Legislature Passes Budget Without Funding

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

House and Senate lawmakers finalized the state General Appropriations bill (H.B. 218) and sent it to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk on the constitutional deadline of June 30, just one day before the 2017-18 Fiscal Year began. House Bill 218 spends about two-tenths of one percent more than was spent in 2016-17. Notable components of the deal include a $100 million increase in basic education funding, with $8.8 million extra going to schools under the State System of Higher Education and state-related schools being flat-funded over the prior year; and a funding cut to the Department of Labor and industry of 13.3 percent (with a total spend of $10.5 million). Despite getting the General Appropriations bill completed, lawmakers will reconvene later this week after the 4th of July holiday to pass a number of bills related to the budget – including the Fiscal Code bill that will spell out how money should be appropriated across state departments.

This week (lawmakers are projected to come back on Thursday), conversations will focus on where new revenue to close a $1.5 billion shortfall in the new fiscal year and about $700 million in new money to cover new spending for 2017-18 would come from. Options include gaming expansion, borrowing against future revenue from the Tobacco Settlement Fund or a combination of both. Broad-based tax increases remained off the table, and the idea of placing another tax on the state’s natural gas industry also appeared to be a non-starter. With disagreement between the House and Senate on the gaming bill, borrowing appears to be a likely scenario. Last week, the governor referred to the state’s cash shortfall as “a onetime gap,” adding that he was open to agreeing to a borrowing plan as long as Republicans could determine new recurring revenues from other sources that would help to avoid future deficits. “For that one time, I’m comfortable,” Wolf said, though he declined to give a firm dollar amount.

Governor Wolf has until July 10 to take action on the bill.

New Addresses in Montour County Expected to Roll Out in Early July

Montour County has implemented a readdressing project for Montour County, Riverside Borough, and Rush Township, based on a consistent county-wide addressing scheme. This project is almost complete, and it has been done to allow for faster emergency response by fire, police, rescue, medical and any other emergency services and also to name streets with conflicting or duplicate names in order to provide more efficient emergency services.

New address notifications began to be rolled out on June 30. Some businesses and residents in Danville Borough will begin receiving their new address information early during the week of July 3. The second round of notifications will be sent on July 14 to the other half of Danville Borough and outlying townships. The post office will deliver to both old and new addresses for up to one year. For more, please call 570-387-4930 or visit montourco.org.

The Chamber expects to receive the updated address information once it is finalized and will be working to update member information on the website and for the 2017-18 Membership Directory. Members that already have that information are asked to provide it to the Chamber at [email protected].

Thanks to the Danville Business Alliance for providing this update.

Last Week of State Fiscal Year Focuses on Gaming Discussions, Other Unknowns

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

With only a few days left in the 2016-17 Fiscal Year, lawmakers are scheduled to be in session through June 30, the state’s constitutional budget deadline. More session days may be scheduled as necessary.

Legislative leaders remain engaged in conversations over what the next year’s budget plan will look like, and details are scarce. There continue to be questions over what the Senate’s version of H.B. 271 – the gaming expansion bill – will contain, and based on a conversation that Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, had last week with Capitolwire, they are a long way off in reaching agreement. “My experience with gaming in the Senate Republican caucus I can boil down real simply,” Scarnati told the media outlet. “We have a third of the members of the Senate Republican caucus that are opposed to gaming because they oppose gaming. We have a third of them that have gaming interests in their district so they are somewhat not in favor of competition for casinos. We’ve got a third of the members in the caucus that, you know, could be influenced possibly one way or the other to vote for something. But there is no strong consensus. And when you start out with two-thirds of your caucus that principally are either against it or certainly economically opposed to something, it’s difficult. That’s why we’re where we are at.” Meanwhile, the House remains ready to go “all in” on gaming expansion as a way to generate up to $270 million in annual recurring revenue, with its version of the bill containing sweeping changes and allowing for video gaming terminals in bars, taverns and the like.

There are also said to be conversations about other forms of revenue to fill a $1.2 billion budget hole in the coming Fiscal Year, including borrowing and/or using money from the state’s share of the nationwide Tobacco Settlement Fund. In speaking with reporters last week, the governor didn’t outright oppose these ideas, but voiced concerns. The Associated Press has said that while Wolf is counting on an extra $250 million in money from new forms of gaming, the Department of Revenue has said doing so could lead to losses from the Pennsylvania Lottery and at casinos. “I want real revenue, and I want net revenue,'” Wolf told the press. “I don’t want anything that we do in gaming or gambling to interfere with the revenues that are already in place. If it just cannibalizes and takes from one bucket called gambling to another, the commonwealth isn’t doing anything more than it has in the past.”

Chamber Supports Expansion of Telecommunications Infrastructure

Adequate infrastructure is critical to the health and growth of communities. In addition to good roads, water, and electricity, reliable telecommunications is essential for resident safety and business operations. Unfortunately, telecommunications service, especially broadband internet, is either limited or nonexistent in significant portions of Montour and Columbia counties. The Columbia Montour Chamber recently joined with municipalities in northern Montour County in asking state legislators to work with potential providers to improve telecommunications infrastructure.

In underserved areas, cellular technology could be a viable option for homes and smaller businesses. However, many of these same areas also lack adequate cellular coverage. While speeds and network coverage in more populated areas are being improved, the carriers do not appear to be investing significantly in our rural areas to expand coverage.

From a regulatory standpoint, only the public utilities are compelled to provide a basic level of service. Today’s telecommunications marketplace offers other potential vendors. The Chamber is suggesting that funding policies should be modernized to provide incentives and assistance to these companies that is currently only available to the regulated utilities. This deficiency not only puts public safety as risk, but may cost our area job creating opportunities.

State House Bill Seeks to Reduce Opioid Abuse

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry is urging employers to contact House members in their area early this week to urge support for H.B. 18, important legislation related to prescription drug and opioid overuse and abuse among injured workers in Pennsylvania, which the House is scheduled to consider Tuesday, June 20.

House Bill 18 would implement a prescription drug formulary – which are standard in hospitals, regular healthcare, Medicare and other public insurance programs – to help ensure appropriate patient care and address over-use of prescription drugs. The bill is necessary because Pennsylvania is facing a prescription drug and opioid abuse epidemic, and seems to struggle particularly with respect to injured workers. As we reported last week in Sentinel, in a recent study of opioid prescriptions among injured workers in 25 states, Pennsylvania ranked third, with opioid use in the Commonwealth measuring 78 percent higher than the median study state. The flexible approach offered through H.B. 18 facilitates more efficient care for typical patients, allows exceptions for unique cases and addresses the outlier cases of over-prescribing.

Prior to a vote by the House Labor and Industry Committee last week, the PA Chamber and a coalition of business, medical, construction, energy and local government groups sent a memo to the committee urging support for the measure because it will help injured workers in Pennsylvania avoid problems too often associated with prescription drug use and get healthy and back to full function and employment as soon as possible.