In this Update:
Gov. Wolf Sends General Assembly Budget Proposal with Huge Spending Increases
Gov. Tom Wolf this past week delivered his final annual budget address, in which he proposed spending $45.7 billion for the coming 2022-23 Fiscal Year – a $4.5 billion spending increase.
The new spending includes $2 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Including the expenditure of federal dollars returned to Pennsylvania during the pandemic, the governor’s budget represents a 10.9% increase in spending (a 16.6% increase when only comparing the Fiscal Year 2021-22 General Fund total spend to the governor’s General Fund spending proposal for FY 2022-23).
Those who were my constituents while in the House will remember that Gov. Wolf and I came in the same year and he proposed a $6 billion increase in taxes that led to a five-and-a-half-month budget impasse which left human service agencies without an income. The investigation Rep. Seth Grove and I conducted revealed the governor had unconstitutionally spent $34 Billion during those months on things like pontoon boats for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. That report broke the impasse and has led current State Treasurer Stacy Garrity to create a Ledger 5 report (the tool the governor used to slush money between accounts to pay for those things) on the Treasury’s Transparency Portal.
The Wolf administration has already spent $604,930,741 over budget this fiscal year on Medical Assistance Capitation. According to Senate Appropriations Committee budget projections, the governor’s plan will produce a $1.3 billion deficit for the 2023-24 fiscal year and create an even bigger bill for Pennsylvania taxpayers to pay long after the governor leaves office: because of inflated revenue estimates and understated spending, there will be a $13 billion deficit by 2026-27.
For a governor who came into office criticizing the legislature for what he called “smoke and mirrors” budgeting, Gov. Wolf has taken budgetary magic to a new level.
The constituents of the 25th district and Gov. Wolf have different definitions of the word “budget.” The people who I speak with certainly won’t be handed money that would pay for the current year’s mortgage on a fancy new house and then depend on someone else to figure out how to fix the lack of money to help pay the bills the following years. This budget would leave a tremendous hole that his successor and the next two legislative sessions will have to deal with.
The Senate will hold a series of public hearings in the coming weeks to review the spending plan and produce a more responsible budget proposal that funds essential services while shielding taxpayers from the consequences of reckless overspending.
My concern with the governor’s actions is that in his last budget he is going out the way he came in. My hope is that he will be more reasonable as the budget negotiations proceed than he was in 2015.
Legislation Boosting Aid to First Responders Set for Enactment
Building on a promise to provide Pennsylvania’s frontline heroes with relief, the Senate approved legislation to provide $25 million in federal funding to support EMS providers.
Since January, the General Assembly has advanced measures totaling $250 million for frontline workers, health care providers, emergency services and EMTs. The passage of Senate Bill 739 builds on the General Assembly’s recent efforts to distribute $225 million in federal relief funds for hospital and behavioral health providers to retain and recruit staff.
The measure also would ensure that all fire companies – whether volunteer, paid or combination department – are eligible for the low-interest loans through the Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Loan Program. Voters approved expanding the program in a 2021 ballot question.
Updated Agritourism Guide Available to Farmers
Agritourism activities – like corn mazes, hayrides, on-site dining/retail operations and educational programs – are a growing part of Pennsylvania’s agriculture economy.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania has an updated 128-page handbook to help farmers navigate agritourism issues.
Last year, the General Assembly approved a new law to better protect farmers who offer these kinds of agritourism activities.
Grants Available to Reduce Underage and Dangerous Drinking
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is accepting applications for grants to fund programs that discourage and reduce underage and dangerous drinking and promote a message of responsible alcohol consumption by those of legal drinking age.
Eligible grant applicants include school districts and institutions of higher education (including technical, trade and post-secondary establishments), community organizations, municipal police departments, municipal officials/representatives and nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
The deadline to apply for grants is March 18. Applications and guidelines for submission are available on the PLCB website.
Opportunities Available for Small Businesses in Transportation Innovation
Small businesses seeking to research and develop innovative transportation technologies should consider applying for a contract through the Fiscal Year 2022 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program operated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Applications are being accepted now through March 7, 2022, at 3:00 p.m.
The SBIR Program awards contracts to small businesses across the country to spur research and commercialization of innovative transportation technologies, with this year’s focus being on such things as artificial intelligence, intelligent road systems, and material safety – a complete list of research topics can be found here.
Monday is National Donor Day
Monday isn’t just Valentine’s Day, it’s also National Donor Day. Many health groups use this day to sponsor blood and marrow drives and organ/tissue sign-ups.
Organ donation saves lives and saves money, cutting health care costs by as much as two-thirds and saving Medicare millions of dollars every year.
The General Assembly passed the Living Donor Protection Act last year, prohibiting insurers from discriminating against an organ or tissue donor. It also ensures family and medical leave is provided for an eligible employee for the preparation and recovery necessary for donation surgery. In addition, it requires development of informational materials relating to living donors and the benefits of live organ and tissue donation.
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