Friday, June 23, 2017

Obligatory Article Saying State Budget Negotiations Are Coming Down To The Wire

Here we are again, just a mere five voting days away from the deadline to have a state budget in place, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said Wednesday, “How we close this out [budget] remains to be seen.
Will Republicans--
-- Borrow $1.5 billion against tobacco settlement revenue or securitize some other revenue stream to pay for paperclips and fill the General Fund revenue hole;
-- Approve 40,000 video gaming terminals for everyone with a liquor license (bars, nursing homes and churches);
-- Extend the state Sales Tax to warehousing and storage;
-- Redirect the local share of the present casino tax revenues to the state General Fund, along with adopt new casino license fees;
-- Authorize beer, wine and spirits sales in more private outlets;
-- Shift the Sales Tax on bottles of wine and spirits from the bottle bought by liquor license holders to the individual drink bought by consumers;
-- Sell or lease out state assets like the Farm Show Building or something else; 
-- Special Fund transfers to the General Fund that House or Senate members believe are just sitting there “flush with cash” and not doing anything better; and even
-- Legalizing marijuana (admittedly pretty far down the list).
Or, all of the above?
All these ideas have been suggested to avoid a general increase in the Personal Income Tax and Sale Tax that all parties said are off the table.
Court Decision Wildcard
The Post-Gazette Friday published a story by Laura Legere on questions being raised by the PA Supreme Court decision this week declaring unconstitutional previous budget bills diverting proceeds from Shale gas drilling on DCNR forest land to the General Fund to balance the state’s budget.
She noted the General Assembly in the past, the House Republican budget passed in April and Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget would divert about $100 million from DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to pay for the agency’s daily operations.
Nearly one-third of DCNR’s total proposed budget for next fiscal year is supported by Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenues Legere reported.
Aides to Senate Republican leaders said the decision will have minor ramifications because they money from the Fund will be used for conservation purposes by supporting DCNR.
John Childe, an attorney for the PA Environmental Defense Foundation who brought the successful lawsuit and others disagree.
Senate Republicans
Sen. Scarnati said Republicans have generally agreed on a spend number of around $31.8 billion for the new year, but still need to fill a $1.5 billion hole in FY 2016-17 and an $700 million hole in the FY 2017-18 budget at that spend number.
The House Republican budget passed April 4 had a spend number for next year at $31.52 billion.  The Independent Fiscal Office reported an updated revenue estimate for FY 2017-18 of  $32.48 billion, but legislators need to fill the FY 2016-17 hole first.
“I think there is a general desire to get it done on time, there’s no big policy fight that we had two years ago, but the decisions are difficult,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said. “Every time you are talking about a $2.2 billion deficit, that’s not an easy thing to solve, so it’s going to take all our collective ideas to solve it, but I think the relationships and the spirit of trying to get it solved are good.”
“Gaming is always tough because it always grows and then everyone’s interest gets involved and then it gets too big to pass; we’re running through all the dynamics of it and no final decisions have been made,” said Sen. Corman. “[VGTs are] a big lift. You’re talking about a significant expansion of gaming, so any time you have a significant expansion of gaming, it’s a big lift.”
House Republicans
“The House passed a budget in April, so we kind of put out a path of where we were headed, we were talking for six months about reinventing government and doing things a little bit differently,” said House Majority Leader David Reed (R-Indiana).  “Now we have to wait and see if the Senate is going to be a partner in reinventing government or whether we are going to be getting back to the status quo. Hopefully, we’ll be moving forward together.”
Governor’s Office
On Wednesday, Gov. Wolf expressed concerns about several of the ideas Republicans floated to deal with the budget, including borrowing against future state revenue and legalizing gambling on video gaming terminals.
"I want real revenue, and I want net revenue… something that is recurring revenue, not another one-time fix, not another thing that just kicks the budget problem, the deficit problem down the road for another year or two," Gov. Wolf said. "I don't want anything that we do in gaming or gambling to interfere with the revenues that are already in place. If it just cannibalizes and takes from one bucket called gambling to another, the Commonwealth isn't doing anything more than it has in the past."
Gov. Wolf renewed his call for a severance tax on natural gas production and other revenue measures in his proposed budget, although none of the revenue would be earmarked for environmental purposes.
Well, there are still five voting days left.

Post-Gazette: Court Decision Raises Questions On How Legislature Can Spend DCNR Drilling Proceeds

The Post-Gazette Friday published a story by Laura Legere on questions being raised by the PA Supreme Court decision this week declaring unconstitutional previous budget bills diverting proceeds from Shale gas drilling on DCNR forest land to the General Fund to balance the state’s budget.
She noted the General Assembly in the past, the House Republican budget passed in April and Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget would divert about $100 million from DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to pay for the agency’s daily operations.
Nearly one-third of DCNR’s total proposed budget for next fiscal year is supported by Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenues Legere reported.
Aides to Senate Republican leaders said the decision will have minor ramifications because they money from the Fund will be used for conservation purposes by supporting DCNR.
John Childe, an attorney for the PA Environmental Defense Foundation who brought the successful lawsuit told Legere spending oil and gas royalties from the Fund on DCNR operations does not comply with the court opinion.
Former DCNR and DEP Secretary John Quigley pointed to a 2004 Auditor General’s report and a 1991 guidance letter from the state Attorney General advising DCNR and its predecessor agency the Oil and Gas Lease Fund monies had to be used directly for physical enhancement or conservation of natural resources.
Quigley said some of these questions may be answered in future phases of the case, since the PA Supreme Court remanded the case back to Commonwealth Court for further action consistent with the opinion the Court issued.
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Sen. Alloway Bill Regulates Lawn Fertilizer Application To Reduce Nutrient Pollution

Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Adams), one of Pennsylvania’s representatives on the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, introduced Senate Bill 792 Wednesday regulating the application of lawn fertilizer and requiring professional fertilizer applicators to be certified in fertilizer application techniques.
“The health of Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers is of critical importance to our economic future and quality of life,” said Sen. Alloway.  “Unfortunately, thousands of miles of streams in the Commonwealth are impaired due to excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Excess levels of these nutrients are also significant contributors to the impairment of the Chesapeake Bay, whose watershed covers 50 percent of our state.
“For decades, Pennsylvania’s farmers have led the way to implement erosion and sedimentation controls, nutrient management plans and other best management practices on farms,” explained Sen. Alloway.  “More recently, wastewater treatment plants have begun to implement upgrades to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus emissions. Both sectors should be commended for their successful efforts.
“Unfortunately, as these sectors continue to implement nutrient reductions, the loads from urban and suburban stormwater continue to grow,” noted Sen. Alloway. “In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, acres of turf now outnumber acres of corn.
“This legislation will reduce the environmental impact of fertilizer applied to turf areas, such as lawns, golf courses and athletic fields, while ensuring that all turf areas within the Commonwealth will be able to receive adequate nutrients so that adverse turf health will not result as an unintended consequence,” said Sen. Alloway.
“In addition to setting clear standards for the application of fertilizer to turf, the bill will also require all professional fertilizer applicators to be certified in proper application techniques and best management practices,” said Sen. Alloway.  “This legislation is specifically focused on the lawn care industry and will not apply to agricultural production.
Similar legislation has already been enacted in Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey, and the industry has expressed a strong desire for consistency across the region and state.
The bill was referred to the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
A sponsor summary of the bill is available.
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New EPA Guide To Green Infrastructure In Parks To Manage Stormwater Now Available

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a new guide, “Green Infrastructure in Parks: A Guide to Collaboration, Funding, and Community Engagement,” to help cities and towns increase green infrastructure in their local parks.
Controlling stormwater runoff can be a challenge in urban areas, where a high level of hard surfaces like roads, sidewalks and buildings prevent water from soaking into the soil.
Instead, water is funneled into storm drains, usually after picking up pollutants such as motor oil and fertilizers. Fast-moving runoff that is exiting storm drains into local waterways can also erode stream banks.
Green infrastructure—such as rain gardens, green roofs and pervious pavement—uses soil and vegetation to help slow the flow of runoff and manage rainwater where it falls.
By capturing stormwater onsite and allowing it to slowly infiltrate back into the soil, green infrastructure can help prevent erosion and keep pollution from entering storm drains.
When used in parks, green infrastructure can add recreational, educational, aesthetic and economic benefits as well.
Amenities such as pervious biking trails create more reasons for residents to use parks; features such as native rain gardens and trees not only help control stormwater, but are also attractive; and improved drainage and the use of native plants reduce maintenance costs.
The step-by-step guide provides tips for identifying, funding and partnering on green infrastructure projects, including:
-- Identifying and engaging partners;
--  Building relationships;
-- Leveraging funds;
-- Identifying green infrastructure opportunities;
-- Planning for maintenance; and
-- Creating pilot projects.
A number of case studies and photos are also included, illustrating how nongovernmental organizations and federal, state and local governments partnered to incorporate green infrastructure into parks across the country.
For more information on stormwater management and parks, visit DCNR’s Manage Stormwater Naturally webpage, to see case studies of green infrastructure in Pennsylvania parks, visit DCNR’s PA Green Community Parks webpage and for general stormwater requirements in Pennsylvania, visit DEP’s Municipal Stormwater webpage.
(Photo: Sullivan Park, Easton, Lehigh County, DCNR Green Park Award Winner in 2014.)
(Reprinted from the Chesapeake Bay Program Blog.)
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

DEP July 19 Public Conference On Bailey Mine Expansion Permit, Greene County

The Department of Environmental Protection Thursday announced it will hold an informal public conference on July 19 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at Ryerson Station State Park Visitor Center, 361 Bristoria Road, Wind Ridge, PA 15380 to gather public feedback on a permit application from Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company LLC (Consol).
Consol applied to revise the Bailey Mine & Prep Plant (Permit No. 30841316) for the addition of 4,875 acres of underground permit area and subsidence control plan area for development mining located in Richhill, Gray, and Center Townships in Greene County.
Representatives of DEP District Mining Operations will be available to answer general questions on the permit application and receive both written and oral testimony regarding the application.
Testimony will be placed into the public record for the application and considered in the application review process.
Individuals wishing to attend who require an auxiliary aid, service or other accommodation to participate should contact Bonnie Herbert at 724-769-1100. The AT&T Relay Service is available by calling 1-800-654-5984 (TTD users) or 1-800-654-5988 (voice users) and request that the call be relayed to Bonnie Herbert at the number above.
Copies of the application are on file for public review at the DEP California District Mining Office, 25 Technology Drive, California Technology Park, Coal Center, PA 15423. Interested individuals should call 724-769-1100 to schedule an appointment.
[Note: This is the underground mine involved in damaging the dam at Ryerson Station State Park and the current legislation to retroactively rollback environmental protection standards for streams in Senate Bill 624.  Click Here for more).]
Questions should be directed to Lauren Fraley, DEP, by calling 412-442-4203 or send email to: lfraley@pa.gov.

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