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 November 28, 2017

Update on Farm Show “Lease Lease-Back”

Backdrop

On October 9, Governor Tom Wolf announced that he was unilaterally seeking a way to resolve the FY 2017-18 State Budget impasses with House Republicans by raising capital of up to $200 million from leasing the Farm Show Complex. Since then, various revenue measures were adopted by the General Assembly and signed into law to cover the deficit. Since the revenue legislation included borrowing ahead from future Master Tobacco Settlement payments to Pennsylvania totaling $1.5 billion, Governor Wolf dropped another initiative, to “securitize” or borrow ahead from future PA Liquor Control Board profits. The Farm Show financing process continued with bids from private sector investors starting October 13 and closing November 13. Four bids were received and the PA Department of General Services and PA Office of the Budget are reviewing them. A date has not been given as to when the winning bid will be announced.

What is the actual transaction taking place?

Called a lease lease-back, the transaction more closely resembles a home equity loan. Perhaps the Administration could have been clearer in explaining what financial investments were being done here. It would have reduced confusion among stakeholders.

Is it legal for the Governor to take this action without getting the prior consent of the General Assembly, especially since the legislature decides how much of the Commonwealth’s dollars the Farm Show will receive?

Yes. This is not a surprise to the General Assembly. Governor Tom Wolf made it very clear that he intended to do this when he gave his Budget Address to the General Assembly in February 2017. In addition, the issue was discussed at a Senate committee meeting and at innumerable separate meetings. Before deciding to take an equity loan on the Farm Show Complex, Administration legal counsel also determined that the Governor had the legal authority to make such a move.

Doesn’t this need an OK from the Farm Show’s governing body?

No. That board works on operations, not on financing arrangements such as this.

Will the Farm Show lose its ability to decide programming and conduct daily operations or will the new “owner” be able to decide how the Farm Show is managed and what shows will be held? For example, can the Farm Show Manager be ordered to do something the new “owner” wants such as more gun shows or detests (no gun shows)?

First, the word “owner” is incorrect. Whoever provides the capital for this equity loan is not the owner. The owner remains the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The contract has iron-clad language preventing any outside control. It is similar to a home equity loan where the lender does not have the legal authority to tell you what wallpaper to use or what has to be planted outside. The homeowner is the owner. With the Farm Show Complex, PA retains ownership.

The Office of the Budget frequently uses outside legal counsel as well as relying on attorney employees of the state to make sure PA’s interests are not compromised. Besides, any investor is making its money from interest paid on the loan and is not interested in managing the Farm Show Complex.

Will this new money be dedicated for remodeling and updating the physical structure of the Farm Show Complex?

No. This money will go into the General Fund to help balance the deficit. There is a separate effort to generate money for Farm Show renovations and updating HVAC, etc.

When the Governor said he would “securitize” future profits from the PA Liquor Control Board, he was very specific about the amount of money would be generated and the amount of interest that would be paid to service the loan. Why are there no specifics here? The PA Liquor Control Board plan is part of PA State Government so the details were known regarding the amount borrowed and the interest to pay back the loan. This seeks private sector financing and the costs connected with the equity loan would depend on the investor’s desired return on investment. Likewise, although the figure $200 million has been used publically as the amount that could be generated, the actual figure borrowed will depend on what bidders promise.

*****

CORRECTION TO AG ONE Newsletter 2017.18

In AG ONE Newsletter 2017.18, a legislative status report described House Bill 944 establishing a Commission for Agriculture Education Excellence as being in committee. That legislation was grafted into another School Code bill, House Bill 178 PN 2609 (Act 55 of 2017) which became law November 6 without the Governor’s signature. Text begins on page 45, Section 1549.1. .http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0 &billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0178&pn=2609 This establishes the Commission for Agricultural Education Excellence to assist in developing a statewide plan for agriculture education and to coordinate PDA and Education Department efforts in doing so.

Thanks to PSCFO members Amy Bradford from PennAg Industries Association and Dr. MeeCee Baker from Versant Strategies for spotting the need for this update.

General Assembly Resumes in June

Pa-capitol-300x250The PA General Assembly is readying itself for the June state budget gauntlet where a balanced budget must be signed into law per the constitutional deadline of June 30. To see Governor Corbett’s original proposal for agricultural spending, please refer to the Pa. Budget Office website. PA Department of Agriculture’s budget proposal begins at E8.1 (on page 387). The Farm Show budget is found at C5.1 (page 167). Click here to view PDA’s budget.

Funding for General Government Operations would increase from $22.7 million in available funds now to a proposed $24.738 million for FY 2014-15. This increase does not mean expanded programs. Rather, much of it will go towards meeting increased employee benefits (health insurance) costs.

However, the Corbett budget proposal eliminates funding for numerous successful programs including PA Preferred, the Centers of Agricultural Excellence, Agricultural Research, Agricultural Promotion, Education & Exports, Hardwoods Research & Promotion, Animal Health Commission, Livestock Show, Open Dairy Show, etc.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Corbett budget proposal (as with former Governor Rendell) treats these zeroed out line items as negotiating items with the General Assembly. It does not mean that agricultural advocates can rest because budgets have been restored in the past. Each budget year requires renewed advocacy so that those line items are not overlooked. The Farm Show Fund anticipates $415,000 in fees and licensing income, $4 million from the PA Race Horse Development Fund and Farm Show leasing income of $6.155 million.