Government Affairs & General Updates
August 2, 2023
1. Pa. Senate's top official says stalled state budget will be finalized in August - The Pennsylvania Senate will return in August to finalize the 2024 state budget, according to President Pro Tempore Kim Ward. Both chambers of the General Assembly adopted a $45.5 billion budget but the spending bill remains in limbo one month past deadline over divisions about $100 million included for a targeted school voucher program. The Senate recessed and left Harrisburg before the bill could be signed by Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, as required, and passed on for the final signature of Gov. Josh Shapiro. Ward, the Senate’s highest-ranking official, has the power to recall the Senate into a voting session before a scheduled return on Sept. 18 and allow for the budget to be signed and, ultimately, finalized. In a statement from her office, Ward said Republican majority leaders are “actively negotiating” the budget with Shapiro and that “things are moving forward.” Though he’s expressed support for vouchers, Shapiro vowed to line-item veto funding in order to avoid a protracted impasse. That vow was enough to convince House Democrats, who hold the majority in the lower chamber, to adopt the budget bill with the disputed funding in place. The veto pledge spurred Senate Republicans to accuse the governor of going back on a promise to keep the funding in the budget, which Shapiro denied, and preceded the current holdup. In addition to a signature, there are code bills required to authorize certain spending that both chambers of the General Assembly must also act on. Read More
2. Budget impasse impact already being felt. As the state budget impasse enters a second month, the Governor's Budget Office is outlining which state payments are being made and which are held up due to the lack of spending authority for state government. In a Q&A format on its website, the office said the Commonwealth will continue operations that affect the health, safety and welfare of citizens and continue to operate state-owned facilities, including state parks. But the Commonwealth is prohibited from making many payments until a budget bill for Fiscal Year 2023-24 wins final enactment. A partisan dispute over funding for school vouchers for lifeline scholarships has led to the impasse. Most payments to vendors and grants for programs or spending incurred during FY23-24 which started July 1 are delayed, the office said. So are payments to school districts and other education entities. The Commonwealth will continue to make payments that affect health, safety and protection as required under federal law, state court decisions and the state Constitution.
3. Report calls for long-term monitoring of broadband deployment. Pennsylvania will need to continuously map the extent of high-speed broadband internet coverage to stay on top of potential changes in areas of service, a new report recommends. "Providers may come and go or may find an area to have become financially disadvantageous after a period of time and withdraw from coverage," said the Joint State Government Commission, a legislative research agency. A permanent mapping project undertaken by the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) or other state agencies could verify periodically that areas that have been identified as served continue to be served, the recommendation said. This report released Monday is the fourth of five planned annual reports on the theme of delivering broadband services to unserved and underserved areas of Pennsylvania, primarily in rural areas and low-income urban areas.
4. Center for Rural PA schedules hearing on challenges facing rural hospitals. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania has scheduled a public hearing Thursday in Bradford on the difficulties facing rural hospital and health care systems and how to sustain them financially. The hearing at the University of Pittsburgh campus in Bradford will feature testimony from health care providers, public health experts, and representatives of state health organizations. Some 105 rural hospitals have closed across the nation since 2005, of which five were in rural Pennsylvania, said Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, chairman of the center's board of directors. As of 2002, there are 48 short-term care hospitals, 18 critical access hospitals, 178 federally qualified health centers and 66 health clinics in rural Pennsylvania, according to the center. The state budget bill for Fiscal Year 2023-24 that has yet to be enacted has a $50 million appropriation for emergency relief for hospitals and health care systems. The specifics for how this money would be spent would be in accompanying code legislation that has yet to be passed due to the budget impasse.
5. Pennsylvania announces $13M in tax credits for farmers The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is encouraging farmers to apply for $13 million in tax credits. According to Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, the move is to help support farmers' efforts in improving soil health and water quality. Starting Aug. 7, farmers can apply for tax credits through the state's Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) Program. "Pennsylvania farmers are investing heavily in cleaner water and productive soil to sustain us in the future," Sec. Redding said in a press release. "REAP tax credits are just one of many ways Pennsylvania invests in our farmers' efforts to grow a sustainable farm economy to feed our future." Examples of projects eligible for funding include waste storage facilities, conservation plans, nutrient management plans and measures that limit run-off from high animal-traffic areas. Farmers can receive up to $250,000 in a seven-year period, as well as 50 to 75 percent of eligible out-of-pocket costs for a project. Since the program began in 2007, REAP has awarded $147 million in tax credits for more than 8,500 projects. Improvements from these projects have kept more than 6.3 million pounds of nitrogen, 310,000 pounds of phosphorus, and 295,000 tons of sediment out of Pennsylvania streams and rivers and the waterways they feed. Private investments in REAP have also contributed to the conservation projects, which in total are worth $400 million. Read More
6. Economists hopeful, say conditions moving in right direction The U.S. economy did better in the first half of 2023 than early indicators suggested and appears to be “rolling forward” even as the rate of growth slows for the remainder of the year, National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “The first half of the year is over and the economy is still moving in the right direction,” Kleinhenz said. “While its rhythm, tone and pattern have slowed, it has not stalled and recently revised data shows underlying strength that seems to be rolling forward.” “The resiliency of the U.S. consumer will be tested in the coming months as economic headwinds are likely to impair spending,” Kleinhenz said. According to the NRF, $500 billion in excess savings built up during the pandemic and continued employment growth mean consumers are “the path of least resistance to economic growth and are doing their part to keep the economy moving ahead.” Kleinhenz’s remarks came in the July issue of NRF’s Monthly Economic Review, which said revised data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis now shows that first-quarter gross domestic product adjusted for inflation grew 2 percent year over year rather than the 1.1 percent first reported. The personal savings rate has been revised upward to 4.3 percent from 3.4 percent and private final sales to domestic purchasers – which exclude inventories and imports to provide a good indicator of underlying growth – were revised to 3.2 percent growth from 2.9 percent.Consumer spending – which makes up 70 percent of GDP – increased at an annual rate of 4.2 percent in the first quarter, which was four times the 1 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2022 and the fastest growth since mid-2021 despite strong headwinds from interest rates and inflation. Read More