Getting the votes for it is difficult

Article posted on June 30, 2017

The Senate passed the General Appropriations bill this morning with a vote of 43-7, and the House passed it this afternoon 173-27.  Although I think the spending limit is too high, the increase is within the limits of growth and inflation I accept, so I voted for the bill.  The problem is that our spending numbers are too high to start with.  As the pension obligation grows along with other general operations costs, the Obama economy has remained stagnant, creating a shortfall in the bottom line.  There are other issues, like over estimating receipts from changes to the liquor laws and gaming.  These factors combined to produce a $3 billion hole.  As staff and the leadership of the House and Senate work on the revenue side of the equation and the codes that govern how government works, the rank and file are on a six-hour call to return to the Capitol.  A spend number has been locked into place, but finding a combination of revenue sources to match that number and getting the votes for it is difficult.

-John

Won’t make the front page of many newspapers

Article posted on June 29, 2017

At an Appropriations Committee meeting tonight, we will be loading the agreed-to appropriations lines into the House budget bill.  The total spend number is $31,996,101,000, at least at this point, which is $228 million or 1% more than last year.  The full Senate will convene at 9:00 tomorrow morning to pass this and send it to the House for their concurrence vote later in the day.  We will go on 6 hour call until other bills are prepared and agreements are reached on the remaining pieces of the budget.  We passed other bills earlier today including one of mine that addresses home rule or optional plan municipalities that do not have a mayor (like townships) and want to establish wards.  This is a real problem for some municipalities, but won’t make the front page of many newspapers.

-John

A balanced approach to charter schools’ funding, approvals, and operations

Article posted on June 28, 2017

The Appropriations bill is still on track to be passed by Friday.  More specific information will be available tomorrow as the bill moves through the process.  We got the bill through the Senate today that would allow school personnel to carry guns if the school district passes a policy to do so.  The policy must contain certain requirements for training and notice.  A number of other states have similar laws and they have worked well.  This is a bill teachers have requested, but their union opposed.  This conflict between the rank and file and the union bosses happens more than one might think.  We got a Charter School Reform bill through the Education Committee this evening.  It was a long meeting with the D’s offering 13 amendments, all of which were defeated.  This is a good bill that the House has spent a lot of time working on.  We changed a few things with an amendment I sponsored and will get it back to the House for concurrence.  It is a balanced approach to looking at charter schools’ funding and the issues surrounding their approvals and ongoing operations.

-John

I am disappointed in him for this

Article posted on June 27, 2017

As we worked through more of the budget today and other issues, the Wolf administration was busy pushing through a land transaction in Lawrence County.  A non-profit organization that was successful in the purchasing process has come under some scrutiny and has not been forthcoming with information.  The House and Senate both took up a Concurrent Resolution to stop the approval process until pertinent questions could be answered.  Between the time the Resolution was passed in the State Government Committee and was ready for a floor vote, the Attorney General — the last leg in the three step approval process — signed off on the deal.  The approval was done in near record time by this administration while other similar transactions take over a month.  I hope we learn soon why this was pushed through.  Later this afternoon, the Governor took a cheap shot at the Senate and specifically one of our members.  When speaking about the budget timeline, he said that the Senate would not be in session this weekend, if needed, because a member was getting married on Saturday.  The truth is that the Senate has not scheduled session for this weekend because we expect to be done with the Appropriations bill by Friday, the constitutional deadline.  We have stayed in session despite personal events for members many, many times.  That member always has the option to take personal leave and miss votes.  On any given session day, a member or two may be on personal leave.  Blaming someone for a possible, future, if all of the stars line up delay in the budget for their wedding day was mean-spirited.  The Governor is generally a nice guy; I am disappointed in him for this.

-John

I’ll report each day this week

Article posted on June 26, 2017

We worked through a number of bills in caucus and on the floor today, as well as setting up bills in the Appropriations and Rules Committees.  Bills should be in place now to move every component of the budget.  Things are still on track to have an Appropriations bill passed by Friday.  Although this is just a piece of the overall package, it is the bill that the press refers to as “the budget.”  It’s the bill that lists over 400 spending lines and is almost exclusively what we are asked about.  I’ll report on what happens on the budget each day this week.

-John

Assuming the deal will be in place this week

Article posted on June 25, 2017

There were a couple of stories in the papers today about the budget, but they primarily consisted of opinions from various people, nothing fact based.  There will be plenty of stories this week as bills start to move.  One of the many things that happen during this time in the budget process is calls and emails from people concerned about certain budget lines.  It’s understandable, but as of now everything is speculative and as time goes on, any figure is subject to change.  With efforts being made to close a budget deal by Friday, the time for requests and inquiries will be compressed.  This is an unusually short time frame to put together the final budget deal, but that’s assuming the deal will be in place this week.

-John

It could be one or more passed on time

Article posted on June 23, 2017

Although we had rain early this morning, the weather was great the rest of the day.  I got in some mowing — not everything I needed to do — and a few other errands outside, along with catching up with a little office work.  We got word late yesterday that we are to prepare to stay next week for 5 days or more.  In recent years, if we get done by the 30th, it’s close to midnight, so that means 6 days, and that’s if we don’t have any delays.  The budget is a collection of bills.  So it could be that one or more of the bills pertaining to the budget is passed on time and the others are finished shortly after.

-John

There has to be a deal

Article posted on June 22, 2017

I was scheduled to be in session today, but we got home last night and I was able to get in a luncheon for Blair Senior Services and a Blair County Chamber reception this afternoon.  I had a PHEAA board meeting this morning, which I was able to do by phone, got an appointment done in the office and caught up on some work.  Having a day to catch up a little is rare and appreciated.  The House had a non-voting session, so they moved bills up.  Leadership is continuing to meet and work on the budget and have bills positioned to change or pass next week.  Bills that are already positioned to move can do so quickly, but there has to be a deal.

-John

They agreed to a hearing this fall

Article posted on June 21, 2017

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee today approved a bill to stop welfare payments to sex offenders who do not comply with Megan’s Law requirements and drug traffickers under certain circumstances.  I often hear complaints from constituents about welfare recipients abusing the system.  This bill is sponsored by Senator Mike Regan, who was a U.S. Marshal and saw abuses firsthand when he busted drug dealers making six figures while receiving welfare payments and food cards.  The bill passed on a party line vote.  We finished on the floor today and I had a meeting in the office before leaving.  While I was in the meeting, 300 people held a rally/protest at my door.  Their issue is the distribution of Basic Education funding.  They claim that minorities receive less state funding under the current formula mix than they would if the funding was distributed under the formula recommended by the recent Funding Commission.  I met with this group before and offered to hold a hearing on this issue over the summer; they said that the offer was unacceptable because it wasn’t soon enough.  Today they agreed to a hearing this fall.

-John

Libre was there to inspire us all

Article posted on June 20, 2017

Sometimes with legislation, the subject matter contained in a bill gets put into another bill and loses its individual identity.  That’s what happened with a bill I sponsored for the past several sessions called Cordelia’s Law.  After seeing a horse taken from a man in Bedford County who starved it to the point that it died just weeks after it was rescued, I was asked to do something to include equine abuse in the animal protection laws of this Commonwealth.  The horse was fostered by Wendy Reitz, who was on my staff at that time.  She named the horse Cordelia and made every attempt to bring her health back, but the effects of the starvation were too far along.  A House bill, which included my Cordelia’s Law language, passed unanimously today in the Senate and was sent to the Governor.  It addressed the problems that surfaced with the well-publicized abuse of a dog named Libre, who was rescued and was on hand in the gallery this afternoon to watch the vote and thank the Senate with a wave of his paw.  Regardless of who’s name is on the bill, I’m thrilled that the long process my staff and I took, with the support of others, to protect horses has been accomplished and that Libre was there to inspire us all.

-John