Following is a listing of legislative and executive action for the week of July 28. The state House of Representatives is scheduled to return to session Aug. 4; both houses of the General Assembly are scheduled to return to session Sept. 15.

Capital Debt Reduction

State Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, introduced legislation, HB 2419, aimed at lowering the debt ceiling on the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP).

The bill would establish an annual spending limit on all types of projects under the Capital Facilities Debt Enabling Act. Under Turzai’s proposal, releases for new projects would be limited, with new flood control projects capped at $25 million per year and new highway projects capped at $25 million per year. Additionally, RACP would be capped at $125 million per year in new projects, public improvement project annual spending could not exceed $350 million, and transportation assistance project spending would be capped at $175 million per year.

Turzai said in a memo that in fiscal year 2002-03, the last fiscal year of the Schweiker administration, the state general-obligation debt (including non-highway capital facilities debt, voter-approved debt and disaster relief debt) was about $6.5 billion and the annual debt service was $701 million. An analysis of general-obligation debt and debt service for the 11 years ending with FY 2013-14 shows that “even though growth of our general-obligation debt slowed substantially under the Corbett administration, our debt obligation for fiscal year 2013-14 is about $10.7 billion. That’s an increase of 64 percent in just 11 years since the beginning of the Rendell administration.”

Debt service increased by $400 million during this same timeframe, Turzai said, to $1.1 billion this year. This is an increase of 52 percent over the last 11 years, since the beginning of the Rendell administration, he said.

Tax Laws

Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland, introduced legislation, HB 2423, that would clarify provisions in Act 32 of 2012 regarding the local earned-income tax.

Under the measure, taxpayers with no income would not be required to file a local return and there would be clear and concise “safe harbor” language for estimated taxes.

Dunbar said his bills would also clarify tax treatment of temporary job assignments and W2 reporting requirements, as well as defining the term “non-resident.”

Public Pension Survivor Annuity

Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, has introduced a two-bill package, HBs 2307 and 2308, to require that a public employee select a retirement plan payment structure that provides no less than a 50 percent survivor annuity to the employee’s surviving spouse.

Santarsiero said in a memo that the bills are part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. “Research makes it clear—women are less likely than men to have a pension. When they do, women often receive a lower monthly benefit because they have earned historically less over their lifetime and, as primary caregivers, have less consistent work records than their male counterparts. As you may know, Pennsylvania state law does not require spousal consent when a state employee chooses how his or her retirement benefits will be paid. Because of this, many women are often blindsided when they discover that they are not entitled to any of their deceased partner’s pension benefit after a spouse’s death.”

Abandoned Wells

Rep. Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery, said he plans to introduce legislation that would require the decommissioning of all abandoned water wells located on properties leased for the production of oil and natural gas.

“In Pennsylvania, the number of natural gas wells has increased exponentially during the past decade,” McCarter said in a memo. “This expansion is due to both the discovery of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation and the application of the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing. This technique injects chemically-laden water down the well bore and into the geologic formation, thereby creating fissures in the shale, allowing the natural gas to be captured.”

“Unfortunately, if there are abandoned water wells in the proximity of the well bore that have not been properly decommissioned, the hydraulic fracturing process may contaminate the aquifer through the migration of natural gas. As such, I believe it is imperative that we take steps to protect our water resources from the possibility of contamination.”