In This Update:
State Budget Holds the Line on Taxes, Meets Core Responsibilities of Government
Lawmakers completed work on the 2020-21 state budget on Friday, agreeing to a plan that maintains critical state services without the need for tax or fee increases. The budget plan completes the work that began in May, when a five-month budget plan was enacted to provide additional time to determine the full financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget was balanced without a tax increase by using a combination of existing state revenues, additional federal funding and a transfer from the Rainy Day Fund and other unallocated money from various special funds. Overall state spending is down more than $760 million from the previous year’s budget.
More details about the budget are available here.
Legislation Would Create New Program to Expand Broadband Coverage
Access to reliable broadband service is critical for many industries throughout Pennsylvania, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has made broadband even more important for employees and students who are working remotely. The Senate gave final approval to a bill last week that will create a new grant program to extend deployment of broadband services in underserved areas of the state.
The legislation would create the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program, which will be administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. The program would limit funding to entities that have demonstrated the ability to construct and administer internet services and require that they provide 25 percent of the funding for the project.
Senate Passes Bill to Protect Rural Pharmacies, Improve Prescription Pricing Transparency
Rural pharmacies have endured severe cuts to reimbursement rates from pharmacy benefit managers, putting many of these small businesses at risk of closing. In some cases, reimbursement rates are actually lower than the cost of the drug, forcing the pharmacy to operate in the red.
The Senate gave final approval to a bill last week that will improve pricing transparency for prescription drug costs and require the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study analyzing prescription drug pricing under the medical assistance managed care program.
News Conference Highlights Struggle of Bars and Restaurants During COVID-19
Bars and restaurants have faced extremely difficult circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of these businesses are hanging on by their fingernails and facing the very real risk of bankruptcy. I joined several passionate advocates and some my Senate and House colleagues this week for a news conference last week to highlight their struggle and voice our support for this critical industry.
You can watch the full news conference below:
Bill Advances Enabling DEP to Save Taxpayer Dollars
The Senate approved a bill last week that provides the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the ability to better manage the rising cost of an Act 54 report by moving the study to be conducted in-house. The cost of outsourcing this report has skyrocketed over 300% in the last twenty years.
Current law requires the DEP to analyze data pertaining to the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act and outsource a report every five years. This commonsense proposal does not change any of the compilation requirements in Act 54 and ensures all the data would continue to be collected and publicly accessible. However, it will save the Department significant resources by removing the third party requirement.
It is critical that we allow the DEP the ability to properly prioritize its own funding. The proposal mirrors legislation I introduced last year to ensure tax dollars are being used responsibly.
Hearing Explores PennDOT’s 2020-21 Highway and Bridge Budget Issues
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that many sectors of the economy do business, including more telework and less travel. This has created significant financial challenges for PennDOT since fuel taxes help to fund many of the commonwealth’s road and bridge repair and maintenance projects.
The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing this week to explore how changes in travel habits have impacted PennDOT’s budget. The hearing also included an update on how PennDOT’s planned maintenance schedule has changed and what the department is doing to make up for the lost revenue.
Program Encourages Hunters to Help Families in Need
Food insecurity was a major concern for many Pennsylvania families even before the pandemic, and the business shutdowns and economic insecurity over the past eight months have only made the problem worse. Pennsylvania deer hunters can play a role in helping local families in need by donating part or all of their deer through the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program.
To participate in the program, hunters can take their deer to any participating deer processor and choose the amount of venison they would like to donate to local charities to help families who are less fortunate.
Enjoying a Safe and Healthy Thanksgiving
As we near the end of one of the most difficult years our commonwealth has ever faced, I hope all of you can take the time to enjoy a safe and healthy Thanksgiving with loved ones this year. The holiday may look a bit different for some of us, but we can all share the same spirit of cooperation and the same sense of gratitude for our blessings in spite of the incredible circumstances we have endured in 2020.
If you plan to travel for the holiday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control offers helpful tips to avoid the spread of COVID-19 while attending holiday celebrations and other small gatherings.
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