.

(Message from Chuck Ingoglia, President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health)**

After much debate and political back and forth, the House and Senate today passed a short-term extension of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) Medicaid demonstration program.

As was announced last week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation to extend the original eight CCBHC demonstration states through December 2021. The legislation passed the House by a vote of 371-46. Despite tremendous bipartisan support in the House, efforts to extend the original eight states and expand CCBHCs to two new states stalled in the Senate. To provide themselves more time, House and Senate members agreed to a two-week extension, continuing the program through the 4th of July recess.

While we cannot guarantee a path forward beyond this short-term extension, we have every reason to believe that upon its return Congress will pass another continuation of the program through the end of September 2019. As we have throughout this legislative process, the National Council will keep you informed and do its very best to make you aware of opportunities for action and advocacy at every turn.

Thank you all for your outstanding efforts these last few years. Through your hard work and advocacy you have expanded access to individuals in need, transformed how these services can and should be delivered in your communities and built a strong network of allies who believe in the promise of CCBHCs and have worked with us to support their continuation.

**NOTE: OMHSAS/DHS are in the process of confirming the full extent of this announcement and its impact on PA CCBHCs moving forward.

0 213

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.

0 284

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.

(Source: National Council for Behavioral Health, Capitol Connector, June 20, 2019)

On Tuesday, the House voted to pass the “Empowering Beneficiaries, Ensuring Access, and Strengthening Accountability Act of 2019 (HR 3253),” which would extend funding for certain Medicaid programs. Under the provision, funding for the eight-state Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration program would be extended for another two and a half years until December 21, 2021. There was overwhelming bipartisan support of HR 3253, passing with a vote of 371-46. The bill must now go to the Senate for a vote before the CCBHC demonstration program expires on June 30, 2019. Read more.

Later today, Gov. Tom Wolf is scheduled to announce another renewal — the sixth one since he first made the declaration on January 10, 2018 — of a state opioid disaster declaration. Pennsylvania state law regarding disaster declarations is written to address, primarily, natural disasters, and Wolf’s opioid disaster declaration was the first-of-its-kind health emergency-related disaster declaration. Under state law, a state of disaster emergency may be continued by the Governor for no more than 90 days, unless renewed by the Governor or terminated, at any time, by a concurrent resolution approved by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. His office says he plans to talk about two new opioid-related initiatives at the presser this afternoon in the Governor’s Reception Room in the Main Capitol, and he’ll be joined by State Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman, State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith, members of the Opioid Command Center, and state legislators. Questions, please contact Jack Phillips.