May 25, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Week in Review: House positions budget for final passage

Proposed school tax plan receives opposition
By PA Independent Staff
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Legislature took a host of actions this week, ranging from making headway toward finalizing next year's spending plan to introducing ways to improve government efficiency.

 But this week proved that such actions don't often proceed without pushback, like when House Democrats called out the GOP caucus for blocking their budget amendments, or when opponents of eliminating the school property tax questioned if a new revenue plan would be successful.
PA House panel OKs budget bill, locks in spending at $27.6B
On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the 2012-2013 budget bill with a party line 21-14 vote, setting it up for floor debate and final passage.
The committee essentially set the budget’s final spending figure at $27.6 billion when it ruled that any amendments to the bill must be revenue neutral.
Democrats were angered by the move, which blocked their plans to add about $300 million to basic education, county-level health services and welfare.
State Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, suggested that the Republicans were trying to avoid divisions in their ranks, since some Democratic proposals had bipartisan support.
State Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, committee chairman, said the only motivation for the move was to get the budget bill to the House floor without spending more than was available.
Lawmakers pressure PA school districts to use savings
State Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, even suggested that the extra money be returned to taxpayers.
Many districts plan to use their reserve funds to pay for pension contributions, which are expected to increase from about $1 billion this year to $4 billion by 2017, though the state covers half of those costs. 
PA bill looks to bolster ‘high priority’ jobs in need of workers
The House Labor and Industry Committee unanimously moved a bill Monday that proposes the Keystone Works program, a workforce development measure that's included in the 2012-13 proposed budget. 
The Keystone Works program aims to match unemployed workers with businesses who provide “high priority occupations," or jobs that are in demand, have a certain skill level and provide a family-sustaining wage.
“We haven’t done enough in the past with matching employers with employees that are actively looking for work,” said House Labor and Industry Committee Chairman Rep. Ron Miller, R-York. “We have not done enough in the past in promoting high priority occupations, people going into training for jobs where there is actually a need.”
Participating businesses would receive subsidies of $375 for up to four months after hiring a worker who underwent a training program while receiving unemployment.
The program is proposed to cost $2.5 million in its first year.
PA property tax plan hits first roadblocks
A Pennsylvania plan to eliminate property taxes and replace them with higher sales and income taxes hit its first roadblocks.
Opponents said the proposal would redirect the cost of public education from property owners and businesses to individuals and small businesses.
Others were against eliminating some exemptions in the state’s sales tax code to offset the loss of property tax revenue, and still others questioned whether Harrisburg was better equipped to control education dollars than school boards.
Jeff Mummert, business administrator for the South Western School District in York County, said the plan was “drastic and unworkable,” taking budgetary decisions out of the hands of school boards and administrators.
PA pushes for reports of campaign money to be filed online
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver, R-Snyder, sponsored a measure that would require candidates for all statewide offices and the General Assembly to submit campaign finance reports electronically. The bill was moved through the House State Government Committee on Tuesday with unanimous support.
Advocates say this bill would not only would save money but reduce the time between filing deadlines and accessing the information.
The bill heads to the House for a vote.
House Dems file brief supporting voter ID challenge
In the amicus curie brief filed in Commonwealth Court, House Democrats argue that the law is a “thinly-veiled attempt to suppress voter turnout” among groups that frequently vote Democratic.
No hearing date has been set for the controversial new law, which was immediately challenged by a group of voters claiming it would prevent them from being able to vote, violates the Pennsylvania Constitution’s protection of the right to vote and oversteps the powers vested in the General Assembly.
Auditor: Hundreds of thousands spent to boot superintendents
Pennsylvania called out two more school districts for paying hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to discharge contracts.
The state Department of Auditor General released two reports Wednesday for the Gettysburg Area School District and the city of Allentown School District­ that show a combined $889,000 in superintendent buy-outs.
The audits come after a $905,000 buy-out for former superintendent Arlene Ackerman of the Philadelphia School District. A series of the auditor’s investigations have found $2.3 billion in buy-outs statewide.
Lottery sales flat as casino revenue grows
Rapid growth in Pennsylvania’s casino revenue has affected lottery sales, as more options become available for residents eager to gamble.
Lottery sales had climbed from $1.7 billion in 2000 to nearly $3.1 billion in 2006, when slot machines were introduced. Since then, lottery sales have been mostly flat, reaching about $3.3 billion in 2011, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, a joint body of House and Senate members.
PA may take over school districts in fiscal chaos
Pennsylvania’s four most financially distressed school districts could be facing a state takeover, and more districts may be on the way.
The state Senate moved forward this week with a plan to allow the state Department of Education to appoint an officer to oversee the financial recovery of districts in fiscal chaos that must turn to the state for an advance payment of subsidies.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, said the recovery proposal is similar conceptually to Act 47, the state’s recovery program for financially distressed municipalities that has existed since 1987.
The plan advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday as part of House Bill 1307 and is set for a vote in the full Senate in June. If the bill passes, the House must approve it before it reaches Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk.
PA wants localities to monitor parking meters
Municipalities, not the state, may be inspecting parking meters, a move to shrink Pennsylvania government and exercise local authority.
State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Berks, prime sponsor of House Bill 2366, said the measure would reduce the power of the state's Department of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures Division, which inspects 23,000 of the state's 70,000 parking meters annually.
Under the bill, which passed unanimously Tuesday in the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, local officials would check meters for accuracy at least once every five years. The state does an inspection every three years.
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