Here's this week's State Capitol Roundup courtesy of state Rep. Bob Mensch, R-147:
Budget Testimony Paints Bleak Economic Picture for State
The first week of budget hearings held by the House Appropriations Committee involved discussions of several notable issues, including the Gaming Control Board, Department. of Transportation, and the administration's economic research firm, Global Insight. Global Insight predicted the state's unemployment rate will continue to increase in Pennsylvania until at least December 2009. Once the national economy begins to turn around, the firm said Pennsylvania's economy will lag behind by approximately 12 to 18 months. These dire economic projections underscore calls by House Republicans to cut spending and re-evaluate programs in the face of a $2.3 billion deficit.
Hearings Provide Few Answers for Gaming Industry Questions
The governor's push to expand gaming in the state by legalizing video poker machines was given a serious look during hearings held by the House Appropriations Committee with the Department of Revenue, Pennsylvania Lottery, Gaming Control Board, State Police and the Attorney General. Unfortunately, none of the agencies that testified were able to answer basic questions about the governor's proposal for video poker machines. None of the testifiers were able to discern a difference between video poker and slot machines. Ed Trees, the director of the Lottery Fund, acknowledged that slots parlors and the proposed gaming expansion plan would have a negative impact on the Lottery Fund.
Lawmaker Unveils Proposal to Establish Budget Timeline, Prevent Furloughs
State Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) has introduced several proposals to streamline the Commonwealth's annual budgeting process. Under the first proposal, the House of Representatives would be required to pass a general appropriations bill by June 1, and the Senate would be required to pass the same bill in some form by June 15. A final product would need to be passed by June 30. In the event of a missed deadline, the pay for legislators of the offending chamber or chambers would be docked. Another proposal would also prevent future furloughs of state employees in the event of a budget impasse. In previous years, the threat of furloughs has largely been used to serve a political purpose by creating pressure to take up initiatives unrelated to the budget.
LIHEAP Still Open to Those Seeking Help with Home Heating Costs
Assistance to individuals struggling with home-heating costs this winter remains available through Pennsylvania's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Eligibility for this year was expanded to 210 percent of the Poverty Income Guideline. As a result, an additional 80,000 residents are eligible to receive help through the cash grant portion of the LIHEAP program. A family of four with an annual income of up to $44,443 can qualify for LIHEAP. LIHEAP, which is funded by the federal government and run by the state Department of Public Welfare, helps low-income households pay their heating bills. For more information, call LIHEAP at 866-857-7095 or visit Rep. Mensch's Web site at RepMensch.com