(7/2016) The halls of the Capitol are abuzz once again in anticipation of a new state budget. Unlike last year when the budget stalemate dragged into the holidays and finally ended in late March with Gov. Tom Wolf announcing he would allow the House’s latest version of the budget to become law without his signature. So far this year, the atmosphere around the Capitol feels
much less combative – even cordial. In fact, it is widely believed that Pennsylvania may have a new state spending plan by the June 30 budget deadline or soon thereafter.
Perhaps the optimism we are feeling stems from the fact that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and the administration are working together. In recent weeks, this has resulted in a number of noteworthy bipartisan votes on matters involving pensions, liquor and gaming.
The largest drain on the budget are the state pension systems, whose unfunded liability now exceeds $56 billion. The House has advanced a bipartisan pension reform plan aimed at stabilizing the pension systems and reducing the burden on taxpayers. The changes contained in Senate Bill 1071 would apply only to future members of the State Employees Retirement System (SERS)
and the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) who begin their service on or after Jan. 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, respectively.
Under the bill, the first $50,000 of a new employee’s annual salary would be in a traditional direct benefit plan, providing a predictable pension benefit base for future retirees. Earnings over that amount would be covered through a 401(k)-type plan which would allow participants to have more control over their investments and to tailor them to their own needs with at
least 10 investment options. The plan would allow the Commonwealth and its taxpayers to be more sheltered from market risks. The bill, which the governor has said he would sign, went back to the Senate for concurrence on House amendments.
Just as lawmakers and the Wolf administration are searching for new sources of revenue to fund next year’s budget, the House passed legislation to help community groups do the same. House Bill 1334 would update the state’s 1981 Bingo Law, doubling prize limits and the total amount of prizes that may be awarded in a calendar day. The bill would also remove restrictions on
the number of days a licensed association may conduct bingo games, permit pre-draw bingo, allow new members of a licensed association to assist in the operation of bingo, authorize non-members to call numbers and permit bingo prize amounts to be advertised. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Changes have also been made in the way Pennsylvanians can buy wine. Act 39 will permit wine sales in grocery stores, six-pack shops and by direct shipment. It also allows expanded Sunday and holiday hours in state liquor stores and variable pricing. The legislation, which had bipartisan support in the General Assembly, is expected to generate up to $150 million in
additional state revenue and represents a significant move toward privatization.
While I am hopeful we will have an on-time budget, it is clear that progress has been made in ways that will benefit Pennsylvania citizens. Rest assured, I will continue to work on behalf of the citizens of Adams County and Pennsylvania to achieve a timely and sensible state budget roadmap for the journey ahead.
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