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June 29, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Week in Review: Budget deadline draws near

By PA Independent Staff

HARRISBURG —  June rolled out with one of the busiest weeks of the season as the June 30 state budget deadline nears.

Full of late-night floor debates, lengthy afternoon caucus meetings and a handful of last-minute failed Democratic amendments, the week saw lawmakers finalize line-item figures as well as hammer through accompanying legislation in tax, school and public welfare codes.

The Senate passed the budget around 2 p.m. Friday with a 32-to-17 vote, but it will only be official when it’s signed by the governor.

On Thursday, in the midst of the flurry, Democrats got a victory when the Supreme Court affirmed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. State officials are still reviewing the decision for its  imapct on Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Corbett says respect for the law will prevail—despite the fact he was one of the attorneys general who signed on as plaintiffs in the landmark case.

Fiscal code amendment would require nonprofit providers to disclose pay of top execs

One late addition to the state budget package could make Pennsylvania the latest state to turn a critical eye on the expenses of nonprofit agencies that deliver services with state dollars.

A proposed amendment to the state fiscal code bill — a piece of the overall budget package that sets out tax and regulatory framework — would require the Department of Public Welfare to collect data from nonprofits that deliver services as part of a variety of state programs.

The department would be instructed to track executive pay and the pay of top employees, along with association dues, lobbying expenses, administrative costs and the indirect or direct costs of providing services.

Nonprofits that receive state dollars to cover intellectual disabilities, child welfare, community-based mental health services and drug and alcohol services would be targeted by the new rules, according to a memo obtained by PA Independent.

An annual report would be compiled and provided to the General Assembly.

State Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, initially pushed for the legislation in closed-door meetings with other legislative Republicans and Gov. Tom Corbett.

“We’re appropriating substantial (a) amount of money for these services, and we want to make sure it’s being used in the most efficient manner possible,” said Mike Stoll, Adolph’s spokesperson.

Supreme Court decision upholds Affordable Care Act

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the major components Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the controversial individual mandate on the grounds that Congress has powers to levy taxes and fees.

The decision was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the majority.

Upholding the act will give hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians access to health care, whether through an individually purchased policy or through expansion of Medicaid. But the court did say that the federal government couldn’t coerce states to expand Medicaid by withholding federal funding.

There’s no word yet on how extensive the Medicaid expansion will be in Pennsylvania. Previous estimates put the Medicaid expansion at 750,000 residents, according to Department of Public Welfare estimates.

At a four-minute news conference about three and a half hours after the high court’s decision was announced, Corbett said the administration still is analyzing what Pennsylvania will do next to implement the legislation known as “ObamaCare.”

“While I am disappointed with the result of this ruling, respect for the law, and for the process of the law, even when we disagree, is part of our democracy,” Corbett said.

Already, millions of Pennsylvanians have received benefits under the act since 2010, from some 235,000 elderly Medicare beneficiaries who received prescription discounts to 1.5 million Pennsylvanians who received at least one preventive care treatment.

Corbett’s human services block grants for counties is budget season casualty

The proposal to fund certain public welfare services as block grants to counties stalled budget negotiations, though those programs will still see cuts over this year’s funding.

Gov. Tom Corbett touted the flexibility afforded counties using block grants, even while proposing a 20 percent cut in state funding.  The state Senate reduced that cut to 10 percent.

Among those cuts: a $15.2 million reduction to community-based programs for people with intellectual disabilities over 2011-2012 fiscal year funding, for a total budget of $151.2 million.

Two to three dozen county commissioners and officials supported the block grant idea. But service providers criticized the measure, saying it would limit services.

The block grants did not sit well with many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and a pilot program was unveiled Monday by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks.
Instead of a block grant, it’s likely lawmakers will roll out a pilot program along with next year’s budget to make block grants available to counties that wish to allocate funds with more flexibility.

Funding for mental health services is proposed to be reduced $54.9 million from this year to $662.3 million.

State preps to expand red light cameras to Pittsburgh, large Philly suburbs

Red-light cameras could be heading to Pittsburgh and some Philadelphia suburbs.

The Senate on Thursday considered an amendment to continue the red-light camera program in Philadelphia through 2017, and to expand the program to nearby cities and counties and even to Pittsburgh.

Municipalities eligible for the cameras would have to exceed 20,000 residents and support full-time police forces accredited by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

The amendment is expected to be added to HB 254, and is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester.

“This is 100 percent a safety issue for Senator Pileggi. He believes that the use of red-light cameras at dangerous intersections has saved lives in Philadelphia, and will save lives in other municipalities as well,” spokesman Erik Arneson wrote in an email.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent nonprofit dedicated to reducing accidents and deaths due to crashes, estimates that 150 lives have been saved over the past five years in the 14 largest cities with red-light cameras.

But the National Motorists Association, a national organization that defends the rights of motorists, opposes the cameras over concerns they are primarily used to increase revenues and because the driver of the vehicle cannot be positively identified by cameras that capture license plates only.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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