Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Environmental Funds At More Risk As House Republicans Fill Out New Budget Proposal

As House Majority Leader David Reed (R-Indiana) said last week-- it’s no secret House Republicans do not like the Senate-passed revenue package, in particular all the proposed taxes and the proposal to borrow up to $1.3 billion securitized by tobacco settlement monies.
House Republicans are apparently poised to replace a large chunk of that $1.3 billion in borrowing by diverting taxes that would normally go to special funds to the General Fund.
They are also looking to raid any special fund with an available balance.  As noted previously, some members are not concerned that those available balances are needed to pay off the cost of grants and contracts issued two and three years before to local governments, communities, nonprofit groups and contractors.
Again, no secret, except there is now more urgency because of the need to respond to the Senate-passed revenue package.
Among the revenue streams, funds and tax credits at particular risk dealing with the environment are--
-- Cigarette taxes now going to support farmland preservation;
-- Realty Transfer Tax now going to support the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund;
-- Waste Fee and other funding going to the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund;
-- Drilling Impact Fee going to the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund;
-- $2 Recycling Fee going to support Recycling Program;
-- ANY special fund with an available balance;
-- REAP Farm Conservation Tax Credit - $10 Million; and the
Lists of special funds can be viewed in the Governor’s FY 2017-18 Executive Budget document-- Agriculture - page E7-1, Conservation and Natural Resources - page E11-1 and Environmental Protection - page E17-1.
The complete list can be found starting on Section H3.
Freeze On Spending
The new possibility raised this week is a spending freeze, rather than more stopgap borrowing.
Asked about whether he would freeze spending on September 15 as one option for dealing with the incomplete budget, Gov. Wolf said he will do whatever he needs to do to deal with the budget.  
Pressed, he said he doesn’t “want to alarm anybody” by announcing the amount of money he will freeze, in part, because that number changes from day to day.
Keep in mind four additional points--
-- The Senate, House and Gov. Wolf agreed on and passed a budget in June that fails to address ANY environmental funding shortfalls, in-fact, it makes more cuts despite federal agencies saying key DEP programs do not meet minimum federal standards.
-- House Republicans in April passed their budget with significant across-the-board cuts to all agencies and again to Agriculture, DCNR and DEP.
-- DEP in particular has already had its General Fund budget cut 40 percent and lost nearly 25 percent of its staff in the last 13 years and has had to raise permit fees significantly to make up for some of that loss.
-- The Trump Administration proposed 40 percent or more in cuts to grants to states, including Pennsylvania, to administer federal environmental programs.  If those cuts are enacted, on top of state funding cuts, the impact will be to cripple these programs.

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