News & Brews March 25, 2021

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Senate committee advances Taxpayer Protection Act

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday passed the Taxpayer Protection Act (SB286), which is a proposed constitutional amendment that would tie the growth of state spending to the combined rate of inflation and population growth. The vote was party-line, with all Democrats on the committee opposing the measure. As it’s a proposed amendment to the constitution, it must pass the full House and Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions before heading to voters.

Saylor: Schools must reopen to get state funding

Yesterday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor (York County) issued a statement announcing his intent to require schools to reopen for in-person learning in order to continue receiving state funding. Calling out special interests that are fighting to keep schools closed, Saylor said, “We appropriate over $16.6 billion from the state’s General Fund to support PreK-12 and higher education. If school districts, technical schools, community colleges or universities do not open their doors to full-time, in-person instruction, working with my colleagues, I will push to ensure the School Code prohibits them from accessing these dollars.”

Wolf admin hiding info on wasted COVID vaccines

Spotlight PA reports yet another denial by the Wolf administration of a Right-to-Know request, this time for info surrounding vaccine doses that haven’t been used because of damage, expiration, or other reasons. The piece notes that Gov. Wolf “has come under scrutiny for his handling of the vaccine rollout, even among his most ardent Democratic supporters. And while Wolf has long said government transparency was a priority of his tenure, his administration has repeatedly used the Disease Prevention and Control Law, with little explanation, to block the release of records related to its pandemic response.” Spotlight PA plans to appeal the denial.

Editorial: Ballot questions should have clear language

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review Editorial Board joins many others in taking issue with the wording of the upcoming ballot questions regarding emergency disaster declarations. The Ed Board argues that politics should be kept out of the wording and writes, “No one should have to diagram the sentences in the question to figure out exactly what the response should be.” As much as I love diagramming sentences (seriously, I do!), the Trib is right.

Op-Ed: Wolf’s severance tax is bad idea

Commonwealth Foundation Senior Fellow Gordon Tomb has an op-ed in Broad + Liberty explaining why Gov. Wolf’s 10th (and counting) attempt to add a new tax to the state’s natural gas industry is still a terrible idea. Tomb writes, “Despite the governor repeating the talking point that Pennsylvania is the only natural gas producing state without a severance tax, his proposal would be in addition to an existing tax called an impact fee.” And according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the combination of the two would lead to “an effective tax rate north of 12 percent…by far the highest in the nation” 

House & Senate restart process on child sex abuse amendment

The Senate (on Tuesday) and House (yesterday) passed a proposed constitutional amendment to extend the window during which victims of child sex abuse can sue, the first step in getting the amendment before voters after the Department of State botched the last effort. Since the process is starting again, the House and Senate must pass the amendment again next legislative session before it can appear on the ballot.

Spotlight on racehorse subsidies

The Inquirer takes a look at the $3 billion in subsidies Pennsylvania has doled out to the state’s horse racing industry. Against the backdrop of “deaths and drugging” that the piece says are “common” in the racetracks, the story reports that Gov. Wolf has proposed cutting some of these subsidies. (Incidentally, our friends at the Commonwealth Foundation have been calling for an end to these handouts for years.)

Levine confirmed as Assistant Sec’t of Health

Enough members of the U.S Senate approved of former PA Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s oversight of nursing homes to confirm her to the post of Assistant US. Secretary of Health. The vote was 52-48, with Sen. Pat Toomey opposing her nomination and Sen. Bob Casey supporting it.

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