Following is a listing of Pennsylvania executive and legislative action from the week of Oct. 30. The General Assembly is in recess and scheduled to return to session on Nov. 13.
After signing a series of budget-funding measures on Oct. 30, Gov. Tom Wolf stressed the need to pass a severance tax on natural gas producers and railed on Republican leadership for its refusal to vote on the proposal.
“There is no greater example of Harrisburg dysfunction than the House Republicans’ refusal to vote on a severance tax,” Wolf said in a speech to the Pennsylvania Press Club. “Last week, the House Republican leadership could have called up a vote on this tax on big oil and gas companies, but neglected to do so. It’s well past time to pass a tax on shale.”
Wolf noted that Pennsylvania is the only natural-gas producing state not to tax extraction, and cited an Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) study estimating that 80 percent of the revenue raised by a reasonable severance tax would be paid by customers outside of Pennsylvania.
State Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said a severance tax would harm the economy of Western Pennsylvania.
Among the measures signed into law by Wolf was one requiring all state departments and agencies to justify each dollar of their budget requests.
SB 181—which is now designated Act 48 of 2017—mandates “performance-based” budgeting and requires secretary of the budget and the IFO to perform budget reviews for all agencies at least once every five years.
The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery.
“I believe that through a performance-based budgeting process we can identify effective programs and get rid of the ineffective ones,” he said.
Act 48 reviews are expected to include efficiency measures, cost analysis and measures of status improvement for Pennsylvanians who interact with service agencies, according to a statement from the Senate Republican caucus. Mensch said these measures and more are common in the private sector and should be adapted to government.
Its main backer in the House was state Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Fayette, who said the measure was needed to “bring more accountability to the state budget” process, and streamline the budget battles that have become common.
Act 48 is set to go into effect in 60 days.
With state legislators and Philadelphia city officials joining him, Wolf on Oct. 30 held a ceremonial bill signing of legislation to aid in regulating nuisance bars or so-called “stop and go” stores. The legislation included in the Fiscal Code gives the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) the authority to conduct more inspections and immediately suspend the liquor license of establishments that harm communities.
“This increased inspection authority will help us to separate good and responsible owners from the bad actors, and will greatly improve our ability to crack down on the bad actors to protect our neighborhoods,” he said.
The legislation takes effect immediately.
Wolf announced on Oct. 31 that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has approved Standard Farms LLC in White Haven, Luzerne County, to grow and process medical marijuana, keeping the program on track to deliver medical marijuana to patients next year.
“Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is one step closer to becoming fully operational,” Wolf said. “We remain on track to provide medical marijuana safely and effectively to Pennsylvanians with serious medical conditions sometime in 2018. In the coming weeks, the Department of Health expects the rest of the grower/processors to be approved to begin production.”
The Medical Marijuana Program was signed into law by Wolf in April of 2016, and is expected to be fully implemented by 2018.
State Reps. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, and Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, on Nov. 1 said a limited constitutional convention should be called for Pennsylvania to address major reforms that have been roadblocked in the General Assembly.
Their proposal, HB 1967, calls for a limited constitutional convention to amend the state’s basic law to address the size of the legislature and state budget process and other areas. The bill number, 1967, is also the year in which the last constitutional convention was held in Pennsylvania.
The proposal would first allow voters to decide whether or not there should be a constitutional convention via referendum. If approved, the 163-member convention would be formed.
All final recommendations would require majority support from the 163 delegates. Those recommendations would then be placed on the ballot for approval or rejection by the voters.
“A constitutional convention would be an opportunity for citizens who are frustrated with our broken state government to take a very direct role in historic government change,” Bloom said. Kaufer said the gridlocked legislative process means it is time for a convention that would “allow the people of Pennsylvania to fix their government.” •