Friday, June 24, 2016

Let’s Try Again Next Week: Senate, House Republicans, Wolf Closer, But Not, Yet

On Wednesday, Jeff Sheridan, Gov. Wolf’s Press Secretary, sent a memo to reporters outlining the compromises the Governor has made so far to reach an FY 2016-17 budget agreement and listed his budget priorities.
There were no environmental funding priorities or issues on the list.  
In fact, the Governor signed legislation Thursday to kill conventional oil and gas drilling regulations--  Senate Bill 279 (Hutchinson-R-Venango) now Act 52; and a bill to provide more legislative oversight for any DEP plan to implement the EPA Clean Power Climate Rule--  Senate Bill 1195 (White-R-Indiana) now Act 57.
The Governor’s Office is also negotiating with House Republicans over legislation-- House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler)-- to set up an independent board within DCNR to approve private recreational developments on State Park land.
All three of these bills were and are vigorously opposed by environmental groups and the first two figured prominently in the recent resignation of DEP Secretary John Quigley.
There’s also another House Republican idea for improving recreation in Pennsylvania--  House Bill 2188 (Christiana-R-Beaver)-- which directs DCNR to build 4 golf courses to establish the Arnold Palmer Trails Program (sponsor summary), presumably because you can’t have enough golf courses.
Will that be added to the mix too?  Will these new ideas be added to a Fiscal Code bill that needs to travel with the state budget without any public review?
We may know soon.
Governor’s Priorities
Gov. Wolf said he only wants three things from this year’s budget: $250 million more for basic education, $30 million for early childhood education and $30 million for special education; $34 million to fight the opioid crisis; and a balanced budget with sustainable revenue.
“That’s it,” according to the memo.
Gov. Wolf also announced this week that he’s giving up on a broad-based tax increase and reduced his overall spend number of $33.3 billion by “well over $1 billion.”
He noted he has signed a compromise liquor reform bill and that he will sign either the Senate Republican or the House Republican pension reform proposals (both are included in different versions of Senate Bill 1071 (Browne-R-Lehigh)), assuming Republicans can agree on which one to send him.
Senate/House Republicans Can’t Agree
Senate and House Republicans do not agree yet on any scheme to expand gaming in Pennsylvania, a key component of how House Republicans believe they can raise revenue painlessly to fill some budget holes.
The House did make a key vote on House Bill 2150 (Dunbar-R-Westmoreland), amending the bill on the second try to authorize 6 new types of gaming, including online gaming if Congress makes it legal, and without video gaming machines for taverns.
However, the bill remains in the House Appropriations Committee awaiting a final House Floor vote and is at least 3 days away from any final action by the Senate and House to move it to the Governor’s desk.  
Gov. Wolf expressed concerns about the bill and would only support something like it if it was part of an overall budget agreement.  
Can you say, “budget framework” redux anyone?
While the gaming changes, if passed, will bring in some money in FY 2016-17, the question is will it bring in enough to fill some of the big budget holes?  Some say not.
House Republicans and Gov. Wolf did team up to urge the Senate to concur in House amendments to Senate Bill 1071 (Browne-R-Lehigh), the pension reform bill which moves school and state employees from defined benefit to defined contribution plans.
The Senate, however, voted 31 to 19 to non-concur in House amendments and send the bill to a conference committee with the House.  Sen. Corman adding, just in case there’s an agreement on pensions.
In any case, everyone has acknowledged nothing in Senate Bill 1071 will make any difference in terms of the FY 2016-17 budget any way.  It’s for the future.
The House this week did pass a tax amnesty bill-- House Bill 1888 (Quinn-R- Montgomery)-- they said could raise $150 million FY 2016-17.  The Senate Finance Committee is due to take up the bill Monday.
There was also talk of an increase in the cigarette tax, the bank shares tax and even a new natural gas gross receipts tax, in lieu of Gov. Wolf’s natural gas severance tax, as other revenue generating options.  
But it’s just talk and rumor at this point.
Momentum On Other Issues
Gov. Wolf, House Republicans and Democrats Thursday did team up for an announcement of a special legislative session on opioid abuse, continuing the bipartisanship displayed over the last few months in local opioid roundtables across the state.
What’s Next
[Update: This meeting was canceled on Saturday night by House Republicans: The House Appropriations Committee Thursday announced it would hold a meeting at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 26 in anticipation of good things happening.  Perhaps on the General Fund budget vehicle-- House Bill 1999 (Adolph-R-Delaware).]*
Update: Republican leaders hope to present draft budget to rank-and-file Sunday.*
The full House is scheduled to come back to voting session on Monday, June 27 at 11:00 a.m.
Technically the Senate has adjourned to the call of the President Pro Tempore, generally interpreted as a six-hour call, but Sen. Corman said the Senate will probably return to session Monday like the House.
So, only 4 more days to the June 30 budget deadline which EVERYONE has said they will do EVERYTHING they can to not miss.
They don’t agree on pension reform (won’t help fills holes anyway) or on the expansion of gaming (won’t help much either).
We will no doubt be hearing, “show me the money!” in the Capitol Building over the weekend.
And, they don’t yet agree on an overall spend number.
Besides that, everything is going well!
Keep Up-To-Date
Crisci Associates will provide updates on budget news as it happens through the weekend through the PA Environment Digest Twitter Feed, Google+ Circle Green Works In PA and the PA Environment Daily Blog.
Stay tuned!
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