BUDGET PROCESS BEGINS – Legislation that marks the beginning of consideration of the FY 2012-2013 Commonwealth budget has been introduced in the Senate. Senate Bill 1466, sponsored by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre), reflects the budget proposal that Governor Corbett outlined in February. Although the bill was reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee to begin the legislative process, it was later referred back to the same committee for further consideration during the ongoing budget negotiations. In response, the Senate Democratic caucus held a press conference to unveil their budget priorities for FY 2012-2013, which call for $1 billion in new investments for job creation, education funding and repairing the social services safety net.
In addition, according to statistics released this week from the Department of Revenue, Pennsylvania collected $4.1 billion in General Fund revenue in March which is $94.7 million, or 2.4 percent, more than anticipated. This is the second straight month in which collections have been higher than estimated, but fiscal year-to-date collections remain about 1.9 percent below estimate. It is still unclear what role the current trend of higher collections may play in budget negotiations.
Counties are encouraged to check CCAP’s Budget News page at www.pacounties.org regularly, where the Association will be posting links to legislation as well as periodic updates to spreadsheets, analysis, talking points and reports on legislative activity related to the budget.
HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES LOCAL TAX OPTIONS – The House Finance Committee reported out legislation by a 14-11 vote on April 2 that would offer new taxing options to local governments. House Bill 2230, introduced by Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), provides the option for a local one percent countywide sales tax, implemented by referendum, to reduce school property taxes. In addition, counties, municipalities and school districts would be authorized to implement an earned income or personal income tax to reduce property taxes. A local government that chooses the EIT or PIT option would have any future rate increases of those taxes capped based on inflation and would be prohibited from further increasing property taxes.
Although HB 2230 is a departure from recent legislative discussions of local options, most of which have focused exclusively on the sales tax as a county/municipal base, CCAP appreciates the opportunity for dialogue on a comprehensive approach that also addresses county property taxes. Pennsylvania’s counties have advocated for a diversification of their tax base beyond the property tax, and revenue options and tax fairness are a CCAP priority again in 2012. However, while the Association continues to review the bill’s income tax alternative, it has also noted its opposition to statutory local tax rate limits that take away the ability of locally elected officials to do the jobs for which they are elected – to deal with problems, issues and priorities established in the community.
ASSESSMENT BILLS CONSIDERED IN BOTH CHAMBERS – Both the House and Senate took steps the week of April 2 to address concerns raised over the issue of property assessments.
The Senate Finance Committee considered SB 1309, introduced by Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill), which would prohibit taxing districts from appealing the assessment of a property based on its sale. Appeals could still be brought in carefully limited circumstances, such as an appeal brought if the property has been divided or conveyed in smaller parcels, if improvements have been made to the property or existing improvements destroyed, if there is a change in the productive use of the property, or if the property is enrolled in a preferential assessment program. The legislation, which CCAP supports, was drafted in a way to overcome objections raised when comparable legislation was vetoed in 2008.
The committee amended the bill to clarify that if an assessment is changed as a result of the appeal, the taxing district is not required to refund any taxes applied to the original assessment. In addition, the amendment would further allow for an appeal where doing so would generate revenue equal to or greater than $10,000 per year per taxing district. Senate Bill 1309 as amended was reported out of committee by a 6-4 vote and now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.
In the other chamber, the House unanimously approved HB 2137 by Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny/Washing-ton), providing for a temporary moratorium on court-ordered county-wide reassessments. The moratorium would remain in effect until the General Assembly has enacted assessment reform legislation pursuant to the recommendations of the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee’s September 2010 study, or until December 31, 2013. The bill now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.
CONSTABLES AT POLLING PLACES – As part of the CCAP mandate relief agenda, counties have been seeking repeal of a requirement that constables be present at polling places on election day. The Senate Law and Justice Committee has now reported out SB 1175, with amendment, which makes use of constables optional at county discretion. The bill was introduced by Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango). Noting that security is handled in other ways in the rare instances when it may be needed, counties have supported repeal of the requirement as a means of saving local costs.
JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM MEASURES ADOPTED – Governor Corbett has signed juvenile justice reform legislation, SB 818, into law as Act 22 of 2012. The new law takes effect immediately. The bill, introduced by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), requires juvenile court judges to state on the record the goals, terms and conditions of the disposition of a delinquent child. If there is a commitment to out-of-home placement, the court must also name the specific facility, the reasons for commitment to that facility, and why the placement is best suited to the child’s treatment, supervision, rehabilitation and welfare.
In addition, the House and Senate gave final approval to a companion bill offered by Sen. Baker, SB 815, and sent it to the Governor’s desk for his signature. The legislation amends the Judicial Code to require that counsel be provided for a child at every stage of a judicial proceeding, and further prohibits the waiver of counsel in juvenile delinquency hearings. However, counsel would not be mandatory at an intake conference conducted by a juvenile probation officer, and a child who is 14 years of age or older may waive the right to counsel in certain circumstances if the court determines the waiver is knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made.
NEW VOTER ID FAQS RELEASED – The Department of State has sent to county election directors two guides containing frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding Act 18 of 2012, the new voter ID law. Under the law, all voters will have to furnish an approved photo ID at the polling place beginning at the November 2012 general election. The April primary is treated as a “soft roll-out” at which ID is requested but those failing to produce ID are permitted to vote and are given information on the new requirement.
The new FAQs cover general requirements of the law, and specific requirements related to college- and university-issued ID. Comparable information for voters is available on the state’s voter information web page, www.votespa.com, under the Frequently Asked Questions link at the page top. The Department has previously sent guidance to counties on the information to be provided to voters at the primary.
HUMAN SERVICES WORK WEEK – CCAP is urging all counties to schedule local meetings and events during Human Services Local Legislative Work Week, from Monday, April 9 through Friday, April 13, 2012.
Counties can have a significant impact on the Commonwealth budget process by lobbying for human services programs, including mental health and mental retardation, children and youth, drug and alcohol, tobacco prevention and cessation, juvenile detention, county nursing homes, medical assistance transportation and others. This year, CCAP has established the Human Services Local Legislative Work Week to maximize that impact through local events that show, rather than tell, legislators about the impacts the proposed FY 2012-2013 state budget could have on counties and their communities.
More information about the Work Week, the FY 2012-2013 budget proposal, and the impact on human services can be found at the CCAP website under Budget News and Updates.
APRIL IS NATIONAL COUNTY GOVERNMENT MONTH – The House of Representatives has unanimously approved HR 657, sponsored by former county commissioner Rep. Scott Conklin (R-Centre), to recognize April 2012 as National County Government Month. HR 657 notes the vital services counties provide in protecting and enhancing the health, welfare and safety of residents in sensible, cost-effective ways.
Since 1991, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has promoted the annual recognition of County Government Month to highlight the roles and responsibilities of the nation’s counties to meet the needs of their communities. The theme established by NACo for this year’s event is “Health Counties, Healthy Families,” which encourages counties to promote healthy living and lifestyle choices in their communities. More information on County Government Month can be found at the NACo website, www.naco.org.
Also, the Senate adopted SR 270, introduced by former county commissioner Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair), designating the week of April 15 through 21, 2012, as Local Government Week in Pennsylvania and April 17, 2012, as Local Government Day. A similar resolution, HR 647, was introduced by Rep. Tom Creighton (R-Lancaster), chair of the House Local Government Committee, and was adopted by the full House.