Senator Lisa Baker E-Newsletter

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In This Update:

  • Budget Hearings Delve Into Wolf’s Spending and Tax Plans
  • Special Committee Set to Begin Bipartisan Election Review
  • Lawmakers Seek to Put the Brakes on New Bridge Tolling Plan
  • Emergency Rental Assistance Applications Available Now
  • Senate Returns to Session Next Week, Budget Hearings Continue
  • Discounted Fishing Licenses Available for Non-Resident Students

Budget Hearings Delve Into Wolf’s Spending and Tax Plans

The Senate Appropriations Committee began the formal process of reviewing Governor Wolf’s budget proposal this week, including exploring how the governor’s massive new spending plans and record-breaking tax increases would impact Pennsylvania communities, families and small employers.

Some of the key points discussed during the hearings this week include:

  • The 470,000 jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of higher taxes on economic growth, the $500 million difference in revenue estimates between the Administration and the Independent Fiscal Office, and the ways a natural gas development tax and a carbon tax could hurt the state’s economy. Key Points, March 8
  • The 500,000 acres of state land that could be used for natural gas development without surface disturbance, and the potential benefits of allowing broadband infrastructure on state game lands. Key Points, March 9
  • The massive increase in spending for human services programs, the need for greater efficiency with the Community HealthChoices Program, and the shared goal of moving able-bodied Medicaid recipients back into the workforce. Key Points, March 10
  • The need for upgrades to the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) system, the use of risk-limiting audits, reimbursements for counties for voting machines, permitting delays, the lack of communication and engagement in the Administration’s decision to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and the number of plant shutdowns and job losses that will result from the state’s participation in RGGI. Key Points, March 11

Special Committee Set to Begin Bipartisan Election Review

A newly created Senate panel will begin a comprehensive review of the 2020 General Election with its first hearing on Monday, March 15, beginning at 10 a.m. The hearing is scheduled to review best practices of election integrity and security from other states.

The Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform is anticipated to produce a report that will be presented to the General Assembly with recommendations to improve the administration and safety of elections in Pennsylvania.

State residents are encouraged to submit comments through the online form.

Lawmakers Seek to Put the Brakes on New Bridge Tolling Plan

Following extensive feedback from constituents who have voiced concerns regarding the Wolf Administration plans to toll nine interstate bridges across the state, I have joined colleagues to announce the introduction of legislation to stop the proposed new tolls for motorists.

Senate Bill 382 would reform the Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3) statute and void the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative.

It is greatly troubling that Governor Wolf’s bridge tolling plan gives PennDOT the authority to further tax motorists and appropriate funds without legislative oversight.  The legislation that we have introduced in the Senate is a way to stand up for the hardworking residents of our Commonwealth and come together to address the negative economic impacts of the pandemic, while forcing government to be accountable to taxpayers. We cannot ignore the fact that motorists are already feeling the pain of increased prices when filling their gas tanks, and that Pennsylvania already has a gas tax, which is dedicated to supporting our transportation infrastructure.

On November 12, 2020, the P3 Board, under PennDOT’s jurisdiction, supported a proposal to impose user fees or tolls on major bridges throughout the interstate system.  This was the first time in the P3 Board’s history to consider a proposal with user fees.

The serious gaps in the P3 statute became clear when PennDOT finally announced the details of the proposal three months after the P3 Board meeting.  The P3 statute requires a detailed analysis prior to the meeting.

Senate Bill 382 will accomplish the following:

  • Increases transparency by requiring PennDOT to publish a detailed analysis prior to the P3 Board’s voting meeting, and mandating PennDOT to distribute a copy of the P3 Board’s resolution, with or without a user fee, within 24 hours.
  • Incorporates public input by creating a new 30-day public comment period prior to the P3 Board meeting.
  • Creates checks and balances on the obscure P3 Board by clarifying any P3 project with a user fee shall be deemed disapproved unless the General Assembly approves.
  • Voids the PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative and requires reconsideration by the P3 Board following the new process outlined in Senate Bill 382.

Act 88 authorized the creation of the P3 Board to expedite transportation projects in Pennsylvania.  There are various P3s benefiting the Commonwealth’s transportation system, such as the construction of compressed natural gas fueling stations at transit agencies and the rapid replacement of 558 state-owned bridges.

The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing on January 25 to examine the loopholes of this P3 Initiative.  The Committee expects to consider Senate Bill 382 this month.

Emergency Rental Assistance Applications Available Now

Renters struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic can apply now for financial assistance through a program authorized by the General Assembly last month. Applications and more information on the program are available from the Department of Human Services.

Funding for the program was released to counties by Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity on Tuesday.

Senate Returns to Session Next Week, Budget Hearings Continue

The Senate will return to session on Monday. You can follow all committee hearings, meetings, floor debates and votes live at www.PASenateGOP.com.

In addition, the Senate Appropriations Committee will continue its review of Governor Wolf’s budget with hearings featuring the Department of Education and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education on Thursday.

Discounted Fishing Licenses Available for Non-Resident Students

Non-resident students attending in-state universities now qualify for a discounted fishing license from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The price of a license is $22.97, which is the same price as an annual license for state residents and $30 less than the cost of an annual non-resident license.

Licenses are available through the HuntFishPA online licensing system. The opening day of trout season is April 3.

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