Government Affairs & General Updates
July 31, 2023
1. Ward says budget negotiations continue and Senate could return to Capitol in August. Senate President Pro Tem Kim Ward said Friday that budget negotiations have resume and that lawmakers could return to the Capitol in August while still maintaining that Gov. Josh Shapiro could smooth the process by signing the budget passed by both chambers of the General Assembly earlier this month. Shapiro can't sign the budget until the Senate sends it to him and he has pledged to use a line-item veto to remove a school voucher provision when it does reach his desk. "Senate Republicans are actively negotiating the budget with Gov. Shapiro and things are moving forward. We understand the importance of getting the General Appropriations Budget to the governor before the school year begins, as well as funding for many organizations, Ward said. Under their currently announced schedules, the Senate is not due to return to the Capitol until Sept. 19 and the House isn't due to return until Sept. 26. The House is deadlocked at 101 Democrats and 101 Republicans until after a Sept. 19 election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, who stepped down to focus on her campaign for Allegheny County executive. In that special election, Democrat Lindsay Powell will face Republican nominee Erin Connolly Autenreith.
2. Shapiro administration provides budget updates to stakeholders - The Shapiro administration has reached out to stakeholders in education and health and human services to inform them about the budget impasse. Letters have been sent to those receiving funding from the Department of Education as well as the Departments of Health, Human Services, Drug and Alcohol Programs and Aging. Both letters indicate that Gov. Josh Shapiro will sign the bipartisan budget as soon as it reaches his desk. But the authors also remind the stakeholders that “In order for the Governor to sign this budget bill, the Senate President Pro Tempore must first complete the simple administrative step of delivering a signed physical copy of the bill to him. “Unfortunately, the Pro Tempore (referring to Sen. Kim Ward) – who is the only person with the power to call the Senate into session to complete this procedural step — has adjourned the Senate until September 18, 2023. If she does not reconvene sooner, or until she does, we do not have the ability to disburse critical state and federal funding at this time.” The authors stated that the solution to the impasse is “relatively simple,” as both the state House and Senate have agreed and passed a budget. But they warn that if the Senate does not return before September 18, the Commonwealth “will be unable to disburse an estimated $5.9 billion in planned state and federal funding, including some funding that you would normally expect to receive.” Read More
3. Joint hearing scheduled this week to examine potential need for western PA-based urban search and rescue team. A joint House-Senate committee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Coraopolis on creating a new state urban search and rescue team to operate in western Pennsylvania. The hearing by the two Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committees will hear testimony on two companion bills. These are House Bill 843, sponsored by Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, and Senate Bill 792, sponsored by Sen. Devlin Robinson, R-Allegheny, to create the Western PA Task Force Urban Search and Rescue Team and allocate state resources for it. Currently, the main urban search and rescue task force is based in Philadelphia. A team based in Allegheny County is needed especially in light of the recent disasters with the Norfolk Southern train derailment at East Palestine, Ohio and the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh, the lawmakers said in cosponsor memos. When the bridge collapsed, the Philadelphia team was summoned to search for possible fatalities, but it took the team six hours to arrive at the scene because of the distance involved, Robinson said. Both a Philadelphia and Allegheny County team would have the same resources, training and equipment, but each would be able to respond to events closer to their home bases for quicker and more effective recovery, the lawmakers said.
4. Environmental group projects state and local governments could save millions by transition to electric-powered vehicles. The state and local governments could save over $360 million by purchasing electric vehicles (EVs) as opposed to gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles for their light-duty fleets. That includes $295 million on fuel costs, according to Electric Vehicles Save Money for Government Fleets, a new report by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. "Buying, fueling and maintaining gas- and diesel-fueled fleet vehicles is a big expense for governments -- especially when gas prices are high," said Flora Cardoni, Field Director with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. "Shifting to electric vehicles can save money for taxpayers by significantly reducing fuel and maintenance costs, while also improving air quality." The report also projects that state and local fleet transitions to EVs will reduce air pollution and global warming emissions in Pennsylvania over the next decade. Pennsylvania could expect to see an 800,000 ton reduction in global warming pollution by transitioning government fleets to EVs, emitting 64% less climate pollution than vehicles powered by gasoline. The switch would also reduce carbon monoxide emissions from government vehicle fleets by 94%, VOC emissions by 92%, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 31%.
5. Pennsylvania Business Energy Forum highlights natural gas powered jobs, growth - The Marcellus Shale Coalition’s Business Energy Forum highlights the job and economic growth in Northcentral Pennsylvania powered by the natural gas industry. In partnership with the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and Pennsylvania College of Technology, the forum, held at the Pennsylvania College of Technology’s campus in Williamsport, focused on the strength of the state’s natural gas sector, as well as its impact on job creation and training, and economic growth. “Natural gas is the workhorse of Pennsylvania’s economy, generating sustained revenue, jobs, and opportunity across the Commonwealth, including here in Lycoming County. Thanks to partners like the Chamber and with Penn College, we’re proud to advance skills training and better prepare students for local energy careers today and well into the future,” Marcellus Shale Coalition President Dave Callahan said. “As we continue to develop these resources responsibly, commonsense policies that encourage production growth, pipeline expansion, and manufacturing and power generation use will help ensure more Pennsylvanians share in the broad benefits natural gas development.” In addition to job opportunities, officials said the area’s record natural gas impact fee has generated $279 million this year, with Northcentral Pennsylvania counties and municipalities receiving nearly $50.6 million to support local projects like local park renovations and affordable housing programs. Read More