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In this Email Update:
State budget hearings begin
This week marked the first of three weeks of state budget hearings through the Senate Appropriations Committee. Below are recaps of my questions to various agency and department heads in your state government that I think will be of interest to you. If you would like to see the upcoming schedule or learn more about the governor’s proposed state budget, please visit www.SenatorArgall.com/Budget for more information.
Auditor General pledges to assist in reforms to wasteful spending of unused office space in PA
During Wednesday’s hearing with Auditor General DePasquale, I brought up the ongoing efforts I’m working on with Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) to find ways to best utilize unused state-owned office space while reducing our overall footprint of leased office space across the state.
Last session, Sen. Vulakovich and I spearheaded a resolution to require a report outlining suggestions to better streamline how the state uses its real estate portfolio. I shared some of those suggestions that came out of the report with the Auditor General, who said real estate is not just about using the space, but also better negotiation for our state leased office space.
The report shows that over the last four years, leased office space has been reduced by 590,000 square feet and the state also reduced the number of state employees by 1,522, or a 1.4 percent decrease. Even with the reduction in state office real estate, we are still paying for vacant office floors here in Harrisburg and across the state. It doesn’t make sense for us to pay leases for real estate when there’s vacant state property a few blocks away.
General DePasquale said he would conduct a future audit to look at measuring how widespread the problem of unused state office space is and also suggest reforms to fix this problem moving forward.
We also discussed an ongoing audit into how funds were spent over the last four years within the Department of Labor and Industry that Representative Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Carbon/Schuylkill) and I requested.
You can watch our discussion below.
Cases taking longer to resolve with Attorney General and Dept. of State
During two separate hearings, I brought up cases referred to both the Department of State and Office of Attorney General.
At Wednesday’s hearing with the Department of State, I questioned Secretary Cortes about the extraordinary amount of time it takes to resolve complaints regarding licensees in the state.
In the governor’s budget, the “Program Measures” for the Department of State show that it takes 120 days this year to close an investigation at the professional licensure boards, which is up from 102 days from last year. The same “measures” also show that it is currently taking 400 days – more than a year – to close a complaint, which is an increase from 282 days last year. Further complicating matters, the department sees no improvement to resolve these issues in the near future.
I asked Secretary Cortes to explain this alarming problem in the video below.
Along those lines, at a hearing on Wednesday afternoon with Attorney General Shapiro, I asked him how long it takes to resolve each case with regards to workers compensation issues filed with his office. Specifically, I asked him to provide me with a breakdown of how long it takes his office to refer and resolve cases referred to the Office of Attorney General.
For example, a constituent from Berks County submitted several cases to the Office of Attorney General. The Attorney General referred one case to the Department of State, however, it took the Attorney General 2.5 years to decide not to pursue the case and finally referred it to the Department of State’s Medical Board.
I want to see benchmarks from his office to see how large of a problem this truly is and how important it is to follow up on workers compensation fraud cases. According to many employers in the 29th Senatorial District, these fraud cases are a huge burden and major cost to their businesses.
Watch our dialogue on handling these complaints below.
State System of Higher Education must be independently reviewed
Chancellor Brogan and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), representing 14 universities across the state, testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday morning.
At the request of local residents who are fearful of the System’s current status and long-term outlook, I’ve sponsored a resolution that will not only look at the current state, but also the future sustainability of the System. Chancellor Brogan confirmed his office is also conducting a study to find ways to look at reforms and necessary changes to ensure its long-term viability.
I am skeptical of an institution studying itself as there are questions of independence and accountability. Read more about my independent study resolution here.
Why is there a fear of the future of PASSHE? Below are two very concerning charts:
Only Slippery Rock University and West Chester University have achieved their highest enrollment in the last year. Others have seen their best enrollment years several years ago.
More troubling, the graduation rates on average, according to the most recent data, is below 60 percent after six years of attendance, and under 40 percent for four years of attendance!
Latest television program highlights local and statewide efforts to curb opioid addiction
My most recent monthly television show highlights local and statewide efforts to help prevent future tragedies stemming from Pennsylvania’s heroin and opioid epidemic.
Too many of us have felt the impact, whether it be with family, friends or neighbors, of this crippling problem. No one is immune and it’s an issue that requires all hands on deck to resolve. This program gives viewers an inside look at the local efforts to educate and work with youth about the dangers of heroin and opioids.
The program features a youth education and awareness roundtable discussion, including Schuylkill County District Attorney Christine Holman, Center for Rural Pennsylvania Director Barry Denk and other experts who are working to help young people understand and avoid the danger posed by drug addiction.
The program will air on:
You can also watch the program below.
Discussion with Senator Scavello on Property Tax Independence Act
I recently joined Senator Mario Scavello (R-Monroe/Northampton) as a guest on his television program to discuss our ongoing efforts to eliminate school property taxes.
Senator Scavello is a strong advocate in the legislature to eliminate school property taxes. I’m thankful for the opportunity to sit down with him and provide an update on our bipartisan efforts that are reaching every corner of the state.
You can view our segment here. I hope you find it informative.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will convene on Monday, February 27 at 10 a.m. for their second week of state budget hearings, starting with the Department of Agriculture.
To see a complete schedule of next week’s hearings or to watch any hearing live, please visit here.