Pennsylvania State Capitol, Harrisburg. Photo: Waldteufel – Fotolia

Following is a listing of executive and legislative action for March 1 and the week of March 4. Both houses of the General Assembly were in recess at press time. The state House of Representatives was set to return to session on Monday; the Pennsylvania Senate was in recess and scheduled to be back March 18.

Minimum Wage

Nearly half of Pennsylvania hourly-wage workers—more than 1.75 million—make less than $15 per hour, according to a report by the Minimum Wage Advisory Board on March 1 on behalf of the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Gov. Tom Wolf on March 5 said the report confirms the dire need for Pennsylvania to raise the minimum wage, which has remained unchanged in the last decade at $7.25 per hour. In that time, all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have raised their minimum wage beyond the federal minimum, a Wolf administration statement said.

The advisory board said that the $7.25 hourly minimum wage in 2009 was 34 percent of the average wage. By 2017, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage had fallen to 28 percent of the average wage.

“Inflation adversely affects the purchasing power of an unchanging minimum wage,” the report said, noting that $7.25 in 2018 is projected to have purchasing power of $7.14 in 2019 and $7.03 in 2020 after adjusting for estimated inflation.

Full-time work at the minimum wage would keep a one-person household above the poverty line, but would not sustain a two- or three-person household above that line, the report said.

“Pennsylvania continues to lag behind other states, including all our neighbors, in ensuring fair wages that keep up with the cost of living,” Wolf said. “This report confirms that too many Pennsylvanians are making poverty wages. We must act to ensure our workers stop falling behind. Our communities can no longer afford to have so many workers struggling just to get by and unable to be active members of local economies. The legislature must raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.”

General Fund

Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella on March 5 announced the authorization of an $800 million line of credit from Treasury’s Short Term Investment Pool to the General Fund, expiring within 23 days, to ensure adequate liquidity in state coffers and the ability of the government to meet its expenditure needs. The treasurer and auditor general both signed off on the line of credit. An initial draw of $650 million on the line of credit was made Feb. 28.

While the line of credit is a normal, short-term measure to deal with seasonal fluctuations in cash flow, Torsella said he was concerned about the projected level of the General Fund during the upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year.

“If next fiscal year’s anticipated low starting balance in the General Fund is realized, the commonwealth will likely encounter liquidity demands as early as September, necessitating additional short-term borrowing,” Torsella said. “The commonwealth needs a structurally balanced budget, and a focus on rebuilding reserves, such as the Rainy Day Fund, that may be needed to weather future storms.”

Torsella said the Treasury will continue to provide short-term liquidity to the General Fund when appropriate.

Historic Records

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, on March 1 introduced a bill to open up and protect and provide for the recovery of historic records.

Senate Bill 372 would, among other things, add a new section on the protection and recovery of historic records of state and local governments, and open access to records after 75 years unless specifically prohibited by law.

The Pennsylvania State Archives would be designated under the bill as the official repository for the state’s permanent and historically valuable public records.

The bill also includes new provisions to streamline the sale and disposition of property and also allows for the use of abandoned property on loan to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

“This legislation will ensure that more state residents have access to historic documents and public records and will take a needed step to bring our policies and procedures up to date,” Scarnati said.