Wrap it up tonight

Article posted on October 31, 2017

From the latest reports I’ve gotten, the Governor has signed every budget bill except the Education Code.  The fact that he’s still reviewing it is a good sign.  I met with a lobbyist at the Hollidaysburg office today, something normally reserved for the Capitol, but sometimes they travel.  I also got to a bridge dedication in Saltillo.  The borough, the county, and various state officials have worked on getting funding for this project since 1999.  The first vehicle that ceremoniously crossed the new structure was a school bus.  The road just past the bridge was improved so that buses could get through.  Everyone was very pleased to see it completed.  I had a meeting this evening, but got home in time to see the game; hope the Astros wrap it up tonight.

-John

I appreciated the efforts on a chilly night

Article posted on October 30, 2017

The Governor is working his way through the budget bills.  Rumors are that he will veto the Education Code, maybe tomorrow we’ll find out.  I met with constituents in the Hollidaysburg office today and had a town hall in Altoona this evening.  We scheduled my town hall to follow Rep. John McGinnis’, which was held a few blocks away.  There were about 6 or 8 gluttons for punishment who attended both.  We had a nice crowd at mine with a number of questions, the most asked being about the need to approve money for the non-preferred universities.  We also heard about texting while driving, the severance tax, my letter to stop the state’s ESSA submission to the Feds, and various budget questions.  I also talked about my proposal for a PA constitutional convention and the ballot question for next Tuesday.  I appreciated the use of the Altoona Senior Center and the effort of all of the folks who came out on a chilly night.

-John

Lack of trust between him and the General Assembly

Article posted on October 29, 2017

I saw one story of interest in the papers today, it was about news that broke on Friday regarding the PA Lottery.  The Governor announced that the lottery would soon have a new venue in bars and restaurants.  He authorized them to go ahead with a fantasy sports game that people could bet on.  Again, the Governor has done something without communicating with the legislature and may not have the authority unilaterally to do so.  Given the months-long debate about expanded gambling in PA with a final bill that included online sales for the lottery, he never told the legislature about what he was doing.  He also sat through all of the fighting about permitting VGT’s in bars.  The impact this information may have had is unknown.  It could have been viewed as a compromise to the tavern owners arguing for VGT’s, who knows, but not discussing it was a missed opportunity and furthers the lack of trust between him and the General Assembly.

-John

Couldn’t hold on to the lead

Article posted on October 28, 2017

It was another beautiful Autumn day until it got cloudy and the rain started.  I got to my men’s fellowship group this morning then a breakfast and a dinner this evening.  In addition to some office work, I was able to mow; the grass is still growing pretty well, even after a few hard frosts.  I missed the Penn State game because of the dinner, but heard scores throughout the game; can’t believe we couldn’t hold on to the lead.  I’m hoping the Astros have another good night; at the time I’m writing this, it’s all tied up.

-John

Go Astros!

Article posted on October 27, 2017

I was around the district office today so I caught up a little with staff and scheduling.  I also had a conference call scheduled and did a couple of media interviews.  I spoke this morning at a summit for the Healthy Blair County Coalition.  They had a big group that discussed the problems associated with connecting youth to the community.  I also got to Penn State Altoona’s ribbon cutting for the new Adler Athletic Complex, a big improvement from when I attended.  On the budget front, the Governor is still looking over the bills and the reports say that he won’t make a decision on what he’ll do until at least Monday.  With Johnny living in Houston, we’re Pirate fans first, but Houston is our team in the Series.  Go Astros!

-John

A profound impact on national security

Article posted on October 26, 2017

The House didn’t finish the gaming bill last night, so they returned at 8:00 this morning and passed it.  This was the final bill of the budget package; they are all either law or on the Governor’s desk with the exception of the Human Services Code, which he vetoed a week or so ago.  We had to take some of the language from that bill and put it in other bills to protect the state from various problems that had to be addressed.  We’ll see how the Governor handles these bills and if he backs off the process of borrowing against the PLCB and the Farm Show Building.  I was at the annual ceremony tonight for the International Fellows of the U.S. Army War College.  It was a privilege to again be included in the ceremony and meet all 79 officers.  What a fascinating education program that also has a profound impact on national security.

-John

I’ll provide more info in the days to come

Article posted on October 25, 2017

Both the House and Senate started on budget bills this morning and worked well into the evening.  At the time I’m writing this, the Senate finished everything, and the House was working on the gaming expansion bill.  There’s a lot to talk about.  Some of the highlights are the Tax Code that included, among other things, borrowing $1.5 billion against the proceeds of the Tobacco Settlement Funds, legalizing the sale of fireworks and taxing them at a rate of 12%, and adjusting and/or extending a host of tax credits and economic development zones.  I did not vote for this bill.  The School Code included a provision to furlough teachers based on performance rather than seniority, delays the Keystone Exam requirement until 2019-2020, increases the EITC amount by $10 million, and makes it easier to non-renew a contract for a school superintendent.  I was a “yes” vote.  The gaming expansion bill includes a long list of changes like opening up 10 additional locations, termed “Ancillary” licenses, to existing casinos.  If they don’t want them, there is a provision for other investors to possibly obtain a license.  They could operate between 300 to 750 slot machines and have 30 table games.  Video Gaming Terminals (VGT’s) were approved for up to 5 for a truck stop that meets certain criteria.  Casinos are authorized to offer iGaming.  Gaming Tablets would be approved for airport passengers, and fantasy sports gambling could be licensed and taxed.  I was a “no” on this.  The State-Related University and Penn Veterinary School funding was passed by the House; the Senate voted for it weeks ago.  I’ll provide more info in the days to come.

-John

We’ll see

Article posted on October 24, 2017

We had a floor battle today on a bill, sponsored by Rep. Rich Irvin, to reauthorize the CHIP program for uninsured children.  The bill was amended in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee to clarify that the program cannot be used for sex change operations and related treatments.  We learned that the Governor unilaterally started to use these funds for this purpose about a year ago.  The bill was amended on the floor to reach a compromise with the Democrats and the Governor by allowing treatments and therapy, but still no operations.  Aside from the moral, financial, and health issues connected to this decision, it is a vast overreach of the Governor’s authority.  This morning at the Education Committee meeting, we had an issue with the timing of a proxy that caused a stir with the opponents to a bill that would establish Education Savings Accounts.  The bill would allow state money that normally goes to the government school district, to follow the student and be used for private school tuition, therapy, special needs care, etc.  The bill passed through committee, but with the question about the proxy, I agreed to keep the bill in committee and vote on it again.  If all goes as planned tomorrow, the budget should be done by evening; we’ll see.

-John

Satellite casino locations

Article posted on October 23, 2017

We are working on finishing the budget this week.  The Senate could be done with our part by Wednesday.  The House was not scheduled to come in, but was called back tomorrow and Wednesday to work on changes that we’ve made or new legislation they need to vote.  We passed the Fiscal Code bill today (without my vote), look to do the Education Code tomorrow, and the Tax Code on Wednesday.  Of course, other bills, some budget related, are in the mix, but these are the ones most asked about.  The language coming from the Senate generally tracks with what the House sent over with relatively minor changes on some bills.  Looks like the gaming expansions will be satellite casino locations, but we haven’t worked through the details yet.  I’ll keep you posted this week as things unfold.

-John

Issues I am familiar with

Article posted on October 22, 2017

For being right in the middle of a budget vote, there wasn’t much in the papers today about it.  I guess they hypothesized last week and are waiting to see what we do tomorrow.  I did read a story in the Philly Inquirer about the SRC, or School Reform Commission.  The SRC was put together years ago to govern the school district and has members appointed by the Mayor and the Governor.  They are considering voting to dissolve that arrangement and go back to a standard school board.  The current structure was designed at a time when the district had tremendous financial problems and the state stepped in to help.  I don’t know that going back to the previous design will work for them in the short or long term.  I do think it will reduce the incentive for the state to find extra money for them, when there is less control over how it is spent.  Unfortunately, the story had some recognizable inaccuracies, so I don’t know how to interpret the other information it presented.  I’m always concerned when I see bad reporting on issues that I am familiar with.  I wonder how accurate the rest of the story is.

-John