Legislative Bulletin

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Number 4
February 14, 2020

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

GOVERNOR UNVEILS FY 2020-2021 BUDGET PROPOSAL     

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Gov. Wolf delivered his sixth budget address, announcing his $36 billion fiscal proposal for FY 2020-2021 before a joint session of the House and Senate.

The proposal represents an increase of about of $1.46 billion, or 4.2%, over FY 2019-2020. Much of the proposal focuses on a range of policies and funding initiatives that Gov. Wolf has raised during his time in office, with education being the largest recipient of the proposed funding increases. Gov. Wolf also called for a renewed look at his Restore PA initiative, originally proposed in 2019, which would levy a severance tax to provide for several of his initiatives. The current impact fee under Act 13 of 2012 would remain unchanged and be unaffected. Although Gov. Wolf did not call for any new broad-based tax increases, such as a sales or income tax, the administration is estimating a 4.5% increase in revenue growth and transfers from other state funds to fund the proposal.

Of particular note for counties, Gov. Wolf proposed a $2.5 million increase for county administration of the early intervention program, as well as increases for county children and youth services, child care services and family centers. However, these proposed increases are largely directed toward an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour for some positions, consistent with his call for a statewide increase in the minimum wage. Gov. Wolf proposed an additional $795,000 was included in the proposed Department of State budget, though the details are still unclear.

Importantly, the governor's proposal represents generally level funding across line items, particularly in human services. Two of counties' top priorities for 2020 include increased
mental health funding and adult probation funding, both slated to remain level funded. County capacity to meet service needs has been compromised by a lack of investment over the last decade, particularly in mental health, while mandates and service needs continue to increase.

The proposal includes several positive elements, such as a $8.1 million in new funding that would provide services to seniors on the waiting list for the OPTIONS in-home program. In addition, the governor's budget plan recommends $2.4 million for evidence-based and evidence-informed home visiting to support at-risk families, $15 million to assist people living with intellectual disabilities moving from the wait list into home or group living programs, $1 million to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System to address food insecurity and a call for legislation that would address pipeline safety concerns, as outlined in this
Bulletin.

CCAP has assembled a number of budget resources on its
Budget News web page, including a spreadsheet with the governor's proposed funding levels for county line items.

HOUSE HOLDS HEARING ON MENTAL HEALTH

On Feb. 4, just hours before the governor's address, Bradford County commissioner Ed Bustin and Montgomery County commissioner Val Arkoosh testified in a House Human Services hearing to advocate for the critical need to increase mental health base funding.

Commissioners Bustin and Arkoosh shared local examples of programs funded by these dollars and emphasized that increased funding is necessary in ensuring counties can provide services essential to their communities. County-based services are at capacity and, while counties are being as creative as possible with the funds and investing local dollars to address the need for services, state funding has lagged far behind. In fact, with several statewide initiatives underway to prevent the onset of mental health issues and end the stigma in seeking help, as well as expand services, counties will continue to see an increase in the number of individuals seeking treatment, and without additional resources, the system will be too stressed to meet community needs in a timely manner. For that reason, the commissioners called for a minimum $42 million increase in mental health base funding, with a commitment to continued increases over the next several years.

Ultimately, counties' top
priority for 2020 is to achieve a long overdue increase in the mental health community base funding. However, Gov. Wolf's budget proposal did not include any new funds for the mental health base. Without an increase in funding to mental health services, counties will be hard-pressed to continue stretching dollars to meet local needs, despite their own investments at the local level.

GOVERNOR CALLS FOR PIPELINE SAFETY INITIATIVE 

While not directly part of the budget proposal, Gov. Wolf also offered several policy initiatives in advance of his address, including a call for action on pipeline safety.

Wolf's plan would include legislation to protect public health, safety and the environment by providing the Public Utility Commission (PUC) with authority to regulate state siting and routing of intrastate pipelines in PA, requiring pipeline operators to provide certain information regarding pipelines near schools and day cares, requiring pipeline companies to notify residents, municipalities and others about drilling at least five days in advance and requiring the installation of automatic or remote shutoff valves in high consequence areas. Further, Gov. Wolf's plan would ensure that county officials have critical information that first responders need for emergency situations and would require pipeline operators to provide emergency response plans to the PUC.

HOUSE ADVANCES RIGHT-TO-KNOW LEGISLATION  

In late January, the House of Representatives approved HB 283, amending the Right to Know Law (RTKL) to address concerns related to commercial requesters, by a vote of 177-15.

Supported by CCAP, HB 283, introduced by Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh), would amend the RTKL to address challenges experienced by agencies due to the volume of requests made for commercial purposes, which counties report represent the greatest increase in open records requests since the law was enacted in 2008. While this information may be available for purchase elsewhere, companies and other organizations can get this information through public records and are turning to Right-to-Know requests to limit their own expenses, but at the expense of the taxpayer instead.

House Bill 283 would allow an agency to charge fees for a request for records for a commercial use, thereby enabling counties and other agencies the ability to recoup their costs in responding to commercial requesters. The proposal now moves to the Senate for consideration.

BUDGET HEARINGS TO BEGIN 

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will commence a three-week long series of budget hearings on Feb. 18, allowing state agencies to provide detail on Gov. Wolf's FY 2020-2021 commonwealth budget proposal. Of interest, House Appropriations hearings with the Department of Aging will be held Feb. 18, while hearings with the Departments of Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs will be Feb. 24 and the Department of Human Services on March 4. The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold the Department of Aging on Feb. 24, while hearings with the Departments of Health and Department of Human Services will be Feb. 26. A full schedule of appropriations hearings can be found on CCAP's Budget News and Updates web page and the hearings will be streamed live at www.pcntv.com.

NEW WATERS OF THE U.S. RULE RELEASED 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers released the final step in the process to revise the definition of "Waters of the U.S.," a key phrase used in the federal Clean Water Act to determine what waters fall under federal oversight as opposed to state oversight. The definition would replace a controversial 2015 rule, which had been challenged in several federal courts, and which President Trump had ordered EPA and the Corps to review and reconsider under a February 2017 executive order.

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule regulates navigable waters and their core tributary systems that provide perennial or intermittent flow. This final rule defines four categories of water that are federally regulated, 12 categories of exclusions such as groundwater, features that are only wet during rainfall events, and storm water control feature, and clarifies other key elements related to the scope of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the
Federal Register and will replace the Step One  Rule published in October 2019.More information and other resources are available at www.epa.gov/wotus-rule.

JUVENILE JUSTICE TASK FORCE HOLDS FIRST MEETING

On Feb. 5, the state's Juvenile Justice Task Force convened for the first time in Harrisburg to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the current juvenile justice system and to determine recommendations for next steps. Gov. Wolf announced the Task Force in January and, in partnership with Pew Charitable Trust, has charged it with submitting a report of data-driven findings and policy recommendations for improving the state's juvenile justice system by Nov. 30. Pike County commissioner Steve Guccini serves on the Task Force, which is co-chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) and Rep. Mike Zabel (D-Delaware) and includes members from state agencies, schools, juvenile probation, courts and others.

ACTS AFFECTING COUNTY GOVERNMENT 

Over the first half of the 2019-2020 session, the General Assembly sent a number of bills to the Governor's desk to be signed into law. A list of 2019 acts affecting county government, including the bill number, the date the bill was signed and a brief summary, is available on CCAP's Legislative Action Center.