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In this Email Update:
Senate Appropriations Committee concludes its second week of budget hearings
Department of General Services provides updates on real estate usage and $4 light bulbs
On Monday’s hearing with the Department of General Services, I was pleased to find out Secretary Topper’s number one goal is to reform the states’ real estate usage. He and I, along with Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) are working to move more state offices out of leased space and into property the state owns. Doing this across the state would yield significant savings for the taxpayers.
I was also approached by local residents who provided me information with excess spending due to the state’s sole sourcing program. Sole sourcing allows a single vendor to provide the state, or specific agency, with goods and services.
Through this sole sourcing program, the idea is that the contract can save the state money. However, local residents identified several instances where it is more expensive to pay for products through the state’s vendor instead of buying locally.
For example: the state was replacing fluorescent light bulbs in one of its facilities. The local residents noticed that the contract was charging the state $4 per light bulb. However, at a local hardware store in Schuylkill Haven, that same exact bulb costs only $1!
A kitchen mixer in one of the state facilities needed repairs. Instead of repairing the mixer, which was estimated to cost $500, the state instead purchased a new one to the tune of $20,000. Your tax dollars at work….
Like you, I was outraged and asked the Secretary to help me understand how sole sourcing is the way to go to save the most amount of tax dollars.
You can watch our exchange below.
Corrections pays more in overtime than if it were to hire new corrections officers, report finds
A report I requested shows the state could save considerable tax dollars on its overtime spending within the Department of Corrections.
The study, which is a result of Senate Resolution 263 that I sponsored, is a blueprint to fix the growing overtime budget within the Department of Corrections.
We are all in this fiscal mess together, and we – Republicans and Democrats – need to find solutions. It’s alarming that the report calls mandatory overtime a ‘vicious cycle’ and something that must be addressed immediately or we will risk burning out too many of these corrections officers across the state.
Read more about the report that was released on Monday here.
You can listen to my comments here.
I asked about this issue at the hearing with the Department of Corrections (read more below).
Next prison closure could occur in next 2 – 2.5 years
After questioning concerns over the next round of prison closures, Secretary Wetzel, who leads the Department of Corrections, informed me that the next prison closure could occur in as little as two years.
Reps. Goodman, Knowles, Tobash and I are working to keep SCI Frackville and Mahanoy, two of the state’s newer and more efficient facilities, off any list the department may be using to evaluate future prison closures.
We also discussed a major issue costing taxpayers over $100 million each year: overtime within our state prisons.
You may recall that earlier this year, the Department of Corrections planned to close two prisons in an effort to reduce costs. The department ended up closing only one prison – SCI Pittsburgh – that is anticipated to save approximately $80 million.
Several local corrections officers have spoken to me about the growing cost and concern of overtime. It’s not only a financial issue, it’s a safety issue. Due to mandatory overtime, officers are asked to work more and be away from their families and friends.
The report that I requested found that the state would have saved $16.2 million in 2015-16 if it were fully staffed. Part of this is the result of a hiring freeze in 2014.
You can watch our dialogue below.
Will the state start purchasing out-of-state dairy milk as a result of sole sourcing?
During the Senate Appropriations Committee public hearing with the Department of Agriculture on Monday, I asked Secretary Redding about several key issues affecting local dairy farmers.
Specifically, the issue of the over-order-premium not making its way back to local farmers. There is a major concern that there is not enough transparency in the way the Milk Marketing Board discloses the share a local dairy farmer receives off a gallon of milk. I asked Secretary Redding about these concerns and if some of the money from Pennsylvania is being spent out of state.
I also inquired about concerns from the dairy farmers that the state may use sole sourcing to purchase dairy milk for its state prisons from out of state sources. Pennsylvania, at one time, was the fourth largest dairy producing state in the nation. Today, we rank seventh. It would be a shame to see more business from Pennsylvania be taken away in favor of another state.
Watch our back-and-forth below.
Changes to liquor laws provided major reforms
At Thursday’s hearing with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, I asked about the changes made due to Act 39 of 2016. Specifically, one issue that is a very significant concern to rural beer distributors is regarding territory agreements. Beer distributors on borders of territories could be punished for entering another territory to deliver beer. This mainly affects smaller local distributors that deliver to small pubs and taverns.
I asked if the LCB has identified any solutions to the problem.
Judiciary looking at consolidating magisterial districts
Supreme Court Justice Donohue, a Marian graduate, spoke about the pilot programs across the state, including one in Lancaster County, to consolidate the number of district magistrates in an effort to save funding.
I also asked about the relatively new Judicial Center in Harrisburg and whether or not it is completely utilized. The state still leases space throughout the city and I asked what their timeline is to end those leases and move all operations into the state-owned Judicial Center.
Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln University enrollment trends show stark contrast to State System of Higher Education
The leaders of Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University of Pennsylvania testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
According to the governor’s proposed state budget, the Budget Office anticipates the four universities mentioned above will grow by more than 16,000 students by 2022. However, on the same document, the State System of Higher Education, including 14 universities across the state, is expected to grow by 143 students over the same period.
I asked why we are seeing the sharp contrast between the two systems. It is also another reason why I’ve called for an independent study of the long-term sustainability of the State System of Higher Education. I recently introduced Senate Resolution 34, which calls on the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to provide the legislature with a truly independent review of the current state as well as the future for the State System of Higher Education.
I also inquired about the nearly 600 Penn State faculty who are voluntarily retiring and what impact that will have on the university. One of the staff members taking an early retirement includes Dr. Simon Bronner, whose expert guidance and mentorship helped guide me through my Ph.D. He will certainly be missed.
You can watch our exchange on all of the issues below.
State veterans home cost nearly twice as much as non-profit care
Brigadier General Tony Carrelli, the Adjutant General, testified on Wednesday on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs regarding the cost of state veterans care facilities.
Currently, the state owns and operates six veterans homes across the state. I asked for an apples-to-apples comparison between what the state provides compared to what a non-profit could provide.
He shared some of the highlights of outsourcing certain services and health care for veterans that the department has initiated over the last few years.
I also made sure to thank all of the military personnel in the room, including Brig. Gen. Carrelli for their service to our country.
Is there duplication within state workforce development programs? I asked.
One of the concerns that has been brought to my attention recently is the duplication of the state’s workforce development efforts. Between the Department of Labor and Industry, the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Human Services, there are several job training and workforce development programs available to Pennsylvanians.
I asked Secretary Manderino of the Department of Labor and Industry about the duplication of effort and if there is coordination between state agencies to ensure that we are not wasting money on the same program under different state agencies.
Heritage Areas provide great opportunities to explore outdoors
Heritage areas provide not only world-class recreational opportunities, but important economic development and revitalization to smaller communities all across our state.
I asked about the future of certain programs within the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at Wednesday’s public hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Tune into PCN for bipartisan discussion on state budget
Tune into PCN for bipartisan discussion on state budget
On Thursday, I participated in a discussion with the three other Policy Committee chairs from the House of Representatives and Senate of Pennsylvania focusing on the state budget.
Standing from left to right are: Corinna Vecsey Wilson, Esq., President of Wilson500 Inc.; Representative Kerry Benninghoff, Chair of the House Majority Policy Committee; Senator Lisa Boscola, Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee; me; and Representative Mike Sturla, Chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee.
Tune into the Pennsylvania Cable Network as the program will air at 4:05 p.m. on Saturday, March 4. See their schedule for details. (Schedule is subject to change)
The Senate Appropriations Committee will convene on Monday, March 6 at 10 a.m. for their third and final week of state budget hearings, starting with the Department of Community and Economic Development.
To see a complete schedule of next week’s hearings or to watch any hearing live, please visit here.