Government Affairs & General Updates
August 11, 2023
1. Pa. plan to distribute $1.16B in federal broadband funds approved by state officials - A plan to distribute more than a billion dollars in federal funds to build and expand broadband infrastructure across Pennsylvania has been approved by the state agency overseeing the effort, according to state officials. State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Somerset, who serves on the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, said the five-year action plan to bring broadband access to nearly 300,000 unserved and underserved areas of the commonwealth, was unanimously approved by the Authority on Thursday. While Metzgar called the Authority’s approval of the plan “a huge step forward,” it must still receive federal approval before funding can be allocated to projects across Pennsylvania. State officials have previously said they intend to submit the plan for federal approval by Aug. 12. “This plan is crucial if we expect our children to be prepared to excel in life, to attract career-sustaining investment from business leaders, or provide life-saving care in rural hospitals,” Metzgar said. “I am proud to support the authority in approving this plan and look forward to the impact this will have on our community.” Read More
2. Pa. spending bill sets up stability for state police funding but bigger budget disagreements still fester - Gov. Josh Shapiro’s signing of a budget bill last week set the stage for reaching a major bipartisan goal in Harrisburg — ending the use of transportation money to pay for state police — but deep partisan disagreements on other budget issues continue to fester. While the $45.45 billion spending bill set free money to allow schools and other organizations to continue operating normally in the fiscal year that started July 1, other significant chunks of the spending that Republicans estimate at more than $1 billion remain sequestered until lawmakers can create a budget-related bill with language needed to direct the use of the money. It appeared questionable late Wednesday whether progress was being made. At stake is the freeing up of $100 million for the so-called Level Up program and other funds for the Whole-Home Repairs program, school mental health grants, and other much-discussed priorities. Spokespersons for Rep. Matt Bradford, the House Democratic leader, and Sen. Joe Pittman, the Senate Republican leader, offer conflicting descriptions of what is happening. “At this time, all parties continue to meet, and House Democrats will return to session to resolve the few remaining budget issues as negotiations are finalized,” said Beth Rementer, spokesperson for Mr. Bradford, D-Montgomery. “Sen. Pittman has had no discussions with Rep. Bradford” since the day the spending bill was signed, said Kate Flessner, spokesperson for Mr. Pittman, R-Indiana. “To date, Sen. Pittman has still not received a response to the letter he sent to Rep. Bradford on July 11.” Republicans control the Senate and Democrats run the House, although the parties’ voting power in that chamber has been tied at 101 since the July 19 resignation of Democratic Rep. Sara Innamorato. Read More
3. House committee examines need for Level Up funding as 'bridge' to long-term solution to school funding inequities. House Democrats expressed frustration Thursday that the state hasn't moved more quickly to tackle school funding inequities in the wake of a court ruling that determined that students in poor schools have been getting unconstitutionally short-changed. The discussion came at a hearing on the importance of Level Up funding in light of that court ruling. Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, an attorney at the Public Interest Law Center, one of the firms that sued on behalf of six school districts and parents of children in those school districts, noted that children who were in kindergarten when that lawsuit was originally filed are now in high school. "It's imperative" that the state move to address the funding inequities, he said, calling Level Up funding "a bridge" to provide a short-term boost until the state comes up with a long-term solution. The House version of the general appropriations bill would have provided $225 million for Level Up funding, dollars directed at the state's poorest districts - including those at the center of the school funding lawsuit. The Senate version of the budget cut the Level Up investment to $100 million. Even that funding hasn't been released because the budget-related code bills haven't been passed, which Rep. Pete Schweyer, D-Lehigh, described as a "stupid process." State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Montgomery, said he thinks the lawsuit was a waste of time because it took nine years for the courts to hand down a decision and it's been clear along that the state's funding hasn't been fair.
4. Basic Education Funding Commission sets schedule. The chairs of the state's Basic Education Funding Commission said Thursday that the commission is planning a series of public hearings beginning next month. "With the court matter now resolved, it is imperative that the commission start holding hearings to collect testimony that will help us improve the basic education funding formula to comply with the court's directive regarding adequacy, equity, and timeliness," said Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. "The commission will travel to every corner of this commonwealth to gain valuable feedback from public school finance experts, educational advocates and taxpayers in order to address the charge given to us by the Commonwealth Court: that we need a better way to distribute existing tax dollars to give every child a quality education," said Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York. The first three hearings, Sept. 12-14, will be held in Allentown, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Additional hearings will be held in Lancaster, Hanover, Hazleton, Pittsburgh, Lemont Furnace, Enola and Bedford.
5. Builders warn new labor rule costs taxpayers most - Labor initiatives the administration estimates will benefit more than 1 million construction workers across the country were announced Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris during a visit to Philadelphia. Officials say updates to the Davis-Bacon Act, which goes into effect in approximately 60 days, provides benefits and sets new wage standards for workers on federal projects. While the action is being applauded by many, critics say it will increase construction costs and make it more expensive for taxpayers. The rule will raise wage standards of construction workers by restoring the definition of “prevailing wage” used for nearly 50 years “before it was upended by the Reagan administration,” according to a statement issued by the Department of Labor. The new regulation will make the prevailing wage equivalent to that of at least 30% of workers in a given trade and locality. Supporters said this will make it easier to keep prevailing wages up to date and strengthen enforcement. It also includes an anti-retaliation provision protecting workers who raise concerns from being punished or fired. The department estimates it would apply to $200 billion of federally funded or assisted construction projects. The department received more than 37,000 comments from construction industry and labor stakeholders that helped inform the regulatory updates. Some of those comments came from Associated Builders and Contractors, also known as ABC – a national trade association representing more than 22,000 member companies. Read More