AG ONE Newsletter September 26, 2017

SENATE SAYS NO: BUDGET STILL UNRESOLVED

On Wednesday, September 20, the PA Senate rejected a House-passed revenue bill (House Bill 453) by a vote of 43-7, thus paving the way for a Conference Committee where three House members and three Senators thrash out differences.  At issue is the Senate approach which included new taxes and the House version which had no new taxes but instead tapped about 50 dedicated funds to balance the State Budget.

Backdrop on the Senate Vote

Technically, the Senate vote was on a motion to non-concur with House amendments to House Bill 453.  The vote showed that the more conservative wing of the Republican Party has less influence in the more moderate Senate than it does in the House where conservatives were able to convince all but 15 Republicans to go for the no-tax option.  The seven Senators voting for the House approach were John DiSanto (Perry/Dauphin), John Eichelberger (Blair), Scott Hutchinson (Venango), Mike Regan (Cumberland), Pat Stefano (Westmoreland/Somerset/Fayette), Scott Martin (Lancaster), and Scott Wagner (York).  Stalwart Senate conservatives Michelle Brooks (Erie/Warren/Crawford/Mercer) and Mike Folmer (Lebanon/Dauphin) voted with the majority in opposing the House version.

What Happens Next

The PA House will be in session this week and things could begin to take shape.  Assuming that there is to be a Conference Committee, there may be jockeying for who represents the House in negotiations – will it be leadership or will it include a House member who is ideologically committed to no new taxes?  The Senate’s return is not scheduled until October 16 but they would come back sooner if there is something on which to vote.  An obvious point of disagreement is taking money from dedicated funds.  Should funds established for specific purposes be off-limits or should they be considered savings accounts which could be used in case of a fiscal crisis?

Dedicated Funds May Still Be In Play

With Senate rejection of the House amendments, a quick look would suggest that dedicated funds are safe, but ultimately, the final budget bill may include some taxes (Senate version) and some dedicated funds (House version).  The point here is that the Budget impasse is far from over!

PSCFO ACTS ON BUDGET

At the September 18 State Council meeting, PSCFO directed that a letter be sent to legislators asking them not to go after agricultural funds’ reserves (such as the Conservation District Fund) since doing so would cripple programs.  The letter went out September 19.

HOUSE & SENATE COMMITTEES TO MEET ON SPOTTED LANTERNFLY

On October 18, the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee and the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee will hold a joint hearing on efforts to contain the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly.  This invasive species has the potential to impact PA’s grape, tree fruit, plant nursery, hops, and logging industries.  Quarantines are now in effect for parts of Chester, Berks, Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery, and Northampton Counties.  On September 23, the PA Bulletin updated a list of affected townships.

http://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol47/47-38/1577.html

STATE COUNCIL TAKES POLICY POSITIONS

The PA State Council of Farm Organizations endorsed two pieces of legislation at its September 18 meeting.  First is House Bill 544 (Moul-R-Adams).  It provides some liability protection to property owners who allow recreational use on their land (ATVs, etc.) who have added improvements.  The second piece of legislation is Senate Bill 740 (Aument-R-Lancaster).  It requires utilities to provide landline telephone service to rural areas since there is insufficient access to cell and Internet.  SB 740 maintains the current level of the Universal Service Fund through 2021.

UPCOMING

SENATE REAPPOINTS STATE CONSERVATION COMMISSION

On September 20, the PA Senate voted 50-0 to confirm reappointments to the State Conservation Commission.  These include Ronald J. Rohall from Ligonier, Ronald E. Kopp, Middletown, and Michael Flinchbaugh, York.  Included in the same vote were two reappointments to the State Board of Auctioneers, Nevin Rentzel from York and Sherman Hostetter, Jr. from Beaver.

AG ONE Newsletter September 11, 2017

BUDGET, BUDGET, WHO’S GOT THE BUDGET?

This week the House returns to Harrisburg to continue its efforts to finalize a revenue budget (Fiscal Code). Right now, there are several options being considered.  First is the Senate option which generated controversy because of its tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production and other tax increases.  This was a non-starter for the House Republican leadership.  Two other major options being considered this week are:

THE TAXPAYERS’ BUDGET

Crafted by conservative Republican House members and released September 5, it does not raise taxes.  Instead, it taps into various special fund reserves.  This plan envisions $2.44 billion in revenue. Out of specified 55 funds, a number directly involve agriculture and rural PA.

  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Fund $27 million
  • Conservation Districts Fund $3.33 million
  • Racing Fund $27 million
  • State College Experimental Farm Fund $24,000
  • Volunteer Companies Loan Fund $25 million
  • Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund $100 million

Quick to react were DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell and PDA Secretary Russell Redding who said dedicated funds are there to meet specific needs and should not be using as one-time vehicles to balance the State Budget.

Working on the Taxpayers’ Budget were Reps. Dan Moul (R-Adams), Keith Gillespie (R-York), Dawn Keefer (R-York/Cumberland), Seth Grove (R-York), Will Tallman, (R-Adams/Cumberland), Cris Dush (R-Jefferson/Indiana), Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon), Dave Zimmerman (R-Lancaster), Joe Emrick (R-Northampton), Kate Klunk (R-York), Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh/Berks), Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill/Dauphin), Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) and Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland).

THE DiGIROLAMO BUDGET

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) presented an alternative budget for consideration on September 7. His proposal would:

  • Tax Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling 3% ($400 million)
  • Increase the rate of the Personal Income Tax (PIT) from the current 3.07% to 3.32% generating one billion dollars
  • $300 million in estimated gaming revenue (expansion to other cities)
  • $50-70 million from “alternatives to liquor privatization”
  • $44.3 million from expanding the reach of the Sales Tax to online marketplaces and booking agents
  • $400-500 million from “fund transfers”.

There are other budget options too.  Among them are House Bill 453 (Ryan-R-Lebanon) which addresses numerous budget areas such as how Tobacco Settlement money will be spent (tobacco cessation programs, etc.) and authorizes the Philadelphia Parking Authority to impose a one-percent tax on ride-sharing networks such as Uber, etc.. A Democratic alternative to Republicans’ State Budget ideas comes from Rep. Curtis Thomas (D-Phila.).  House Bill 542 also covers a wide span of State Budget areas.  Both of these bills were referred to the House Rules Committee September 8.

Adding his perspective, PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale argued for legalization of recreational use of marijuana which he says would bring in $200-300 million per year.  (Opinion editorial in Philly.com on September 7)

FALL SESSION DAYS

Month                                     Senate                         House

September                               18,19,20                     11,12,13,25,26,27

October                                   16,17,18,23,24,25       2,3,4,16,17,18,23,24,25

November                               13,14,15                      13,14,15,20,21,22

December                               11,12,13,18,19,20        4,5,6,11,12,13,18,19,20

POLITICS

On September 7, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-15) announced that he is not seeking re-election in 2018.  That brings to three the number of PA Members of Congress opting not to run.  Rep. Tom Marino (R-10) was tapped by the White House to serve as the Nation’s Drug Czar.  Rep. Lou Barletta (R-11) is not running for re-election as he is seeking the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic Senator Robert Casey. A House member, Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh/Montgomery/Northampton) is seeking the GOP nomination to succeed Dent as is fellow House member Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh).

REST IN PEACE… On September 8, Rep. Dan McNeil (D-Lehigh) passed away due to natural causes.  He was elected in 2012 and served on the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.  Earlier, on September 1, former Rep. Bud George (D-Clearfield) died.  He served the citizens of his district in the General Assembly from 1974-2012.

UPCOMING…a program on Farmland Leasing and Land Opportunities will take place September 22 at the Chester County Economic Development Center.  Details: PA FarmLink 717-705-2121, www.pafarmlink.org