(3/2017) There are signs Gov. Tom Wolf is beginning to recognize the fiscal realities facing this Commonwealth. In the days leading up to his 2017-18 state budget address, and with an estimated $2.5 billion to $3 billion structural deficit facing the Commonwealth this year, Wolf announced plans to close a state prison in Pittsburgh and to consolidate four health-related
state agencies — the Departments of Health, Human Services, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol Problems — under a new Department of Health and Human Services.
The cost of human services continues to rise with the increasing cost of health care and lower federal contributions to offset it. At the same time, our senior population is growing rapidly and placing an even greater demand on human services.
At its mid-year budget briefing in December, the administration projected the Commonwealth will end fiscal year 2016-17 with a $604 million deficit. In addition, the state’s pension obligation is expected to grow by $304 million, the Commonwealth’s debt obligation will rise by $133 million and the state Lottery Fund will need changes to ensure its solvency.
Clearly, we all need to closely examine the way state government operates to ensure that we are being responsible stewards of your tax dollars. The steps announced recently by the governor indicate that he may now be willing to consider some of the bold moves that will be required to bring state spending under control.
With a solid Republican majority in both the House and Senate, I am hopeful the governor will work with us to bring about positive change in the way government is structured and works. I am optimistic we can restore common sense in our budgeting, spending only the revenue that comes in and greatly reducing the burden on taxpayers.
In the 2017-18 session, I have some initiatives of my own that I would like to reach the governor’s desk. I plan to reintroduce my bill to eliminate the $35,000 cap on weekly prize payouts for nonprofit and club licensees offering small games of chance, which would enable them to make larger contributions to local charities such as already cash-strapped fire companies and
Little League teams. This legislation passed the House by a wide margin last session, but the Senate failed to act on it.
The same is true of my bill to expand protections for landowners who open their land — free of charge for recreational use — from frivolous lawsuits. Adams County has a lot of farmland and open space. My legislation would encourage landowners to open their land for recreational use without fear of being sued if someone gets hurt through no fault of the landowner. The
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and 38 other organizations support this legislation. I am reintroducing this bill in the new session.
I am also reintroducing my bill to limit a state agency’s ability to implement regulations that have not first met the approval of the appropriate legislative oversight committee by a simple majority. My bill would prevent any administration or agency from circumventing the Legislature and imposing its will.
I will also introduce legislation that would expand on my prior legislation — now law — that permits wildlife conservation officers to wear body cameras. My bill would extend the law to include sheriffs.
Finally, in the new term, I will be joining with several of my House colleagues in examining the practices of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. The SRBC is an interstate compact comprised of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the federal government, which is responsible for comprehensive planning and management of water resources in the Susquehanna River Basin.
In my view, the SRBC has gone well beyond its mission to monitor water tables and water usage and needs to be reined in. The SRBC is currently sitting on a $40 million surplus while charging our hydropower companies, water companies and municipal authorities outrageous fees and fines that I believe are unjustifiable and out of control. Those costs ultimately fall on the
shoulders of ratepayers and that’s not fair. My colleagues and I will be looking into this to determine what actions may be taken to correct this situation, up to and including pulling out of the regional compact.
This session I am pleased to have been reappointed to the House Agriculture, Children and Youth, Tourism and Recreational Development, and Game and Fisheries committees, on which I served last session. I expect this will be a very challenging and productive legislative session, in which we plan to address the unfunded liability in our public pension systems and to
restructure state government to bring it into line with our fiscal realities.
As always, I encourage my constituents to contact me with any questions or requests for assistance regarding any state-related matter.
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