Saturday, February 22, 2020

PA Capitol Report: Presidential Candidates All In For PA Primary; Permanent State Deficits

[ Because In Politics, Everything Is Connected To Everything Else ] February 18 was the deadline to submit petitions to be on the Primary Election ballot April 28 and all the major Democratic candidates for President made the deadline.  Guess they aren’t taking Pennsylvania for granted after all.
The Democratic candidates include Joe Biden; Mike Bloomberg; Pete Buttigieg; Tulsi Gabbard (U.S. representative, Hawaii); Amy Klobuchar; Bernie Sanders; Tom Steyer; and Elizabeth Warren.
Three Republicans filed petitions-- Donald Trump; William Weld (former governor of Massachusetts) and perennial candidate Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, a California businessman.
Auditor General
Six Democrats have filed to replace incumbent Auditor General Eugene DePasquale-- Nina Ahmad, Philadelphia; H. Scott Conklin, Centre County; Rose (Rosie) Marie Davis, Monroe County; Tracie Fountain, Dauphin County; Christina Hartman, Lancaster County; Michael Lamb, Allegheny County.
Only one Republican filed for the position-- Timothy Defoor, Dauphin County.
Attorney General
Attorney General Josh Shapiro is unopposed for the Democratic nomination and Heather Heidelbaugh, Allegheny County, was the only Republican to file.
State Treasurer
Incumbent State Treasurer Joe Torsella was the only one to file for the Democratic nomination and Stacy Garrity, Bradford County, filed on the Republican side.
State Senate
With half the Senate districts up for grabs this season-- 25-- these four incumbent Senators are facing primary opponents-- Sen. Jay Costa (R-Allegheny), Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery). 
There are four incumbent Senate members facing no opposition and two open Senate seats.
With the entire 203 member House standing for election, these 26 incumbent House members are facing primary opponents-- Rep. Karen Boback (R-Luzerne), Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Bud Cook (R-Washington), Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Montgomery), Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware), Rep. Tony Deluca (D-Allegheny), Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), Rep. Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), Rep. Sue Helm (R-Dauphin), Rep. Kristen Howard (D-Chester), Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), Rep. Summer Lee (D-Allegheny), Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin), Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Rep. Marci Mustello (R-Butler), Rep. Mike Puskaric (R-Allegheny), Rep. Adam Ravenstahl (D-Allegheny), Rep. James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh), Rep. Meghan Schroeder (R-Bucks), Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny), Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) and Rep. David Zimmerman (R-Lancaster).
There are 66 incumbent House members facing no opposition and 21 House seats are open or have no incumbents.
All nomination petitions are subject to challenge of course.
[Thanks to The PLS Reporter for doing a database of all Senate and House petitions filed this week.]
Poll Position
A new Quinnipiac University Poll of registered voters in Pennsylvania released February 20 shows Trump losing to Democratic opponents, but not by much--
-- Biden is ahead of Trump 50 - 42 percent;
-- Klobuchar leads Trump 49 - 42 percent;
-- Bloomberg leads Trump 48 - 42 percent;
-- Sanders has 48 percent and Trump gets 44 percent;
-- Buttigieg receives 47 percent and Trump has 43 percent;
-- Warren gets 47 percent to Trump's 44 percent.
Most Important Issues--
-- 29 percent say economy, 26 percent say health care, 13 percent say climate change
-- National: 57 percent say better off, 20 percent say worse off, 21 percent volunteer the same
-- State: 70 percent say excellent or good, 29 percent say not so good or poor.
 Budget Hearings - Permanent State Deficits
Here are some random comments made at the hearings on the Governor’s budget request last week--
-- Permanent Budget Deficits: Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee said, "We have a permanent deficit situation in Pennsylvania and it will become increasingly difficult going forward."  The Independent Fiscal Office added they project a current year budget deficit every year.  [But wait, didn't everyone say when the FY 2019-20 budget was adopted last year we now have "structural balance after years of deficit" and we could afford to put $325 million in the Rainy Day Fund?]
-- Minimum Wage Discussion: The House budget hearing for the Department of Labor and Industry served as a forum for another “lively” discussion of Gov. Wolf’s proposed minimum wage hike.  Republicans opposed, Democrats favored-- no real change there. While the Senate has passed a compromise minimum wage hike from $7.25 to $9.50, the push for an increase in the House has gone nowhere. Gov. Wolf wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 in a series of steps.  Read more here.
-- Parole Aging Inmates To Cut Medical Costs: Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel told the House Committee one way to cut costs was to provide a medical parole for aging inmates.   Officials pointed out state costs for providing medical care for inmates as they get older is a growing issue and medical parole would be one solution.  Of course, Secretary Wetzel was quick to point out there are some inmates who should not be parole regardless of cost. Read more here.
-- Get Rid Of State Gun Background Check System? House Republicans argued the state’s gun background check system duplicates a similar federal system and should be eliminated to save money.  The State Police said the state system includes 1,500 protection from abuse orders, and applies to handguns and short-barreled rifles sold in private transactions not covered by the federal system. Everyone agreed the current $5 fee per check doesn’t cover the cost of the system.
-- PA Oversupplied With Higher Ed Institutions: Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) and Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) both said at the Senate hearing on state-owned universities Pennsylvania needs to address the demographic reality the Commonwealth is oversupplied with higher education institutions-- 160 or so.
-- Fewer College Grants, Economy Too Good: The PA Higher Education Assistance Agency reported a three percent decline in Pennsylvania students applying for college scholarship funding.  Officials said a strong economy and shrinking college enrollment may be the reason for the downturn in applications. Read more here.
-- Unregulated Games Of Skill Cutting Into Lottery, Casino Gaming: At a Senate budget hearing on the State Lottery, lottery officials blamed unregulated games of skill have led to a $200 million decline in scratch-off ticket sales this year.  The lack of huge Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots also hurt revenues. Read more here.
At about the same time, the PA Gaming Control Board filed to intervene in a Commonwealth Court case involving a skill game manufacturer attempting to clarify their games are not illegal.  The Board maintains games of skill are illegal. Read more here.
-- Russians Tried To Get In, And Will Again: Department of State Secretary Kathy Boockvar told the House Russia did try to break into Pennsylvania’s election systems in 2016-- but failed-- and the federal government is telling her agency they will try again. “That is why we spent so much money in Pennsylvania really shoring up our election security at every level.”
-- Will PA Be Ready For 2020 Elections: When asked if counties and her agency will be ready for the 2020 elections, Secretary Boockvar gave the Senate Committee a laundry list of things they are doing to get ready and concluded by saying-- “We will be ready.”
Gaming Revenues
The PA Gaming Control Board reported total gaming and fantasy contests revenue generated in the Commonwealth during January 2020 was $302,844,383 which represents a 16.94 percent increase over revenue generated in January 2019. Read more here.
LCB Consumer Marketing
The Liquor Control Board is continuing its customer-focused makeover to help it better compete with new private sector competitors.  The strategy includes a new home delivery service, customer loyalty cards, more premium stores and regional “taste and learn” centers.  Read more here.
And it looks as if LCB sales have not suffered as a result of more private retail outlets for wine and beer have come into the market.  Total LCB sales for 2018-19 are up 3.1 percent since the initial round of privatization in 2016. Read more here.
No Answer On Medical Malpractice Venues
The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee issued a report February 3 concluding there was not enough data to decide whether a package of medical malpractice reforms passed nearly 20 years ago is unfair to victims of medical malpractice.
The analysis included an evaluation of present rules which prohibit venue shopping for malpractice cases.
The report was done in response to a proposal by the PA Supreme Court last year to change the rule requiring malpractice lawsuits to be tried in the county where the alleged harm occurred.  Read more hereClick Here for a copy of the report.
Catholic Diocese Bankruptcy
On February 19, the Harrisburg Catholic Diocese filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of claims filed for victims of clergy child sexual abuse.  Read more here.
One of the facts coming out of the federal bankruptcy judge initial hearing on the case Friday was the Diocese was in financial straits even before the 2016 state grand jury report on child sexual abuse by priests and they had borrowed $12.5 million against their pension fund to pay victim claims so far.  Read more here.
What’s Next?
The Senate and House continue their agency-by-agency budget hearings.  
The House hears from the Department of Environmental Protection, PennDOT, Liquor Control Board and the Department of Agriculture, among others.
The Senate also hears from the Liquor Control Board and PennDOT.
Related Article:
Fair Districts PA Pushes “Not Red, Not Blue, Just Fair” Campaign To Fix Our Broken, Gerrymandered Redistricting Process
[Posted: February 22, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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