Friday, December 11, 2015

Budget Bills Kill Drilling Regs, Cut Growing Greener Funding, Delay Climate Plan

The Senate amended and passed a series of bills in the supposedly agreed-to budget package Wednesday night and Thursday, one of which would kill the conventional drilling regulations and force DEP to start the process over, reduce Growing Greener watershed restoration and related funding by $15 million next fiscal year and expands the time the General Assembly has to review any plan DEP develops to meet EPA’s Clean Power Climate Rule under Act 175 of 2014.
To quote Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre), “The Senate has done its job. We’re waiting on the House.  We’ve sent them a complete list of bills.  Let’s see where they go.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said Wednesday night the budget is “a House drill now” because all the major budget bills are in the House.
He said he understands the House has to go through a process, but he said he hopes some “sane people” come to the table and realize we’ve got to get a budget done.  He’s hoping for Christmas.
Gov. Wolf issued a sharply worded statement Friday critical of House Republicans for holding up resolution of the budget impasse: “It is December 11th, more than 5 months after the deadline for passing a budget, and the House Republicans, controlled by extreme right-wing members that kowtow to special interests, continue to block a bipartisan, responsible budget from passing.
“After the actions of several tea party members of the caucus, led by Speaker Turzai, it is now clear that this impasse is on the House Republicans.
“The very people holding up this budget, House Republicans, took today off, many of them traveling to New York City, for the glitz and glamour of PA Society weekend. This is unconscionable.
“That the House Republicans saw fit to take today off after blowing up the 5-party budget agreement for the second time is disgraceful,” said Gov. Wolf.  “Right now, House Republicans are controlled by the tea party and special interests that want to protect that status quo that has resulted in underfunded schools and caused 5 downgrades. They are the biggest impediment to passing a budget.”
At a press availability Friday, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said, “There are open issues in each and every area” of the budget package sent to the House by the Senate.  He noted specifically the liquor reform bill would not pass in its current form and the Education Code bill needed the most work.
4 Of 5 Agree?
Senate Republican leaders say the bills they passed were agreed-to by three of the four legislative caucuses and Gov. Wolf said he would sign them.  As noted, House Republicans are still holding out.
But, some cracks can be seen in the supposedly agreed-to budget bill package. reported late Thursday Gov. Wolf opposes loading up the Fiscal Code bill (critical to implementing a budget) to gut oil and gas regulations or slow implementation of the EPA Clean Power Climate Plan, according to his spokesperson Jeff Sheridan.
"The governor is committed to the Clean Power Plan, which is an important opportunity to reduce emissions and combat climate change, and ensuring proper oversight of the oil and gas industry with the Chapter 78 process," he added.
A veto of the Fiscal Code is a “possibility,” according to the Governor's Office.
And then, of course, more changes are an almost certainty as a result of negotiations with House Republicans.
And by the way, the Independent Fiscal Office Wednesday released its long-term economic and budget outlook for FY 2015-16 through FY 2020-21 saying the state faces a deficit of over $3.5 billion over the next two fiscal years under current laws and policies.
This year’s state budget process, with all its moving parts, is like trying to get all the colors to line up on a very high stakes Rubic’s Cube. (Credit to House Majority Leader David Reed (R-Indiana) for that analogy.)
But at least there is movement after almost 6 months of budget impasse.  That’s good, right?
The Senate will return to voting December 14 (maybe) for one day only so far.  The House is scheduled to be in voting session December 13, 14, 15, 16 (they canceled December 12).
Stay tuned...
Where We Stand
In significant bipartisan votes, the Senate passed the Fiscal Code bill-- House Bill 1327-- 48 to 1; the Administrative Code bill-- House Bill 941-- 48 to 2; Liquor privatization- House Bill 1690-- 29 to 21; pension reform -- Senate Bill 1082 (Browne-R-Lehigh)-- 38 to 12; Welfare Code bill-- House Bill 1322 (Kaufer-R-Luzerne)-- 47 to 3; and the Education Code changes-- House Bill 530-- 41 to 9.
The amended version of the General Fund budget bill-- House Bill 1460-- containing the numbers Senate Republicans say were agreed to by three of the legislative caucuses and Gov. Wolf, but not House Republicans, is still on the Senate Calendar poised for a final vote at any time.
The Senate does not plan to take action on the Tax Code bill-- House Bill 1198 -- until a final, final, final agreement is made so members only have to vote on taxes once.
Fiscal Code Bill
The Fiscal Code bill-- House Bill 1327 (Peifer-R-Pike)-- was changed in the Senate Appropriations with a single omnibus amendment and passed by the Senate.  Click Here for a copy of the amended bill.  A Senate Fiscal Note and summary is available. Among the changes related to environmental programs were--
-- Kill Conventional Oil & Gas Regulations: Abrogate the conventional oil and gas regulations developed by DEP and declaring the rulemaking process used to propose the regulations invalid making DEP start the process over. [Section 1741.1-E, page 34]
-- Reduces Growing Greener Funding $15 Million: Reduces the monies deposited in the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund by the Marcellus Legacy Fund from $35 million to $20 million for FY 2015-16.  [Section 1608-E, page 8]
-- Extends General Assembly’s Review Time For EPA Clean Power Implementation Plan:  DEP is now required to submit its plan for implementing EPA’s Clean Power Climate requirements to the General Assembly for approval 180, not 100 days before it is submitted to EPA as required by Act 175 of 2014.  If no vote is taken by the General Assembly before August 22, 2016, the plan is deemed approved.  If one or both chambers disapprove the plan, DEP can evaluate the reasons for the disapproval of the plan, request an extension from EPA for submitting the plan. [Section 1723-E, page 27]
-- Funding Earmarked For Small Water, Sewer Projects: $22 million to the Commonwealth Financing Authority to fund water and sewer projects costing between $30,000 and $500,000. [Section 1774.1-A, page 12]
-- Individual Special Water Infrastructure Projects: $400,000 for a drinking water project in a county of the 4th class and $500,000 for upgrading a sewage pumping station in a city of the 3rd class in a county of the 5th class from DEP’s General Government Operations funds.
-- Create Special Fund To Promote Conversion To Natural Gas: Establishes a Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund at the Commonwealth Financing Authority transferring $12 million from the Alternative Energy Investment Act to facilitate the conversions of schools, businesses, municipalities to natural gas. [Section 1741-A.1, page 24]
-- Washington Crossing State Park: Allocates $2.2 million of DCNR State Parks Operations funds to the operation and maintenance of Washington Crossing State Park
-- Individual, Local Government Disaster Recovery Assistance: Creates a $3 million program in the PA Emergency Management to provide individual and local government disaster assistance. [Section 1735-L, page 66]
Administrative Code Bill
The Administrative Code bill--  House Bill 941 (Regan-R-Cumberland) was amended and reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee and was passed by the Senate.  Click Here for a copy of the amended bill.   A Senate Fiscal Note and summary is available.   Among the changes were:
-- Making DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council Independent: Specifically requires DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council to be an independent Council with the sole power to employ and fix the compensation of an executive director.  [Section 448, page 3]
General Fund Budget Bill
The Senate Tuesday amended the House Republican budget bill-- House Bill 1460 (Adolph-R-Delaware)-- to include the supposedly agreed-to budget language.  The bill is now in position for a final vote at any time to send it back to the House.
Here is a comparison of selected General Fund line items from last year’s budget bill-- House Bill 2328-- to the version of the budget passed by the Senate Monday-- Senate Bill 1073-- and the House Republican budget as approved by the House Appropriations Committee Monday in the original version of  House Bill 1460 (Adolph-R-Delaware)--
-- Environmental Protection Agreed-To and [House Republican- HR]
DEP General Operations-- $13.1 million, slight increase [HR--$13.3 million] over last year $12.4 million
DEP Protection Operations-- $89.3 million [HR-- $87.1 million], slight increase over last year $84.4 million
DEP Program Management-- $29.5 million [HR-- $28.2 million], slight increase over $28.6 million
Conservation Districts-- $2.5 million [HR--same], same as last year
Transfer To O&M Trust Account -- $500,000  [HR-- none]
Black Fly-- $3.3 million [HR-- $3.3 million], same as last year
West Nile Virus-- $3.8 million [HR-- $3.9 million], slightly less than last year $3.9 million
Sewage Facilities Grants -- $610,000 [HR-- $900,000], slight less than last year $700,000
DRBC-- $750,000 increase [HR--$434,000] over $434,000 last year
SRBC-- $573,000 [HR-- $473,000], same as last year
ORSANCO-- $136,000 [HR-- same], same as last year
Potomac River Basin Commission-- $46,000 [HR-- $46,000], same as last year
Citizens Advisory Council-- $250,000, no line item in previous years [HR-- None].
-- Conservation and Natural Resources
DCNR General Operations-- $12.3 million [HR- same (plus $5 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund], increase over $5.8 million last year
State Parks Operations-- $33.2 million [HR- same] (plus $21.4 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund [HR-- same]), decrease over $2.2 million last year ($45 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund)
State Forest Operations-- $11.1 million [HR- same] (plus $10.5 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund [HR-- same]), increase over $1 million last year (plus $17.5 million from Oil & Gas Lease Fund)
Heritage Parks-- $2.7 million [HR--$2.2 million], same as last year
-- Agriculture
Agriculture General Operations-- $28.4 million [HR-- $27.6 million], increase over $25.2 million
Conservation Districts-- $869,000 [HR-- same], same as last year.
A Senate Fiscal Note and summary is available.
Click Here for a Senate Republican staff budget spreadsheet for Senate Bill 1073.  Click Here for a House Democratic staff budget spreadsheet for Senate Bill 1073.
Click Here for a copy of the House Republican budget spreadsheet for the Republican budget that was in House Bill 1460.
Related Stories:
Budget Bills Kill Drilling Regs, Cut Growing Greener Funding, Delays Climate Plan

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