IFO ISSUES UPDATED REVENUE ESTIMATES; BUDGET DEADLINE NEARS
As the current fiscal year comes to a close, the state's Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) has issued its official revenue estimate for FY 2017-2018. Its $32.5 billion projection is an increase of just two percent from the current fiscal year. On top of that, the IFO anticipates that FY 2016-2017 will end about $900 million short of its June 2016 revenue projection.
Media reports indicate a working target is emerging for the FY 2017-2018 budget of about $31.8B, compared to Governor Wolf's $32.3B proposal. Legislative Republican leaders have indicated that their goal is to craft a budget that can be adopted without new taxes, although other revenue options are being examined. Gaming expansion has been widely discussed as a means of partially addressing the structural deficit, and to that end, the Senate and House have approved different proposals in recent weeks. One of the sticking points, though, has been whether to include video gaming terminals (VGTs) in bars, taverns and clubs, and slot machines at casino-run off-track betting parlors; while the House version of HB 271 included VGTs, the Senate has expressed its reluctance on the matter.
Another option reportedly under consideration is to float a bond issue, using a portion of future payments Pennsylvania receives from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to pay the debt service. In the current fiscal year, that funding is allocated to home and community-based services, tobacco use cessation and prevention programs, health and related research, hospital uncompensated care programs, Medicaid benefits for workers with disabilities and other health-related purposes. Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler) has also circulated a co-sponsorship memo for legislation that would redirect to the state's General Fund the $140 million in local share funds that go to local governments hosting casinos.
Counties continue to advocate for the restoration of millions of dollars of cuts in proposed funding for human services, criminal justice, and administrative programs as contained in the House-passed HB 218. The proposal touches critical programs that counties perform on the commonwealth's behalf, threatening setbacks in service delivery and public safety and raising the likelihood of local property tax increases. As additional details about the FY 2017-2018 state budget and accompanying legislation begin to emerge, CCAP will continue to update its CCAP's Budget News and Updates web page.
FUTURE SHERIFF AND DEPUTY SHERIFF TRAINING REIMBURSEMENTS TO BE SUSPENDED
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency has voted to suspend reimbursements to counties for Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff training activities beginning after July 1, 2017. Training already provided or scheduled prior to July 1 would not be affected by the suspension, and so counties would be reimbursed for those costs.
The decision follows the recommendation of the Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Education and Training Board based on waning funds and insufficient revenues from a specific sheriff fee surcharge assessed and dedicated for the training and education programs and county reimbursements. The surcharge, set in statute, has not been updated or changed since 2000 while training hours and costs have increased.
It is anticipated that reimbursement would resume once fund collections become sufficient, although a specific date to resume payment to counties is unknown at this time. The longer term fix, though, is to update the surcharge; Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) has introduced HB 388, which would provide a comprehensive update to the sheriffs' fees, including an increase in the training surcharge from $11 to $20. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
ASSESSMENT REFORM TASK FORCE BILL MOVES FORWARD
A Local Government Commission Assessment Reform Task Force, including participation by CCAP and its affiliate, the Assessors' Association of Pennsylvania, is making significant progress in working through a number of recommendations related to the assessment process, with the first piece of proposed legislation, House Bill 1361, already approved by the House of Representatives.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) would add two Certified Pennsylvania Evaluators (CPEs) to serve on the State Board of Real Estate Appraisers. The CPE designation is one that county assessors who are responsible for valuing property must obtain. Their addition to the Board would assure representation for CPEs in providing perspective when matters related to real property valuation and assessment training arise, needed because the qualifications of CPEs and real estate appraisers are similar, but not identical. The bill recently won the unanimous support of the House Local Government Committee as well as the full House of Representatives. Companion legislation, SB 689, offered by former CCAP member, Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair), has been introduced in the Senate.
Another product of the Task Force's work has also been introduced in the form of HB 1594, also sponsored by Rep. Harper, to clarify that revaluation company personnel who are directly responsible for the valuation of property must be certified as CPEs, with training to include completion of a course on the judicial interpretation of the uniformity clause. That bill is scheduled for consideration by the House Local Government Committee on June 28.
SENATE APPROVES REAUTHORIZATION OF SENIOR JUDGE SUPPORT GRANTS
The Senate has unanimously approved legislation to extend the authorization for senior judge support grants to counties, currently set to expire on June 30, 2017. Senate Bill 741, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), would extend the grant authorization for five years. The grants provide support to counties for expenses incurred when senior judges - retired judges who meet specific requirements for age and judicial service - are assigned to the common pleas courts for temporary judicial service. The bill now goes to the House, where similar legislation, HB 1451, sponsored by Rep. Hal English (R-Allegheny), is also pending.
RECYCLING FOCUS OF JOINT COMMITTEE HEARING
The Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee held a hearing on June 13 on Act 101 of 1988, the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act.
CCAP Director of Government Relations Lisa Schaefer provided testimony to the committee, highlighting the need for a statute that takes into account the differing needs and recycling market than what existed 30 years ago when the law was first enacted. She noted specifically that flexibility is needed to address the different dynamics of urban and rural communities in today's landscape, and that recycling markets need to be re-engaged. In addition, Schaefer said that appropriate funding is also critical to keeping the commonwealth on a successful waste management path, including assuring the longevity of the state's Recycling Fund. The testimony also called for addressing a 2005 Commonwealth Court decision that declared county administrative fees, prior to then used by more than half the counties to support supplemental recycling programs, lacked an adequate statutory base, leaving counties without this source of funding. Full testimony can be found at www.pacounties.org on the Legislative Action Center by clicking Legislative Testimony.
Relatedly, with the $2 state tipping fee set to expire in 2020, the Senate acted the same day to approve SB 646, introduced by former Delaware County council member Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware), which would remove the sunset provision so that funding for important grant programs to local governments can continue. Following the 49-0 vote, the bill was sent to the House for further action, where it is scheduled for consideration by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on June 27.
SANCTUARY MUNICIPALITY BILL MOVES FORWARD
The House State Government Committee recently advanced HB 28, sponsored by Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia), to define sanctuary municipalities. Unlike a similar Senate bill (SB 10, sponsored by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Allegheny) that passed that chamber earlier this year that relied on compliance with detainer requests to determine what constitutes a sanctuary city, HB 28 defines a sanctuary municipality as one that does not "communicate or cooperate" with federal immigration officials. However, similar to SB 10, the House bill as amended by the committee would make sanctuary cities liable for damages caused by the criminal activity of an undocumented immigrant released by the sanctuary municipality even if a detainer request existed, although the House version includes additional criteria, including that the individual must have been determined to be an undocumented immigrant and been convicted of the criminal activity. The bill was reported by a 15-11 party line vote, with Republican members voting in favor.
HOUSE PANEL HEARS ABOUT GRANDPARENT CAREGIVERS
The House Children and Youth Committee recently held a hearing focusing on the challenges facing grandparents who are caring for and raising their grandchildren, most recently due to increases related to the heroin and opioid epidemic in the commonwealth.
Brian Bornman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators (PCYA), a CCAP affiliate, shared with the committee that grandparents have typically been a critical safety net for their grandchildren, and highlighted other efforts in the commonwealth such as kinship care to place children with relatives or those with substantial relationships with the child. Other challenges remain, including requirements for county agencies to seek permanency for a child and the emotional challenges facing grandparent caregivers. Bornman also emphasized the availability of assistance to grandparent caregivers, both financially and through other support methods such as funding available through the kinship care program and county assistance offices.
PCYA's comments are found at www.pacounties.org on the Legislative Action Center by clicking Legislative Testimony.