News & Brews January 25, 2024

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All is not well with Pa.’s budget 

The Center Square reports on a Commonwealth Foundation (CF) budget preview which “predicted that state overspending has created a structural deficit….” Per CF Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield, “There’s a $1.1 billion deficit this year…worse yet is the outlook in the future. If we don’t right the ship by 2026, it will require tax hikes with current spending growth.” CF Director of Policy Analysis Elizabeth Stelle noted Medicaid spending is a major cause of the deficit. “Over the next five years, she noted, state revenues are expected to grow by about 12%, but medical assistance is expected to grow by 20% and spending on long-term living by 34%. ‘We have a major issue when we have a program growing three times as fast as revenue in the next five years,’ Stelle said. ‘That is also politically very challenging because we have made a commitment to our senior citizens in this program.’”

Counties’ wish list includes higher phone tax, mail-in voting changes

In the current budget, lawmakers increased the monthly phone tax by 30 cents (to $1.95) to give more funding for 911 centers. County officials argue this isn’t enough, as they had wanted the surcharge to increase to $2.30. They were back in Harrisburg yesterday pushing for another increase. Also on their wish list are changes to mail-in voting “to allow election workers more time to prepare mailed ballots for tabulation, which they say would help assure more timely election results” and “to move the deadline for applying for a mail-in ballot back to 15 days before an election, instead of the current seven, to allow ample time for voters to request a ballot and return it to the county by 8 p.m. on Election Day so it can be counted.”

Critical info may have been lost in data deletion

Earlier this week, I shared the story of the accidental deletion of thousands of government records. At that time, state agencies seemed to minimize the impact of the data loss. Now, Spotlight PA reports, “A Pennsylvania State Police official has told law enforcement agencies that some crime lab records inadvertently deleted from a server by the Shapiro administration ‘will no longer be accessible.’” And, “Affected records may include information about how evidence was handled once it reached the lab — known in law enforcement circles as the ‘chain of custody’ — as well as communication logs and digital images.” As has become typical with this administration, “Shapiro’s office has been silent on the matter….”

Op-Ed: Educational choice in Pa. ‘reignites hope’

Republican Rep. Josh Kail (Beaver and Washington counties) has an op-ed in the Post-Gazette highlighting the impact of Pennsylvania’s two tax credit scholarship programs: the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). “These initiatives are vital lifelines,” he writes, “supporting low-income families and those in the middle-income bracket who live just above assistance thresholds but struggle to afford childcare.” Yet, “While 77,640 K-12 scholarships were awarded during the 2021-22 school year, more than 63,000 student scholarship applications went unfunded due to the arbitrary program cap. Thankfully, last month, the governor signed into law an additional $150 million investment in … [these programs], unlocking educational choice for more families and opportunities for more children across our Commonwealth.”

85 Pa. car dealerships join call to ‘tab brakes’ on EVs

Broad and Liberty reports that 85 car dealerships from Pennsylvania are among several thousand nationwide that “recently signed a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to ‘tap the brakes’ on his proposed electric vehicle mandate based on a lack of consumer demand.” The letter reads in part, “The reality … is that electric vehicle demand today is not keeping up with the large influx of BEVs [battery electric vehicles] arriving at our dealerships prompted by the current regulations…. Last year, there was a lot of hope and hype about EVs…. But that enthusiasm has stalled. Today, the supply of unsold BEVs is surging, as they are not selling nearly as fast as they are arriving at our dealerships — even with deep price cuts, manufacturer incentives, and generous government incentives.” I think this belongs on’s “Great moments in unintended consequences” series.

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