Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Gov. Wolf Proposes To Shift $75.7 Million From Environmental Funds To Pay Agency Operating Expenses Instead Of Funding Community-Based Projects

On February 5, Gov. Tom Wolf outlined his 2019-20 budget proposal that included major workforce development and education initiatives he said would build the strongest workforce in the nation.  
He proposed no increase in general taxes to support the General Fund budget.  But he did propose a new natural gas severance tax last week to support his separate $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania proposal.
Gov. Wolf budget proposes to take funds for the first time in significant amounts from the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund, the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Recycling Fund to support the general administrative costs of the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources and county conservation districts.
The proposal would also transfer more money than in the current fiscal year from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to support DCNR.
At the same time, the proposal would reduce transfers from the Marcellus Legacy Fund supported by the Act 13 impact fee to the Environmental Stewardship Fund.
A total of $95.7 million would be transferred to be used for administrative costs or not deposited in these special funds for their originally intended purpose.
On the positive side of the ledger, the budget proposal would shift about $20 million in debt service payments from the Environmental Stewardship Fund to the General Fund (Personal Income Tax) to pay for Gov. Rendell’s Growing Greener 2 bond issue.
The net loss to special funds available to DEP and DCNR would be about $75.7 million and will be recurring. The Administration's goal, however, is to keep about the same level of project support grants as they have in the past.
The General Fund proposal announced today does not contain new initiatives to address key statewide environmental issues, except for a $3 million proposal in the Department of Agriculture to support farm conservation technical assistance.
The net result of this proposal is to make the passage of Gov. Wolf’s $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania much more important to maintain the state’s support for community-based projects to restore watersheds, reduce the impacts of flooding and water quality impacts from stormwater, support conservation efforts by farmers, increase efforts to preserve open space, increase recreational opportunities and deal with the increasing backlog of maintenance and infrastructure replacement projects in State Parks and forests.
The proposal would transfer $15.4 million from the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund to pay for DEP administrative costs and reduce the income to the ESF Fund from the Marcellus Legacy Fund by $19.3 million. (page H25)
The proposal would also shift about $20 million in expected debt service payments for the Growing Greener 2 bond issue from the Environmental Stewardship Fund to the General Fund freeing up those dollars for ESF Fund purposes. (page H31)
The agency administrative costs proposed to be funded from the ESF under the proposal include--
-- $7.4 million to support DEP operations (was General Fund before)
-- $2.6 million Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Source Abatement (was General Fund before)
-- $2.5 million to support conservation districts (was General Fund before)
-- Support for the Delaware and Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River, Interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, Delaware River Master (was General Fund before)
The proposed transfer from the Marcellus Legacy Fund to the Environmental Stewardship Fund would be reduced by $19.3 million from $29.6 million in the current year to $10.3 million. (page H44)
It would transfer $20.1 million grom the Marcellus Fund to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program to keep that program operating as it has been.
$10 million is proposed to be transfer from the Recycling Fund to support DEP administrative costs, while maintaining the same level of grant support for local recycling programs. (page H 68)
Other budget initiatives include--
-- $132,000 for PFAS testing
As a result of these transfers, General Fund support for DEP would decrease from $156 million to $135.1 million.  In the 1994-95 budget, General Fund support for DEP was $165.6 million.
Overall, DEP’s budget from all sources would increase from $725.996 million to $786.407 million.
The staff complement at DEP would remain the same at 2,497 with about 2,300 filled positions.  The total staff complement in 2002-03 was 3,200.
The budget proposal would support DCNR administrative operations with a transfer of  $30 million from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and a $21 million increase in the monies transferred from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund from $48.6 million to $69.6 million.
Other changes include $2.2 million for the Heritage Parks Program taken from Environmental Stewardship Fund.
As a result, General Fund support for DCNR would decrease from $122.6 million to a proposed $85.2 million.
Overall, DCNR’s budget from all sources would increase from $382.8 million to $391.1 million.
The staff complement at DCNR would increase to 1,276 from 1,264 this year under the proposal.
Overall the Department of Agriculture would see an increase in General Fund support to $163.2 million from $151.8 million.
Several initiatives include--
-- $3 million increase in Nutrient Management Fund for technical assistance, planning to farmers
-- $5 million increase in Agricultural Preparedness and Response, in part for Spotted Lanternfly
-- $2.9 million support for conservation district maintained.
The staff complement at Agriculture would increase slightly to 588 from 586 this year.
Links To More Details
Click Here for the 2019-20 budget in brief
Click Here for the transcript of Governor Wolf’s budget address
Click Here for the budget spreadsheet
Click Here for the Big Budget Book  
Click Here for the Budget Slide Presentation
Click Here for proposed Budget Legislation
(Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)
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