AG ONE Newsletter March 13, 2018

BUDGET PROCEEDS TO NEXT STAGE

Now that the State Budget hearings have concluded, the next step is initial consideration of a budgetary spending document.  Right now, the vehicle that will be considered by the House initially is House Bill 2121 (Saylor-R-York) which was reported out by the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, March 12.    Following is a link to the text of the 186-page bill:  http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=2121&pn=3056  As far as the PA Department Budget, there are changes between what Governor Wolf proposed and House Bill 2121.

Line Item                                                        Governor Wolf                      House Bill 2121

PDA General Government Operations                $33.407 million                       $31.110 million

 Includes Spotted Lanternfly $1.6 million

Fruit & Vegetable Inspection and Grading          $460,000                                 NA

Conservation District Grants                            $2.877 million                         $3.375 million

Centers for Agricultural Excellence                   0                                            $1.331 million

Ag Research (not Penn State)                          0                                              $1.687 million

Ag Promotion, Education, Exports                    0                                              $303,000

Hardwoods Research & Promotion                    0                                              $424,000

Open Livestock Show                                      0                                              $215,000

Open Dairy Show                                           0                                              $215,000

Food Marketing                                              0                                              $494,000

Penn State Extension & Research                    $52.313 million                           same

PA Preferred                                                  $605,500                                  $600,000

Youth Shows                                                  $169,000                                 $169,000

Nutrient Management                                     $2.714 million                           same

Dirt/Gravel Roads                                          $28.0 million                              same

State Food Purchases                                     $19.188 million                         same

 Includes $1.0 million for PASS (Food Banks)                                            

Farmers Market Coupons                               $2.079 million                            same

Fairs (Race Horse Development Fund)             $4.0 million                               same

 

The process is shaping up to be smoother than in each of Governor Wolf’s previous State Budget proposals since, with the exception of a tax on natural gas (severance tax), there are no major taxes being proposed.  NOTE:  HB 2121 is a spending bill.  Tax increases would come from revenue bills.  Something else that may reduce tension in Harrisburg is continued growth in PA tax revenues for this fiscal year.  If PA has a surplus or breaks even, it could dampen fears of another billion-dollar deficit for the next fiscal year beginning July 1.  According to the PA Revenue Department, February revenues exceeded estimates by $406.3 million.  Above prediction areas were Sales Tax, Personal Income Tax (PIT), and Inheritance Tax.  Coming in lower than expected were Real Estate Transfer Tax and Corporate Income Tax.  What makes the numbers look so good however is a transfusion from the Tobacco Settlement “advance” on future monies coming into the state.  Right now, revenues for this fiscal year stand at $20.9 billion, or $496 million (2.4%) above projections.

A separate issue is Governor Wolf’s reintroduction of a proposal to charge $25 per head for communities that rely on law enforcement from the State Police rather than their own police.

There is no line item per se in either the Governor’s proposed State Budget or HB 2121 for Broadband access for rural areas.

BUDGET (FARM SHOW LOAN) COMMENT

Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York/Cumberland) issued the following in her re-cap of Budget Secretary Randy Albright’s hearing before the House Appropriations Committee March 8:

Thursday’s hearing was with Secretary Randy Albright from the Office of the Budget. Several members questioned the Governor’s unilateral decision on a financing agreement. The agreement originally involved the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex but it is no longer included in the signed loan agreement. Albright described the agreement as a straight-up borrowing plan. Under the agreement, the Commonwealth received $200 million for its General Fund but will pay back $391.5 million over 29 years. Apart from being a bad deal for taxpayers, the Governor sidestepped the Legislature in making this decision. The General Assembly should have been not only involved in the decision-making process, but should have had the final say in the matter. Now future generations are on the hook for $191.5 million in interest payments, about $6.6 million a year, for the next nearly three decades.

UPCOMING

  • On April 5, the Center for Rural PA is holding a hearing in Wellsboro on Rural Broadband Access.  Information on this hearing is not yet available on the Center’s web site.  http://www.rural.palegislature.us/events.html
  • On March 21, the Senate Game & Fisheries Commission has scheduled a hearing on the annual reports of the PA Game Commission and the PA Fish & Boat Commission.
  • The House Game & Fisheries Committee is holding an informational meeting on the Fish & Boat Commission’s Annual Report March 27.  The following day, the committee has an informational meeting on the Annual Report of the PA Game Commission.
  • The March 14 hearing by the House Consumer Affairs Committee on House Bill 1620 (Broadband access) is cancelled and is not yet re-scheduled.

AG ONE Newsletter March 5, 2018

PSCFO CONCLUDES FOOD SAFETY WORKSHOPS

On March 1, the last of four workshops was held in Bedford County to inform produce growers on how to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act’s regulatory requirements.  The other three were held in Tamaqua (Schuylkill County), Kutztown (Berks County), and Windsor (York County). Presenters were from the PA Department of Agriculture who walked growers through areas such as worker safety & hygiene, use of water, risk of animal contamination, and ways to avoid contamination during storage.  Statistically, 46% of food sickness incidents requiring medical treatment and/or hospitalization have been traced back to farms.

In addition to farmers, numbers of legislators and staff also attended.  Attending were legislators Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, Senator Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill), Reps. Gary Day and Dave Maloney (R-Berks), Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford), and Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Somerset/Bedford).  Staff represented the following legislators:  Rep. Judy Ward (R-Blair); Reps. Kristin Phillips-Hill and Rep. Kate Klunk (R-York); Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh); Senator Wayne Langerholc (R-Cambria/Bedford/Clearfield); and Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York), Majority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

DEPARTMENT & COMMODITY MARKETING

The PA Department of Agriculture announced March 3 that the PA Wine Marketing & Research Program Board is soliciting proposals on marketing and research projects to increase quality profitability, production and sale of wines.  Applications are due April 20, 2018 to PA Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Commodity Board Grant Program, 2301 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg, PA 17110.  Details: www.pabulletin.com

March 20, 2018 is the last postmarked date for referendum ballots on continuation of the PA Vegetable Marketing & Research Program to be submitted.  Eligible voters are vegetable producers who grew at least one acre of vegetables in 2017’s growing period or grew vegetables in greenhouses located in PA with total space of 1,000 square feet or more.  Voting began March 5.

AG DEPARTMENT PLANS SEVEN REGULATIONS

The PA Department of Agriculture plans to issue seven regulations in the first half of 2018:

  • Conservation Easement Program Contact: Douglas Wolfgang 717-783-3167
  • PA Preferred Contact: Laura England 717-783-8462
  • PA Vegetable Marketing Contact: Bill Troxell 717-694-3596
  • Rabies Prevention & Control Contact: Nanette Hanshaw, DVM 717-783-6677
  • Kennel Canine Health Contact: Kristin Donmoyer 717-705-8896
  • Weights, Standards & Measures Contact: Walt Remmert 717-787-6772
  • (Raw) Milk Sanitation             Contact: Lydia Johnson 717-787-4315

BUDGET HEARINGS CONCLUDE THIS WEEK

The annual House and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings on the State Budget conclude this week. Of key interest is the Governor’s Office and Office of the Budget on March 8 for both House and Senate Appropriations Committees where scrutiny may center on from where the revenue will come to fund the State Budget.  PA Cable Network (https://pcntv.com/schedule/ ) airs most of the hearings.  Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding testified before both committees.  Thanks to the Senate Majority Communications Office, following is a link to the Senate Appropriations hearing on February 28. https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/h86ncu5jfq The hearing touched on an array of topics ranging from hemp to the Farm Show lease-lease-back (equity loan).

POLITICS

  • Minority House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Bill Keller (D-Phila.) is not seeking re-election.  This means that both Majority and Minority Chairs of this committee will be new in 2019.
  • Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh)has dropped his congressional plans as did because of the PA Supreme Court imposed redistricting and is running for re-election.
  • Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) withdrew her bid for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor and is now running for Congress in the redrawn 4th congressional district.

PA SPECIAL ELECTION GARNERS NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

  • March 13 is the date of the special congressional election in southwest PA’s 18th district, pitting PA House Representative Rick Saccone (Republican) against Democrat Conor Lamb.  Saccone was elected to the PA House in 2010.  Lamb was an attorney with the Marines and former Assistant District Attorney in Pittsburgh during the Obama Administration.  This is seen as a referendum on Trump and GOP control of Congress.  Notables such as former Vice President Biden and President Trump are actively campaigning in the district.

USDA RENEWS CENSUS REQUEST

Even though the initial deadline was February 6, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) asks farmers who have not completed the Census of Agriculture to do so.  Please respond to www.agcounts.usda.gov or call King Whetstone at 717-787-3904 with questions.

FARM LINK PLANS SUCCESSION WORKSHOP in Chambersburg March 8.  The Farm Succession and Transition Workshop will help farmers to pass on the business to the next generation.  Farm Link and partner AgChoice Farm Credit are both PSCFO members.  Details: Michelle Kirk 717-705-2121  mkirk@pafarmlink.org

AG ONE Newsletter February 13, 2018

SPEAKER TURZAI SUSPENDS GOVERNOR EFFORT

Shortly before the PA Republican State Committee formally endorsed Senator Scott Wagner (R-York), Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) suspended his candidacy for Governor.  This means that he will continue as a candidate for re-election to the PA House of Representatives.  Assuming Republicans maintain a majority in the November election, he would seek another term as Speaker.  The decision leaves two other candidates vying with Wagner for the GOP nomination, Paul Mango and Laura Ellsworth, both from western PA.

DEMOCRATIC ENDORSEMENTS

The PA Democratic Party also met and endorsed Governor Tom Wolf and Senator Bob Casey, Jr. for re-election.  There was no endorsement for the Lt. Governor contest where incumbent Lt. Governor Mike Stack is fighting for his political life against several opponents including Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery).

AND NOW THE BUDGET GAUNTLET BEGINS!

On February 6, Governor Tom Wolf presented his proposed State Budget for the Fiscal Year 2018-19 to the General Assembly.  He projects spending to be $32.9 billion, an increase of $989.8 million (a 3.1% increase) over the current fiscal year. If you are a policy wonk or have put on a new pot of coffee, feel free to delve into the 930 page Budget Book produced by the Office of the Budget.  http://www.budget.pa.gov/PublicationsAndReports/CommonwealthBudget/Documents/2018-19%20Proposed%20Budget/2018-19%20Governor%27s%20Executive%20Budget%20-%20Web.pdf

Following are several of the changes the Governor is seeking (bold means specific rural impact):

  • There would be a new tax, the Marcellus Severance Tax: (248.7 million)
  • No increase in rate of Sales Tax or Personal Income Tax (PIT) is envisioned.
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $12 per hour has a target of reducing entitlement costs (Medicaid, etc.) by $101 million per year.
  • Merging the Department of Health into the Dept. of Human Services
  • Impacting 67% of all PA municipalities would be a $25 per person levy to fund State Police for those communities with no local law enforcement.
  • Additional $225 million for education with $100 million increase for basic education and $15 million increase for State System of Higher Education, $25 million increase in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and computer science education
  • $25 million more in child care
  • More spending ($33 million) on various programs directed at combating the opioid crisis
  • $74 million more for services for individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities
  • $2.5 million to combat Lyme Disease
  • Roads and bridges infrastructure includes $50 additional million for maintenance of low traffic roads and $40 million in new money for Rural Commercial Routes.
  • Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gets $2.5 million additional to fund inspections of natural gas wells.

SPECIFICS AFFECTING AGRICULTURE

  • PA Department of Agriculture budget shows a $2 million decrease in General Fund monies from the current $177.034 million to $174.988 million for Fiscal Year 2018-19.
  • However, the good news was that the General Government Operations line item was increased $2.6 million from $30.784 million in the current fiscal year to a proposed $33.407 million.  This increase includes $1.597 million to combat the Spotted Lantern Fly, a pest particularly threatening PA’s wine and fruit industry.
  •  INCREASES
  • Transfer from Environmental Stewardship Fund from current $9.893 million to $11.037 million (Agriculture Conservation Easement Program)
  • Farm Products Show Fund from $12.798 million to $13.438 million
  • Equine Toxicology & Research Lab from $12.95 million to $13.025 million
  • Dog Law Administration from $7.4 million to $8.75 million
  • Fruit & Vegetable Inspection and Grading from $389,000 to $460,000
  • Conservation District Grants from $2.851 million to $2.877 million
  • ZEROED OUT:  Centers for Agricultural Excellence $1.331 million; Ag Research (not to be confused with Penn State) $1.687 million; Ag Promotion, Education & Exports $303,000; Hardwoods Research & Promotion $424,000; Livestock Show $215,000; Open Dairy Show $215,000; Food Marketing & Research $494,000.
  • SAFE (for now)Penn State Extension and Ag Research $52.313 million; UPenn Vet School $30.135; PA Preferred $605,000; Youth Shows $169,000; Nutrient Management $2.714 million; Dirt, Gravel Roads $28.0 million; State Food Purchases $19.188 million; PASS (Food Banks) $1.0 million; Farmers Market Food Coupons $2.079 million (state share)

AG ONE Newsletter November 19, 2017

BUDGET FOLLOW UP

Despite enactment of the State Budget, there are still some loose ends.

  • Up in the air is Governor Wolf’s plan to take out what amounts to an equity loan on the state-owned Harrisburg Farm Show Complex.  His goal was to have the state receive a $200 million loan which would have to be repaid to the lender over 30 years.  There is speculation over the legality of such a move.  The bidding period closed November 13.
  • The medical malpractice insurer of last resort, the PA Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), sued the Commonwealth for what it says is illegally taking $200 million out of the insurer’s reserves to help balance the State Budget. (Act 44).
  • Governor Wolf has dropped his plan to borrow against future profits from the PA Liquor Control Board after the PA Commonwealth Financing Authority approved plans to borrow $1.5 billion from future Tobacco Settlement monies coming into the state. (Act 43 of 2017)
  • Unknown as of November 19 is from which dedicated funds Governor Wolf will take $300 million.  Thanks to authority given to him by the General Assembly in order to pass State Budget revenue bills, Governor Wolf can choose from as few or as many he wants.  Of concern to the agricultural industry are special funds such as the Conservation District Fund and others dedicated to agricultural and conservation efforts.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION RATE HIKE POSTPONED

A 6.06% increase in Workers’ Compensation premiums that would have taken effect November 1 has been delayed as reported by the Central Penn Business Journal due to a challenge from the PA Association for Justice (trial lawyers). Details were not released by the Insurance Department but the following was given in response to a query from Phillips Associates:  While the PCRB proposed a November 1, 2017 effective date in the filing, the Department can use up to 180 days to review the filing in accordance with Article VII of the Workers Compensation Act.  While we don’t anticipate needing the full 180 days contemplated by the law, we have not yet completed our review… If the filing is ultimately approved…there would be an amended effective date as we are now past the November 1, 2017 effective date proposed by the PCRB and cannot approve rates retroactively.

POLITICS

  • Former PA Secretary of Agriculture Denny Wolff is running for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Barletta who is seeking the nomination to oppose Senator Casey in 2018.
  • PA Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Washington/Allegheny) was chosen as the GOP candidate in the special election to succeed resigned U.S. Representative Tim Murphy.  He defeated two PA Senators, Kim Ward and Guy Reschenthaler to win the Republican nomination.  The special election will take place March 13.  The winner would serve out the remainder of Murphy’s term, meaning that the winner faces a re-election contest in November 2018.
  • House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) announced his candidacy for the Republican nominee for Governor on November 14.  His announcement brings to four the Republicans vying for the nomination: Senator Scott Wagner (R-York), Allegheny County health consultant Paul Mango and Pittsburgh attorney Laura Ellsworth. 
  • January 25 is the date of the special election to replace Rep. Marc Gergely (D-Allegheny).  This district is traditionally Democratic.  Rep. Gergely was forced to step down after pleading guilty to violating gambling laws.
  • State Representative Justin Simmons (R-Northampton/Lehigh/Montgomery) has withdrawn from the contest for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Representative Charles Dent.

BILLS SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

Signed by the Governor October 30 was House Bill 790 (controlled and noxious weeds) which is now Act 46 of 2017. Prime sponsor is House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne). House Bill 176 (Pickett-R-Bradford) is now Act 35 after being signed by Governor Wolf October 25.  It exempts roadside marketing stands and some animal feeding operations from Uniform Construction Code (UCC) building requirements.

QUICK LOOK AT LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • Senate Bill 740 (Aument-R-Lancaster) continues Universal Service Fund (land-lines for rural areas).  Status: Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
  • Senate Bills 819 and 820 (Aument) agritourism liability are in Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee and Senate Judiciary Committees respectively.
  • House Bill 544 (Moul-R-Adams) is in the House Appropriations Committee.
  • House Bill 577 (Everett-R-Lycoming) Marcellus natural gas royalty 12.5% guarantee to leaseholders is in the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee.  There is also a discharge resolution to have the full House take up the matter, bypassing the committee.
  • House Bill 944 (M. Keller-R-Perry) Commission for Agriculture Education is in the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

GRANTS

  • Up to $1,600.00 from KidsGardening can go to nonprofit, school, or youth programs that plan a new garden or expand an existing one.  Deadline for applications is December 8, 2017.  info@kidsgardening.org ; 802-660-4604
  • Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant applications are due December 5, 2017.  Awards are capped at $15,000 and applicants must work with a technical advisor such as an Extension educator or private crop consultant.  Details: http://www.northeastsare.org

AG ONE Newsletter October 30, 2017

BUDGET SAGA (FINALLY) ENDS

Update:

Please note the following updates to the AG ONE Newsletter below posted earlier today. These were signed into law today by Governor Tom Wolf:


HB 790
sponsored by House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) (controlled and noxious weeds) is Act 46

HB 542
Tax Code (taxes on fireworks, $1.5 billion loan from Tobacco Settlement, etc.) is now Act 43.

HB 785 Capital Facilities Debt Act (state indebtedness levels) is now Act 45.

HB 674 Fiscal Code (takes $200 million from an insurance company reserves; gives Governor discretion as to where $300 million will come from dedicated funds) is now Act 44

HB 118
(Labor & Industry inspection fees) is now Act 40.

SB 651
Capital Budget (authorization wish list for wide variety of state bricks and mortar projects) is now Act 52.

HB 271 (expands gambling in hopes of generating $200 million more revenue to the state) is now Act 42.

*****

With House action October 25 and 26, the revenue side to the State Budget was sent to Governor Wolf for his signature.  He has ten days to approve, veto, or let the legislation go into effect without his signature.  Some major elements include:

  • Borrowing of $1.5 billion from future payments to Pennsylvania from the Tobacco Master Settlement to be paid back within 30 years  NOTE:  House Bill 542, page 271 http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0542&pn=2598
  • Taking $200 million from reserves held by the Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), the medical malpractice insurer of last resort.  The Administrative Code bill specifies that if JUA does not hand over the money by December 1st, it will be abolished.  JUA says that it is illegal for the state to “seize” insurance company reserves and that it will sue to prevent this from occurring.  NOTE: House Bill 674, Article II-D, section 201-D  page 14: Similar language is found in House Bill 118 but this specifies that the Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear any challenge. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0674&pn=2624
  • $200 million to come from gambling expansion (House Bill 271)
  • Senate Bill 651, the Capitol Budget, is a bricks and mortar wish list for projects funded by the Commonwealth.  Just because projects are listed here does not mean that the money is actually there. This is an authorization bill.  Examples for Capital Budget items might be a new barn for the Farm Show complex or significant upgrading to a state building HVAC system.
  • New Labor & Industry inspection fees schedule (boilers, elevators, ski lifts, etc. are found in Administrative Code bill, House Bill 118 starting on page 12.  www.legis.state.pa.us
  • New taxes on fireworks: 12% for consumers buying fireworks; annual fees ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 for permanent structures selling fireworks; and $3,000 per year for temporary structures.  One miscellaneous insurance provision is a $50,000 bond requirement for municipal fireworks displays.  (HB 542 page 257 dealing with new taxes on fireworks)

FARM SHOW LOAN IN LIMBO

In limbo is the Governor’s unilateral decision October 4 to borrow ahead (“securitize”) future profits from the PA Liquor Control Board and his October 9 pronouncement that PA would take out an equity loan on the Farm Show Complex owned by the state.  His rationale was that he would take budget matters into his own hands, absent a legislative resolution to the State Budget impasse. PSCFO has requested a meeting with Governor Wolf to discuss the Farm Show Complex loan issue.

AND…THERE IS A SLEEPER BUDGET ISSUE.

House Bill 674 contains this section:  SECTION 1726-G.FUND TRANSFERS.

DURING THE 2017-2018 FISCAL YEAR, $300,000,000 SHALL BE

TRANSFERRED FROM AMOUNTS AVAILABLE IN SPECIAL FUNDS AND

RESTRICTED ACCOUNTS TO THE GENERAL FUND.

This is the ultimate outcome of those seeking to balance the State Budget by taking monies from over 50 specified dedicated funds.  The Senate derailed that notion but this final language gives the Governor the discretionary authority to decide from which funds this $300 million shall come.  HB 674 does not contain language limiting his choices so they might or might not be  agriculture or environmental funds. PSCFO sent a heads up memo to Council members about this section.

SENATE BANKING & INSURANCE COMMITTEE HOLDS RX PRICE HEARING

On October 23, the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee convened a prescription drug price transparency hearing relative to Senate Bill 637 (White-R-Indiana).  It presented starkly contrasting views between the pharmaceutical industry which maintained that manufacturing costs increases are quite reasonable versus insurers and prescription benefit managers (PBMs) which pointed accusing fingers at the drug industry for unwarranted price increases.  Testimony also came from the PA State Grange which said that price transparency could give insurance companies the ability to negotiate more effectively because they could compare pricing practices between states, such as a hypothetical Epi-pen charge of $150 in one state versus $600 in PA.

WEED BILL GOES TO GOVERNOR (No, not that weed…)

Presented to the Governor October 25 was House Bill 790 regarding controlled and noxious weeds.  Prime sponsor is House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne).

EXPECT WORKERS’ COMPENSATION HIKES

The PA Compensation Rating Bureau (PCRB) revised loss cost filing goes into effect November 1st. This translates into a general increase in Workers’ Compensation premiums of 6.06%, necessary to adapt to the Supreme Court striking down a major provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act regarding permanent  impairment evaluation standards.

YOUTH GARDENING GRANTS up to $500 will be awarded by Katie’s Krops.  Eligible are youths aged 9-16.  Harvests must be donated to food banks.  Application deadline is December 31.  Details:  http://www.katieskrops.com/start-a-garden.html House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) passed the Senate 49-0 on October 18 and was referred to the House Rules Committee.  The House now must consider amendments made to the bill in the Senate.

AG ONE Newsletter October 19, 2017

On Tuesday October 17, the PA House of Representatives passed House Bill 542, the latest incarnation of a revenue plan to match the State Budget spending plan passed last summer.  The vote was 102 – 88 with significant crossovers.  46 Republican Representatives voted no to Republican leadership-endorsed HB 542 while 32 Democrats including Democratic leadership voted to support the bill.

Now, of course, it is up to the Senate to concur.  Previously, the Senate voted for Marcellus Shale taxes which the House did not accept.  The House countered with a revenue bill that went after special dedicated funds such as a fund used to cover Insurance Department general government operations, monies dedicated to conservation, districts, etc.  The Senate disagreed so this House vote on HB 542 was its response to the Senate rejection. The Senate is expected to vote next week.  If the Senate agrees, HB 542 will go to Governor Wolf.

Following are a number of provisions in HB 542 that might be of interest.

  • Borrowing from future revenues from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement is expected to generate $1.5 billion.  It will be repaid over the next 30 years.

Background: The Tobacco Settlement was the result of lawsuits against tobacco companies which resulted in a settlement where tobacco companies would not have to fight off many individual lawsuits but would instead pay states certain amounts each year.  Pennsylvania uses that money to fund medical research, smoking cessation, uncompensated care from hospitals, specialized state health programs, etc. 

  • Expansions of the Sales Tax
  • “Remote sellers” = $10 million in this fiscal year and $50 million thereafter
  • Exemption from the Sales Tax: Beer kegs
  • Personal Income Tax (PIT) Expansion = $20 million
  • Those making rent or royalty payments to out of state entities exceeding $5,000 must withhold the PIT.
  • Out of state independent contractors coming into PA for work receiving over $5,000 will see PIT withheld from their compensation.
  • Personal Income Tax
  • Deductions for contributions to ABLE (disabled account similar to IRA) allowed
  • Makes permanent check-offs for Wildlife Resource Confirmation Fund, Organ Donation Awareness Fund, American Red Cross, Military & Family Relief Assistance Fund, Children’s Trust Fund
  • New Taxes
  • Carsharing Fee depending on distance from 25 cents to $2.00. Monies go into a dedicated account, the Public Transportation Assistance Fund.  Carsharing is defined as membership providing an alternative to a privately-owned vehicle where the rental is not trip-specific written agreement, no attendant is present when the car is used, and with access to shared vehicles 24 hours a day, fees can be based on time or distance.
  • Fireworks: 12% tax on consumer fireworks
  • Annual license fees paid by fireworks sellers for permanent structures facilities range from $7,500 to $20,000 depending on square footage.
  • Annual license fees for temporary (seasonal) fireworks facilities are $3,000.
  • Miscellaneous:  Anticipated revenue is $20 million/year.
  • Taxpayer period to file petition for reassessment shrinks from 90 to 60 days.
  • Period where a taxpayer appeals a Board of Appeals tax decision to the Board of Finance Revenue decreases from 90 to 60 days.

Those interested in how Representatives voted may go to

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/RC/Public/rc_view_action2.cfm?sess_yr=2017&sess_ind=0&rc_body=H&rc_nbr=768

OTHER LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • No funding yet for Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.  A joint hearing will be held by the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Senate Education, and Senate Appropriations Committees October 25 on funding for Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • The House adopted House Resolution 515 (Fritz-R-Susquehanna) on October 17 putting the House on record as opposing a September 13 decision by the Delaware River Basin Commission to move a Rule forward to ban fracking in most of northeast PA.  The Commission vote was 3-1 with one abstention.  PA Governor Wolf voted with the Governors of New York and Delaware for the anti-fracking Rule.  The House vote does not legally prevent the Delaware River Basin Commission from moving ahead with the Rule review process.
  • House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) passed the Senate 49-0 on October 18 and was referred to the House Rules Committee.  The House now must consider amendments made to the bill in the Senate.

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

MEDIA RELEASE: PSCFO URGES HOUSE ACTION ON AGRICULTURE BUDGETS

PA STATE COUNCIL of FARM ORGANIZATIONS         MEDIA RELEASE August 21, 2017      

26 North 9th Street, Lemoyne, PA 17043

Contact:  Vince Phillips 717-232-9665, xenobun@aol.com      

The Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO) urges the PA House of Representatives to take action on legislation which would allow already approved funds to go to agricultural programs at Pennsylvania State University and money going to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

According to PSCFO which represents almost seventy agricultural and commodity groups, this legislation is called “non-preferred” and enables funding to some of PA’s universities.  Monies for Penn State School of Agricultural Sciences (agriculture research and extension programs) were already approved during the State Budget process which resulted in spending levels for state programs in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017.  The “non-preferred” legislation enables this already approved money to go to those programs.  In addition, Penn State faces another problem in that federal matching funds cannot flow to the College of Agricultural Sciences until PA General Assembly passes this enabling legislation. The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine will lose $30 million in state funding if “non-preferred” legislation is not passed.

“We ask that the House consider voting for these “non-preferred” bills separately from the divisive revenue-related issues now causing the budget impasse” said PSCFO President Jeff Nogan.

AG ONE Newsletter August 21, 2017

PSCFO BOARD SEEKS RENEWAL OF AG FUNDING

On August 16, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO) Board met at AG Progress Days to discuss Harrisburg’s State Budget impasse.  While not getting into various revenue options, PSCFO will be urging legislators to pass the so-called “non-preferred” bills which supply funding to institutions of higher learning.  These enable Ag funding for two agricultural programs, the ones at Penn State (Land Scrip Fund – extension and agriculture research) and the University of Pennsylvania (Vet School).  Penn State’s School of Agricultural Sciences is additionally hampered because federal funds to the school cannot be released until funding enabling legislation is passed by the General Assembly.  On August 12, PSCFO sent out an advisory to Council members detailing the situation and urging action.

WOLF TOUTS ADMINISTRATION SUPPORT OF AGRICULTURE

In an address to a capacity crowd at AG Progress Days, Governor Tom Wolf called PA Agriculture one of the Commonwealth’s most important economic and environmental resources.  In the speech, he said that since 2015, PA Department of Agriculture operational funding has been increased by 23%, that two million additional dollars were allocated for avian influenza planning and response, and that farmland preservation funding had increased by 45% compared to fiscal year 2014-15.  In addition, three million dollars were allocated to distribute fresh farm products to the needy through PA’s food banks.  The Governor charted an ambitious 10-year strategic plan for PA Agriculture including increasing PA’s competitiveness and developing a workforce to meet PA’s future needs.

FARMLAND PRESERVATION UPDATE

On August 11, the PA Department of Agriculture announced that it added 33 farms in 12 counties to the roster of 5,169 farms in 59 counties preserved for future agricultural production.

REGULATORY UPDATES

  • PA Wine Marketing & Research Program Board grant applications deadline are due to PA Department of Agriculture Bureau of Market Development ATT: Agricultural Commodity Board Grant Program, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17011 by September 1, 2017.
  • Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cancelled the August 24 meeting of the Agricultural Advisory Board.  The next meeting is scheduled for October 26, 2017.
  • DEP announced that the annual Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report which was submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is available. (Water Quality Division 717-787-9637 or RA-WQAssessments@pa.gov )  This report documents PA’s water quality management programs per the federal Clean Water Act.  The report also identifies “impaired” waters even after appropriate pollution control technology has been applied to point sources and best practices are in place for nonpoint sources.
  • On August 11, the PA Department of Agriculture August 11 identified 21 additional municipalities in Berks, Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton Counties to be quarantined due to the presence of the invasive insect, Spotted Lanternfly.  Parts of Chester County were previously quarantined.

NATIVE AMERICAN AG SCHOLARSHIPS …The First Nation Development Institute is now accepting applications for five $1,000 scholarships to Native American college students majoring in agriculture and related fields such as agribusiness, agriscience, animal husbandry, horticulture, irrigation, food safety, etc.  Deadline for applications is September 28, 2017.  Details: www.firstnations.org/grantmaking/scholarship .

SCHOLARSHIPS 2017-18 AND BEYOND

It is not too early to look at scholarships for the 2018-19 college year.  Just updated, www.scholarships.com  has a list of at least 100 agriculture-specific scholarships.  Some are state-specific but many should be considered as active leads for any current student or enrolling student.  Details:  https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-major/agriculture-scholarships/

PENNSYLVANIA’S COLLEGE AGRICULTURE PROGRAMS

In addition to the Big Three (Penn State University, Delaware Valley University and University of Pennsylvania), there are other Pennsylvania colleges and universities offering agricultural studies. (www.american-school-search.com/colleges/agriculture/pennsylvania )

  • Temple University has three agriculture majors: Chatham University (Pittsburgh) has two majors as does Pennsylvania College of Technology (Williamsport)
  • Degree programs: Wilson College (Chambersburg), Arcadia University (Glenside)
  • Associate degrees: Bidwell Training Center (Pittsburgh) and Harcum College (Bryn Mawr). A specialized program is offered by PA Institute of Taxidermy (Ebensburg)
  • Community and regional colleges: Westmoreland County Community College (Youngwood), Schuylkill Technology Center (Frackville), Harrisburg Area Community College, Community College of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Lancaster County Career and Technology Center (Willow Street)
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