On September 1 the PA six-member, House-Senate legislative conference committee on the state budget met in the state Capitol in its first meeting in a month. Not much progress was made in the two hour meeting in bridging the gap between Republican and Democratic budget proposals. Legislative Democrats have said they and Governor Ed Rendell support a $28.14 billion budget plan although Republicans argue it is actually a $28.3 billion plan. The Republican negotiators contend that the Democrats have moved $210 million in long-term-care spending off budget to be funded in some other way. Democratic leaders said the state needs $1.5 billion or more in new recurring revenues to balance this year’s budget and the next two. They said that they have already provided to Republican leaders a long list of options to raise those funds. House Republicans presented a budget with planned spending of $27.5 billion along with specific revenue-generating proposals they say will ensure the budget is balanced. The two sides did not agree on the spending number for a budget or how much new recurring revenue is necessary to balance the budget. However, both sides did agree to prepare a budget comparison so all sides of the House-Senate Joint Budget Conference Committee could review the two plans. On September 3 Governor Rendell and Senate Republican leaders each complained about the failure of the other side to act with a sense of urgency. The PA House of Representatives is scheduled to reconvene on Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 1:00 p.m. See www.post-gazette.com .
More than 200 people participated in a news conference held on September 3 in McKees Rocks, PA and called for funding of adult education, homelessness services, and other social services. The Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership hosted the news conference at which counties, providers and advocates reported on the impact that the Pennsylvania budget impasse is having on local communities. County officials and nonprofit leaders spoke at the event about elimination of services and lay-offs of employees. The Allegheny County Department of Human Services told attendees that it has 400 agencies under contract that receive $900 million in state funding per year and that it is currently holding $25 million in unpaid bills for the month of July alone. It was reported that statewide 64 percent of nonprofits are relying on reserves and 28 percent are resorting to lines of credit to stay afloat. See http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09247/995504-454.stm#ixzz0QE4gurJ4. On Tuesday September 8 at 1:00 p.m. a Harrisburg press conference and lobbying day will be held at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg to push state lawmakers to pass a budget quickly. The event organizers said that the press conference and lobbying visits are being held to press for a resolution of the budget and to obtain the resources necessary to avoid cuts to education, children’s services, and healthcare and to fund services for communities and vulnerable Pennsylvanians that are delivered by non-profits and local governments. The staging area is 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Pine Street Church, Corner of Pine and Third Streets. Harrisburg. The press conference will be held 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Capitol Rotunda with lobby visits held later. FMI: Contact Sharon Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The fiscal year 2009 for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ended more than 11 percent below revenue estimates. On September 1 the PA Revenue Department reported that the August 2009 collection report offered brighter news for FY 2010, indicating that revenues for the year 2010 were less than a percentage point off from projections. Revenue for the General Fund for August 2009, the new fiscal year’s second month, was $1.6 billion, only 1.2 percent below estimate. According to the PA Department of Revenue the collections were $19.9 million less than was anticipated. Collections for the fiscal year to date are at $3.3 billion – which is $22 million, or 0.7 percent, below estimate. FMI: For details on August 2009 revenues for FY 2009-2010, see the report from the PA Department of Revenue at www.revenue.state.pa.us and here .
On September1, a government watchdog group (Democracy Rising PA) held a news conference calling for an end to grant programs operated by the state legislature. Letters to legislative leaders and some executive-branch officials sent by Democracy Rising PA said the grant program violates the separation of powers set out in the Pennsylvania Constitution because legislators effectively choose the grant recipients. The group sent letters and a legal memo to the governor, auditor general, attorney general, state treasurer and the leaders of the four caucuses in the General Assembly. The letters asked each to take specific actions that will stop use of walking around money (WAM), also known as Legislative Initiative Grants. The legislative grants are funds allocated to the General Assembly’s four caucuses to be used as they see fit. DR PA said that it had considered filing a lawsuit but decided to ask officials to obey the Constitution instead. In the last half of 2008, lawmakers requested grants totaling more than $110 million to be used for a variety of projects. The group said that it may file a lawsuit to stop the grants if state officials do not act. For information on Democracy Rising PA, see http://www.democracyrisingpa.com/index.cfm.
On August 31 Representative Ron Marsico (R-Lower Paxton) said that he would soon be introducing a proposal to expand the coverage of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibiting discrimination in employment. The PHRA is the state statute which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, age, sex, national origin, or non-job-related handicap or disability. Representative Marsico said that his legislation would expand the scope of current law to include employers with one or more employees. Currently, the act only applies to employers with four or more employees; for employers who do not meet this threshold there is no coverage. The proposed legislation would amend the act to expand coverage from employers with four or more employees to employers with one or more employees. See www.pahousegop.com.
On August 26 Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) released to Pennsylvania county administrators its final Personal Care Home Policy related to the use of and the referral to Personal Care Homes (PCH). The policy reflects the position of the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) on meeting the housing, treatment and service needs of persons with a mental illness in or referred to Personal Care Homes (PCH). OMHSAS says that its goal is that individuals be engaged and supported in identifying and moving into the most integrated housing of their choice in the community. The policy is effective as of August 18, 2009. The policy discourages counties and county contractors from referring people to live in a personal care home with more than 16 beds. Each county is asked to develop a county policy and procedure in consultation with consumers and families about how any exceptions to this policy will be addressed. The county policy shall affirm support for and commitment to development of integrated housing options, establish the parameters that would need to be met to consider an exception of a referral to a PCH larger than 16 beds, ensure the opportunity for an individual to visit at least two (2) alternative housing options (many include a smaller PCH) that offer greater community integration than a PCH over 16 beds, and be reviewed and approved by the OMHSAS Regional Field Office prior to implementation. OMHSAS is asking the counties to work with stakeholders to develop a countywide policy that addresses the above parameters. The draft policy will be submitted to the OMHSAS Regional Field Office for review by October 7th 2009. FMI: Please contact Sherry Snyder, Director, Eastern Operations email@example.com or Linda Zelch, Director, Western Operations, firstname.lastname@example.org. For a copy of the OMHSAS policy contact PARF at email@example.com