Senator Bob Mensch E-Newsletter

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Week of March 5, 2018

Senate Hearings on Proposed State Budget 

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am taking part in public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed 2018-2019 state budget. Summaries and video of each of this week’s hearings are listed below. You can review previous hearings here and here. Inclement weather caused postponement of the final two days of hearings. I’ll follow up with those summaries when the hearings are rescheduled. 


In this Edition:

  • Gaming Control Board
  • Revenue/PA Lottery
  • Community and Economic Development
  • Education
  • Aging

Monday March 5, 2018

Gaming Control Board 

Representatives of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fielded questions on how expanded gaming opportunities will impact the state and how they will be regulated.  Other questions centered on:

  • New jobs created by new Category 4 “mini casino” licenses and other expanded gaming.
  • The impact of pension costs on the board’s budget.
  • The implementation of Video Gaming Terminals at truck stops.
  • Regulations that will be established to ensure proper control of Category 4 casinos.
  • Ensuring proper surveillance and security of VGTs.
  • Gaming options at airports.
  • Efforts to support Pennsylvania’s horse racing facilities.
  • The amount of slot machine revenue going toward property tax relief.
  • The impact of casinos on local economic development.
  • Help for gambling addictions and efforts to crack down on underage gambling.
  • The continued presence of the PA State Police at casinos, whether it is warranted and who pays for it.
  • A status report on slot machine revenues versus table game revenues.

Full Hearing

Revenue Department and Lottery 

Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell fielded questions regarding tax collections, revenue trends and new lottery initiatives. Other topics of discussion included:

  • Spending for IT modernization.
  • Efforts to increase efficiency.
  • The impact of gaming expansion on lottery sales.
  • Legal issues regarding medical cannabis.
  • Spending for lottery advertising.
  • The projected impact of the Governor’s proposed Marcellus Shale extraction tax.
  • Anticipated revenues from internet lottery sales.
  • Efforts to prevent fraud and identity theft.
  • Natural gas impact fee revenues.
  • Electronic filing of state income taxes. 

Full Hearing 

Community and Economic Development

Representatives of the Department of Community and Economic Development answered questions related to Pennsylvania’s business climate. Topics of conversation included:

  • The state’s chances of submitting a winning bid for the new Amazon headquarters.
  • Additional funding proposed for the PA First program.
  • Steps the Department is taking to support Third Class cities.
  • The impact of Governor Wolf’s proposed cut to the Marketing to Attract Tourists program.
  • An update on vocational education and workforce development initiatives.
  • How to best match available jobs to qualified candidates.
  • Ways to measure the success of economic development programs.
  • Reasons why some municipalities struggle to recover from financially distressed status.
  • The department’s plans to implement the Federal Opportunity Zones Program.
  • Coordination of programs for businesses and host communities.
  • The impact of tax and regulatory proposals on Pennsylvania’s ability to attract and retain employers.
  • The availability of career and technical education programs for adults.
  • Resources available for residential utility assistance programs.
  • The involvement of trade unions in job training programs.
  • An update on the Neighborhood Assistance Program.
  • The impact of international trade on Pennsylvania’s economy.
  • The latest status of the ethane cracker plant in southwest Pennsylvania.
  • Governor Wolf’s refusal to allow new applications for the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program.

Full Hearing

Tuesday March 6, 2018 

Education

The Appropriations Committee questioned Secretary Pedro Rivera about ways to ensure the massive state education budget is being spent efficiently and effectively. Topics covered include:

  • The difficulty for parents finding school performance scores online.
  • The delays in cyber-charter school renewals
  • The Administration’s stance on a lawsuit seeking more spending for school districts.
  • The financial unsustainability of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
  • The shortcomings of the current Keystone Exam system.
  • The lack of Administration assistance in finding an alternative to school property taxes to fund education.
  • The need for state funding for school safety to have standards for efficient, effective spending.
  • The prospect of allowing state funding for community colleges to be used on operational expenses.
  • The advantages of all-day vocational education over transporting students from high school to vo-tech schools.
  • The need to do more to help students prepare for technical careers.
  • Senate-passed legislation allowing school districts to train staff to arm themselves to boost school safety.
  • Lack of measurements to justify massive new spending levels.
  • The status of a pending report on agriculture education.
  • Disbursement of state PLANCON funds for school construction.
  • The ongoing challenge of turning around academically distressed school districts.
  • The method of school districts reporting school bullying data to the state.
  • The Keystone Exam graduation requirement.
  • The total cost of the Keystone Exams contract since 2010.
  • Problems caused by level state support for school transportation while costs increase.
  • The need for security risk assessment in PA schools.
  • The finding that PA spends $15,000 per student compared to national average of $11,000, but without better results.
  • The need to reform the outdated charter school funding formula.

Full Hearing 

Aging

Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne discussed the challenges Pennsylvania is facing in meeting the needs of a growing aging population including:

  • Outreach programs for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Projections in growth for the state’s senior population.
  • Programs in the state budget that impact senior citizens.
  • The importance of the state Lottery and the programs it funds.
  • The role of Area Agencies on Aging in providing long-term care.
  • Seniors selling prescribed opioids to pay for other medications.
  • Adjustments in the PACE reimbursement program.

Full Hearing

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