Sunday, May 24, 2020

PA Capitol & COVID-19 Weekly Report: Red, Yellow, Now Green; Budget Action On Horizon

[ Because Everything Is Connected To Everything Else ] Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Wolf Friday announced all remaining counties in the state will move to the Yellow Phase of his reopening plan and 17 counties will move to the Green Phase.
The counties moving to yellow on May 29 include Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, and Schuylkill.
The 17 counties moving to the Green Phase on May 29 include Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren.
Counties that remain in Red Phase on May 29 and are expected to move to the Yellow Phase by June 5 include Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.  Read more here.
Of course, Gov. Wolf did all that after vetoing Republican bills to gut his COVID-19 reopening plan, take decisions about reopening local businesses away from him and give it to county officials and reopen businesses ranging from pet grooming, too real estate offices, to manufacturing operations.  Read more here.
House Republicans did attempt to override Wolf’s veto of one of their bills covering pet grooming and manufacturing-- House Bill 2388, but fell 21 votes short of the two-thirds needed on May 20. Read more here.
In a nod to bipartisanship, Gov. Wolf did sign legislation authorizing curbside sale of mixed drinks [Read more here] and legislation to give early checks to seniors and others qualifying for the state Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program [Read more here].
Of course the vetoes didn’t sit well and Republicans are now taking advantage of a provision in the state law authorizing a Governor to declare an emergency that also authorizes the Senate and House to terminate an emergency by passing a concurrent resolution.
House Republicans moved concurrent House Resolution 836 (Diamond-R- Lebanon) providing for the termination of Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster emergency out of Committee Thursday and positioned it for a final vote next week.  Read more here.
The Senate is now coming back to session next week, one could guess to also vote on the concurrent resolution.
While Republicans are arguing the emergency will end once they pass the resolution, the Governor’s Office is pointing to a provision in the state constitution that requires presenting the resolution to the Governor for his action-- to sign or veto.  (Read more here about the Governor’s emergency powers.)
Here's an interesting description of the pandemic public policy problem put in terms many may understand better: The Trolley Problem, Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru Training Exercise and the Pandemic.
Court Again Refuses To Override Wolf’s Emergency Authority
On May 21, a federal court judge refused a request by a House Republican candidate and business owners from Perry County to override Gov. Wolf’s authority to adopt emergency business shutdowns and the stay at home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Read more here.
So far, the Governor has won the other court fights waged against his directives. The state Supreme Court has so far backed his use of executive power to battle the virus. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition by a group of western Pennsylvanians who sought to overturn Wolf’s directives.
Poll Position
Yet another poll was published last week saying 64 percent of those polled supported Gov. Wolf in his efforts to respond to the COVID-19 emergency, down from the results in the 70s in previous polls.  Read more here.
President Trump earned a 43 percent level of support.
Cautious Reopenings
With all the talk about getting businesses back open quickly, the reality on the ground seems to be more cautious so far--
Other Actions
State government took these other actions last week related to the pandemic--
Budget Action
Judging from a meeting notice by the Senate Appropriations Committee, there will be action in both the House and the Senate on an FY 2020-21 General Fund budget bill the week of May 26.   Read more here.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has listed House Bill 2387 (Saylor-R-York), the General Fund appropriations, and 15 other preferred appropriations bills for action at a meeting on May 26.  
Those bills are now in the House, so House action must be anticipated.
Rumor has it, Senate and House Republicans are going to pass a short-term budget using the numbers from FY 2019-20 as a placeholder until the July revenue numbers come in.  The deadline for filing tax returns was delayed to July 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and with it the revenue the state receives.
Then the Senate and House will get to work on the “real” budget some time after that.
Revenue Estimates
The Independent Fiscal Office will provide a revised revenue estimate for FY 2019-20 and its first real FY 2020-21 revenue estimate at a briefing on May 26.
On April 8, the IFO projected a $2.7 to $3.9 billion reduction in revenues for the current and next year as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.  Read more here.
Senate and House hearings in February, before the pandemic broke, found state programs had an $800 million deficit for the current fiscal year because of the usual under estimates of program costs.
Of course, lawmakers and interest groups are seizing on the newest budget crisis to push everything from video gambling in bars and restaurants to legalizing marijuana to fill the budget hole everyone agrees will be big.
Other Budget Impacts
Information came out last week about other COVID-19-related budget impacts to schools, agencies and communities--
  Gaming Revenues Plunge
On May 18, the PA Gaming Control Board reported overall gaming revenue was down 84 percent in April compared to April 2019 as a result of COVID-19 closures.  Tax revenue from all forms of gaming in April 2020 was $18,334,503.
April revenue for online casino-type games which include slot machines, table games and poker jumped 73 percent over the previous month of March 2020. The biggest increase was within the slot machine segment in which revenue more than doubled going from $12,969,655 in March to $27,324,955 in April. Read more here.
The Board also issued guidance for reopening casino facilities in the Green Phase of Gov. Wolf’s reopening plan.  The casinos will look and operate much differently than they normally do following those guidelines.  Read more here.
COVID-19 Death Toll
The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 4,418 on May 17 to 5,124 on May 24. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 62,234 on May 17 to 67,713 on May 24.
April Unemployment 15.1%
On May 22, the Department of Labor & Industry reported Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was up 9.3 percentage points over the month to 15.1 percent in April. The national rate rose 10.3 percentage points from March to 14.7 percent. 
The Commonwealth's unemployment rate increased by 11.0 percentage points from April 2019, while the national rate was up 11.1 points over the year.  Read more here.
As of May 21, a total of 1,914,741 Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment since March 15, the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.  That number is up 60,017 from May 15.
What’s Next?
The House is scheduled to be in session on May 26 and 27 next week, but technically the House remains at the call of the House Speaker.
The key vote next week will no doubt be on concurrent House Resolution 836 (Diamond-R-Lebanon) providing for the termination of Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration followed by votes on bills to open a variety of other businesses.
House Committees have informational meetings or hearings set on how to safely reopen schools, funding for day care centers and COVID-19 impacts on agriculture. 
The Senate is now scheduled to be in session May 26, 27, 28, but remains at the Call of President Pro Tempore.
As noted above, action has been scheduled on House-sponsored budget bills.
The Senate Republican Policy Committee also has an informational meeting scheduled on safely reopening western Pennsylvania’s economy.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee has a hearing scheduled on child care center funding.
Related Articles:
Senate, House Republicans Anticipate Action On FY 2020-21 Budget Next Week; Likely To Continue Cutting Environmental Funding
Senate Committee Meets May 27 To Consider Republican Bill To Kill Regulations By Doing Nothing
[Posted: May 24, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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