Legislative Bulletin

See All Issues from March 2019 forward​​​​​​​.

 

 
Number 2
January 15, 2021

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

CCAP CALLS FOR ELECTION REFORMS, RELEASES REPORT     

On Jan. 14, CCAP released a preliminary report and recommendations, outlining its top priorities on reforming the Pennsylvania Election Code. CCAP strongly urged the General Assembly and administration to work closely with counties to create positive, effective election policy.

Counties implemented the newly approved no excuse mail-in voting created by Act 77 of 2019, in the midst of a global pandemic. Though the feat was challenging, counties administered fair, accurate and secure elections for both the primary and general elections in 2020, and the experiences highlighted the need for additional election reforms that can improve election administration.

Counties support two main statutory changes: additional time to pre-canvass mail-in ballots and moving the mail-in ballot application deadline. Providing counties with additional pre-canvassing time before Election Day will allow them to prepare and process many mail-in and absentee ballots before Election Day so that tabulation can occur on Election night or shortly thereafter.  Counties raised concerns for several months prior to Nov. 3 that without additional time to pre-canvass, election results would likely be delayed, causing confusion despite counties' best efforts, a prediction which unfortunately proved accurate.

Second, counties seek to move back the mail-in ballot application deadline to 15 days prior to an election to allow enough time for the ballots to travel through the mail system. This change will reduce uncertainty of whether a voter's ballot arrived back at the county in time and, therefore, reduce the number of voters coming to the polls to vote by provisional ballot on Election Day because they are unsure if their mail-in ballot was received.

Counties believe that these two changes will alleviate many, if not most, of the challenges experienced during the 2020 elections. Furthermore, counties recognize that the law must be updated in other areas to address outstanding issues such as drop boxes, secrecy envelopes and curing ballot mistakes. Counties seek to work in direct partnership with the General Assembly and the administration on any policy changes being considered in order to assure that changes are clear and can be implemented consistently statewide. 

COUNTY PRIORITIES TO BE ANNOUNCED

As another year begins, Pennsylvania's counties have selected five legislative priorities for 2021, each of which highlights CCAP members' commitment to core county responsibilities and ultimately to the people and communities in Pennsylvania. 

CCAP Board members will officially announce the 2021 priorities via virtual press conference on Jan. 19 at 1:00 p.m. (Note day and time change from the previous
Bulletin). CCAP will be sending out a special edition bulletin highlighting the priorities. Additional information and resources, including fact sheets on each priority, will also be available at www.pacounties.org on the Priorities webpage

IFO ISSUES IMPACT FEE ESTIMATES  

The state's Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) has released estimates of shale gas impact fee collections for calendar year 2020, which producers will remit in April 2021. Based on production data and recent natural gas prices, the IFO is estimating that collections will be $144.9 million, representing a $55.9 million (28%) decrease from actual collections in 2020 (CY 2019 fees), and follows a $53.6 million decrease from the year before that. The decreases are attributed primarily to a lower fee schedule, noting the average price of natural gas was $2.08 per MMBtu means that the impact fee schedule decreased by $5,000 per horizontal well compared to CY 2019 because the price dropped below $2.25. Also impacting the decrease are the net impact of aging wells that pay lower fees and wells that become exempt offsetting fees from new wells. The full report is available at www.ifo.state.pa.us.

The exact effect on overall revenue collections - and therefore on local government distributions which will occur around July 1 - will not be known until after the April 1 collection deadline. Act 13 payment information will be available at 
www.act13-reporting.puc.pa.gov in mid-June, and the PUC will not release estimates or actual payment information prior to June 15.

REVENUE TRENDS REPORT RELEASED

In early January, the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released a preliminary revenue trends report, looking at state revenue performance for December 2020, as well as fiscal-year-to-date trends. The report notes that despite longer-term concerns over the state budget, December general fund revenues came in at $3.7 billion, $465.8 million (14.5%) more than originally anticipated.  The IFO speculates that increase is attributable to stronger than expected corporate net income tax (CNIT) collections (up 16.6% above estimates for the year-to-date total), which the IFO suggested is related to the non-taxable status of forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans under recent federal legislation, and one-time transfers in the final FY 2020-2021 budget, which were not in original estimates.

Personal Income Tax and the Sales and Use Tax also came in higher than anticipated at $90.4 million for December 2020. Realty transfer, liquor, cigarette, gaming and inheritance tax collections all came in above year-to-date estimates as well.

Despite this good news for state revenues, Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh),
has estimated a $3.5 billion deficit for next year. State Budget Secretary Jen Swails also highlighted the financial hardship the state is in during her mid-year briefing, estimating the budget will finish out with a mere $3.7 million surplus. Such differences in predictions come from uncertain impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including decreasing gas tax revenues and in-person shopping, but increased spending in the real estate market and online sales. With unknown impacts of recent federal stimulus to Pennsylvania's overall economy and no certainty on future stimulus packages, the state's future financial picture is further complicated.

The Governor is expected to present his FY 2021-2022 budget proposal on Feb. 2, setting off budget hearings and negotiations ahead of the start of the new fiscal year in July.

Additionally, the IFO will release its
long-term economic and budget outlook for FY 2020-21 to FY 2025-26 on Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. The presentation will provide a revenue update for the current fiscal year and assess the implications of recent economic trends for future budget surpluses or deficits.

NEW OFFICE OF OPEN RECORDS DIRECTOR 
On Jan. 11, Gov. Wolf announced his new appointment to director of the Office of Open Records (OOR), Liz Gerloff Wagenseller, who most recently held the position of chief of staff for departing Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. Former director Erik Arneson's six-year term expired this past week.

On a related note, the OOR is in the process of promulgating procedural regulations under the Right-to-Know Law and released an updated draft of its regulations on Dec. 30, the first draft revision since March 1, 2017. Through these regulations, the OOR intends to provide greater clarity of the requirements of both agencies and requesters. Once the regulations are posted in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, there will be a 30-day public review and comment period, though there is no definitive timeline on when the public comment period will begin as the review structure for regulations is fluid. CCAP will notify members when the comment period begins.
For more information, visit www.openrecords.pa.gov.

HOUSE SPEAKER ANNOUNCES NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS, SPECIAL ELECTION

Speaker of the House Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) has named new committee chairs for the 2021-2022 legislative session. Of note to counties, Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) will chair the House Human Services committee, previously held by former Rep. Tom Murt. He will be joined by Democratic chair Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Philadelphia). On the House Health Committee, Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) will continue as chair and her Democratic counterpart will remain Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny). Rep. Gary Day (R-Lehigh/Berks) was re-named chair of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, with former CCAP member Rep. Steve Samuelson (D-Northampton) continuing as Democratic chair. The House State Government Committee will be chaired by Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), who served as interim chair during the final months of 2020. He is joined by Democratic chair Rep. Margo Davidson (D-Delaware). Speaker Cutler also named Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Somerset) as the chair of the House Local Government Committee, while Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Northampton) will continue to serve as chair for the Democratic side.

Additionally, Speaker Cutler announced a special election to fill the seat left vacant in the 59th District with the sudden passing of Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland). The special election will coincide with the Primary Election on May 18.

NACO ACCEPTING INTERIM POLICY RESOLUTIONS

The National Association of Counties (NACo) Legislative Conference will be held in virtually this year in March. While details are forthcoming, NACo invites submissions for interim policy resolutions. NACo's ten policy steering committees will meet virtually during the conference to consider adoption of interim policy resolutions that will guide NACo advocacy until the Annual Conference in July. All resolutions must be submitted via email to resolutions@naco.org by Feb. 8.

Details regarding the upcoming conference and interim policy resolutions are available on the
NACo website.