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.
New restrictions favor (again) big box stores and punish small businesses
On Tuesday, Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine unveiled updated guidance, mandates and restrictions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The governor announced that bars, restaurants and taverns are to cease selling alcohol for on-premise consumption at 5 p.m. this evening (Nov. 25). They may resume normal operations on Thanksgiving Day.
Meanwhile, there is no restriction on Black Friday shopping. Here is a photo I took while I waited in line at Sam’s Club to purchase paper on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
These locally owned bars and taverns count on Wednesday as one of their busiest nights of the year. There is a decent amount of preparation that goes into getting ready for this night, including purchasing adequate supplies of food and beverages from vendors and distributors. The governor only provided those entities with a two-day notice – hardly enough time to shift supplies.
However, Black Friday is a day when people rush to their favorite big box retailer to wait in line to get a great deal on a new television or video game system. There are next to no restrictions on Black Friday shopping again showing how the unilateral policies of this governor have directly benefited those large, corporate owned businesses and punished our local small businesses.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians who shop for groceries and other essential products and services south of the Mason Dixon line are unsure of how the updated travel restrictions apply. The governor announced that the State Police will be assisting in enforcement of his mitigation measures. I sent a letter to the Secretary of Health seeking clarification – I have still not received a response.
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, which I shepherded through the Senate Communications and Technology Committee, 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.
Latest on oversight of the 2020 Election and how we move forward
There has been a lot of information shared online over the latest on an audit in Pennsylvania.
Here is where things stand:
The House approved House Resolution 1100 with Republican and Democratic support. The resolution directs the bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct an audit of the 2020 Election.
The executive officers of the LBFC convened earlier this week and voted against carrying out the audit as written in House Resolution 1100. Each caucus in the General Assembly has an officer on the LBFC.
Only the Senate Republican officer – Senator Bob Mensch – voted to carry out the audit. The two Democrats – Senator Jim Brewster and Representative Jake Wheatley – voted against the audit. The House Republican officer – Representative Steve Barrar – did not vote.
With a vote of 2-1, the effort to have the LBFC carry out the audit failed.
In the interim, acting chair of the House State Government Committee, Representative Seth Grove, issued a preliminary report on the 2020 Election.
According to Chairman Grove, “This report offers details on the background, Pennsylvania election laws, recent changes, Department of State directives and related litigation, all of which impacted the 2020 election. It is my hope that it serves as a tool to review this election, so we are better prepared to further address elections head on during the next legislative session.”
You can read his full report here.
Elections are the bedrock of our Republic. We must ensure every LEGAL vote is counted – regardless of the outcome.
Earlier this week, every county – through their governing board – certified their results and the Department of State certified Pennsylvania’s election results. You can read more about that here.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth is charged with certifying election results (see Sections 1409 through 1416). As a state senator, I do not get to vote on certifying the election.
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.
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 family and friends.
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.
Shop Small on Small Business Saturday!
Please do not forget our locally owned businesses this Saturday. Last year, I toured and met with several small business owners and talked about the strength of our communities. These communities have supported our small businesses through the best of times and the worst of times.
This year has been especially difficult for our local entrepreneurs and job creators. The shifting mandates and regulations on top of the most restrictive economic shutdown in the nation created many challenges for these local businesses. I hope you will join me in supporting our small businesses on Small Business Saturday.
Whether you visit in-person, call to place an order, or even order online – these small businesses have always been there for us and our community. It is time we are there for them during this very difficult year.
Here are some of my highlights from last year’s small business tours leading into Small Business Saturday.
Thanksgiving office hours
Please be advised that our Senate offices will be closed on Thursday, November 26 through Friday, November 27 for the Thanksgiving holiday.
We will reopen on Monday, November 30 at 9 a.m. You can always find helpful links and information on my online office at SenatorKristin.com.