Without funding for five months

Article posted on November 30, 2015

I was on the road about 12 hours today, so I haven’t heard any deer stories. Hope my hunting friends got their buck early, and everyone else got a great cyber Monday deal. We received word this afternoon that the bill drafting is going slower than projected, so we’re not going back on Wednesday. Hopefully Thursday, but no guarantees. The House is going in tomorrow. There is a lot of coordination needed between the two chambers for the passing of the budget. Instead of starting legislation from scratch, bills, identified as “vehicles,” are amended to include the budget language then finish going through the process, which saves days of time. After the budget is passed, we have assurances from the Wolf administration that they are ready to start processing payments to everyone who is owed money. This processing could normally take weeks or months, but should be done in days to accommodate the people who have gone without funding for five months.

-John

It doesn’t go far enough for the liberals

Article posted on November 29, 2015

The papers didn’t have much of interest today, at least as far as state-related stories go. They don’t seem to understand where the budget deal is and what items are included or excluded. There were several references to property tax shifts and increased sales taxes, etc., in today’s stories, which are off the table, (unless something changes again). Since most reporters are to the left of center, some pretty far to the left, they have been particularly unhappy with the budget impasse, not because of the pain it’s caused for many social service agencies, counties, schools, etc., but because they would have liked the legislature to have capitulated to the incredible tax increases and spending limits the Governor requested. If the current deal holds, there will not be any broad-based tax increases and the gas drillers won’t be singled out, again, for another special tax. Although the deal still goes too far for many of the conservative members of the House and Senate, it doesn’t go far enough for the liberals, and that includes most of the press.

-John

It’s a Thanksgiving classic!

Article posted on November 28, 2015

I got a few things done at home today and at the office. I can catch up a bit on weekends and I did today. The weather was warmer than expected, but we did have the predicted rain, which cut short a project at home. I didn’t get to see the Penn State game, but saw later that they got killed. The spread was 10, and Michigan State covered that plus 29 additional points. Johnny and I watched Plains, Trains, and Automobiles tonight; it’s a Thanksgiving classic!

-John

Fortunate since I’ve joined the Senate

Article posted on November 27, 2015

Attorney General Kathleen Kane is looking to appoint a grand jury to look into “pornographic” emails and is being questioned as to whether or not she has the authority to do so. This question is added to the long list of questionable actions she has done or is contemplating. I received notice this week that the Governor signed two of my bills into law, making four this year. With the budget and other problems, I imagine the number of bills signed into law will be down this year from the average of around 140. I have been fortunate to have, without counting, about 15 or 16 bills signed into law since I’ve joined the Senate.

-John

The blessing of our great nation

Article posted on November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving! We had plans to visit my son in Texas this weekend, but had to cancel because of the budget impasse affecting our session schedule. Johnny came back to PA, so all was good. We went to my sister Gail and her husband Mark’s house with most of the family for dinner; it was great! Hope everyone had time with family and expressed thanks for not only all of the blessings received personally, but for the blessing of our great nation.

-John

Done fairly and meet constitutional muster

Article posted on November 25, 2015

The Special Committee on Senate Address submitted their report to the Senate today. They were charged with two duties, to determine whether the Senate has jurisdiction to remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane pursuant to Article 6 Section 7 of the PA constitution, and whether they saw a basis for the Senate to begin those proceedings. They did confirm that the Senate has jurisdiction on this matter and recommended that the Senate proceed. The President Pro Tem asked the committee to draft a resolution to be voted on by the Senate, outlining the proper notice and procedures for the hearing. They have 15 days to return the resolution. Although this decision is taking some time, it has not been done in modern history. It needs to be done fairly and meet constitutional muster.

-John

Enough support to get it done

Article posted on November 24, 2015

The budget deal was blown up by the Governor this afternoon. The deal that was in play boiled down to the details of the pension reform bill and the Governor was told by the PSEA not to approve the suggested changes, and he listened of them. By this evening, some of the Democrats in the Senate were not willing to support the Governor’s position any longer. The Republican leadership in the House and Senate stood for a news conference to explain what just happened; before they started, the Senate Democrats asked for a few minutes to discuss the situation. The Governor then called a meeting and agreed to the original deal, despite the PSEA. Our discussions this afternoon led to a decision to reconvene tonight for a veto override, but with the new agreement, work was started on the legislation necessary to pass the budget. We are expected to be back next Wednesday to start the process, unless the bills are not ready or another problem arises. The details of the budget are not in place, but it is projected to raise taxes about $600 million (down from the $2.1 billion the Governor wanted), sales and income taxes would not increase, but it will broaden sales tax to several more items (but not to near as many items as the previous proposals), will increase cigarette taxes, will keep the total spend number at about $30.75 billion (down from the $32 billion the Governor wanted), education funding would increase a total of $530 million (down from the $803 million the Governor wanted), and the budget for 2016-17 would follow suit without significant increases to spending or taxes. The pension legislation would include several changes to current employees like Option 4 being made to be actuarially accurate and anti-spiking provisions. New employees would go into a hybrid retirement plan with a 50/50 split between Defined Contribution and Defined Benefit programs. And the liquor privatization plan is to include wine sales in grocery stores. This is a summary of where things are tonight and may change by next week. I will not be voting for all of this budget package, particularly the tax increases. But, there does appear to be enough support to get it done in both chambers.

-John

What he really wants: tax increases

Article posted on November 23, 2015

Late this evening, we voted on the largest tax shift in the history of the state, accounting for between $12 and $14 billion dollars. An amendment was offered to HB 683, which added the language of SB 76. This amendment proposed to essentially eliminate school property taxes, in exchange for a higher and broader sales tax, and a higher income tax. For the first time since I’ve been in the Senate, the floor vote on an amendment was tied, 24 to 24, leaving the President of the Senate to cast the deciding vote. Lt. Governor Mike Stack voted “no,” officially killing the amendment. I supported this measure and particularly appreciated the fiscal accountability it brought to education funding. With regular tax increases in most school districts, taxpayers are justifiably angry with some fearing the loss of their home due to their tax burden. The Governor went on record with this vote tonight, putting the special interests of the bureaucracy above many who struggle to keep a roof over their head. He brought up property tax relief during his campaign and made it part of the budget debate. His proposals and actions tonight, however, should make it clear to the public what he really wants: tax increases.

-John

“Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story”

Article posted on November 22, 2015

There really wasn’t much of interest today in the papers. I see inaccurate information frequently in the press and did today. Many of the issues they cover are complicated and they say something that’s close, but not right. Sometimes that inaccuracy doesn’t make much difference in the scheme of things, sometimes it does. In either case, the press doesn’t do a good job of correcting their errors. If you point out a mistake on a front page story, you’ll be lucky if they mention it later on an inside page that almost no one sees. The best you can hope for is that they don’t repeat what they now have been told is wrong. But, sometimes that doesn’t work either. Most reporters are pretty fair, on balance. But, there is a goodly portion who have their own agenda. As I have heard good reporters say about their predisposed brethren, “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

-John

If he makes good on that commitment

Article posted on November 21, 2015

I was around the district today and heard mostly about the Syrian refugee issue. After news that the budget would be done by Thanksgiving has shown to be incorrect, people are asking, how soon? I explain that there is some agreement as to the parameters of a budget, but the details have not come together and may not for days or weeks. The Governor said previously that he would agree to a temporary budget when this point in the negotiations was reached. I think that we will find out this coming week if he makes good on that commitment by allowing funding to flow to counties, schools and social service agencies.

-John