Apr. 07, 2017

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Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol

Putting Teeth in State Audits

My legislation penalizing government agencies that fail to make recommended reforms passed the House State Government Committee unanimously this week. House Bill 453, legislation I authored, would will require any agency receiving funds to respond within 120 days of an audit by the state Auditor General with their response or funding will be suspended.

Read a news story about my legislation here

While Act of April 9, 1929 empowers the Auditor General to audit the agencies receiving state funding yet the same act provides no recourse for the failure by the agencies receiving funds from responding to and potentially implementing the recommendations.

In my examination of the Auditor General’s audit reports, I have been stunned to find the amount of times that audit recommendations are ignored and/or not responded to. The lack of response, which exposes the Commonwealth to millions and potentially billions in wasted funds annually, occurs because the Act of 1929 does not provide for any penalties for failing to correct these deficiencies.

My legislation would amend the Fiscal Code, by implementing legislation language that will require any agency receiving funds to respond within 120 days of an audit with their response or funding will be suspended through the appropriations process.
 
 
Pennsylvania Farmers Discuss Priority Issues

On Tuesday, I joined more than 350 farmers from across the state in Harrisburg to participate in the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s State Legislative Conference to discuss priority issues affecting farm families, including the need to restore funding in the state budget for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Farm families are troubled by the proposed loss of state funding to PennVET, which plays an important role in maintaining the health and well-being of animal agriculture in Pennsylvania and identifying and controlling exposure of the industry to serious health threats, such as avian influenza.

Farmers are also looking for the state to increase its commitment to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System and called on lawmakers to enact legislation that would create a statewide standard allowing farmers to host Agritourism or Agritainment activities on farms enrolled in the farmland preservation program. Agritourism helps farm families generate additional revenue, which in turn helps them remain economically viable and bolster future generations on the farm.

Also, the Farm Bureau once again urged members of the General Assembly to make pension reform and property tax reform among its top priorities in 2017. With an unfunded liability from Pennsylvania’s public pension systems hovering around $70 billion, the Farm Bureau believes it is imperative for lawmakers to work together to identify meaningful solutions to this massive problem.
 
 
No-Tax-Increase Budget Moves Ahead in House

 
This week, the House approved a $31.52 billion budget proposal that does not increase taxes or borrowing but does invest in education, public safety, human services and infrastructure.

House Bill 218 reflects a collective need to reinvent the way Pennsylvania budgets and governs, by moving ahead to streamline programs and services; eliminate duplicative state functions; reduce bureaucracy; and create an endowment fund that will generate money to pay future costs.

The budget will be balanced using several options, including expanded gaming and liquor privatization proposals, which have previously passed the House. Additional details about the proposal are available here.
 
 
Committee Endorses Liquor Bills to Encourage Choice, Convenience

 
This week, the House Liquor Control Committee passed two bills designed to further dismantle the state-owned wine and spirits system.

House Bill 991 would allow for the creation of privately owned retail stores to sell bottles of wine and spirits in an effort to provide greater convenience and choice for consumers.

Another proposal, House Bill 438, would allow spirits to be sold in the same retail locations as wine. This would specifically apply to grocery and convenience stores with restaurant seating.

The measures are not only designed to improve consumer choice and convenience but also to help the state generate much-needed revenue. Both bills now move to the full House for a final vote.
 
 
If You Owe Back Taxes, Amnesty Program May Help

 
Pennsylvanians who owe state tax will soon have the option to pay those back taxes through a new tax amnesty program.

The program, which offers incentives to Pennsylvanians to settle their delinquent tax accounts, is expected to generate as much as $150 million in revenue for the Commonwealth. The program does not “forgive” taxes owed but instead waives penalties, collection and lien fees, and half of the interest owed.

All taxes owed to the Commonwealth administered by the Department of Revenue are eligible for the program. The delinquent taxes must have been owed as of Dec. 31, 2015. Any unpaid taxes, penalties and interest resulting from periods after Dec. 31, 2015, are not eligible for the program.

The amnesty period runs from April 21 to June 19, 2017. More information is available at revenue.pa.gov.
 
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