State Government Outlook for 2015
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
HARRISBURG – With lots of change in the state capitol, 2015 will be an interesting year. PLNA takes a look at what we might expect from the new governor and the new leadership in both houses of the General Assembly.
The New Administration
PLNA got good news when it learned that Russell Redding was appointed to head up the transition team at the Department of Agriculture (PDA). Redding is well-known to PLNA and PLNA has worked with him throughout his years as a deputy secretary and secretary at PDA.
By mid-January, Governor-elect Wolf should begin naming his new cabinet secretaries. Whether Redding will continue as PDA secretary is an open question. From PLNA’s perspective, Redding would be an excellent choice for the new PDA secretary. He knows PLNA and, as well, many of our members and is well-versed in our issues.
2015 State Budget
The state budget will set the agenda for Governor Wolf and the General Assembly for the first six months of 2015. The state independent Fiscal Office has projected a $1.85 billion gap between spending and revenues for the 2015-2016 budget. It will be a real test of the new governor’s and the new General Assembly leadership’s ability to work together. There will be time for little else but the budget and surrounding issues until the budget passes. The current state budget expires on June 30, 2015.
This could mean higher taxes. While Wolf has promised to pursue a tax on Marcellus Shale gas extraction, estimates of what such a tax could produce have been dwindling as energy prices have declined and gas production has slowed. The governor and General Assembly could turn to other ways of raising revenue to close the $1.85 billion budget gap, such as an increase in the personal income tax, sales taxes or other tax increases.
Lawn Fertilizer Regulation
PLNA was successful in stopping the federal EPA-backed lawn fertilizer legislation last session. That legislation (SB 1149) was not based on sound science and could even worsen conditions in the Chesapeake Bay. Whether it will be reintroduced in the 2015 legislative session is something that PLNA will be watching closely.
The chief sponsor of the legislation, Senator Michael Brubaker (R-Lancaster), retired at the end of 2014, so EPA will be seeking another sponsor if it wants to see the bill reintroduced. With the Republicans increasing their majority in the Senate to 30 seats to the Democrats 20, the legislative climate is probably even less favorable to the legislation than it was last session.
State Immigration Legislation
The legislative session before last, saw a spate of legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania House dealing with immigration issues. Most of these bills were introduced by Daryl Metcalf (R-Butler), the chairman of the State Government Committee. The thrust of many of these bills was to put businesses in the role of policing and enforcing federal immigration laws, with sanctions if businesses did not fulfill these responsibilities. Fortunately, none of these bills passed.
But with the Obama Administration’s recent series of executive actions to defer deportation of undocumented immigrants and to give them legal work status, these state efforts to control immigration through businesses may make a comeback. PLNA will be keeping a close eye on any legislative activity in this area.
Rewrite of Pennsylvania’s Noxious Weed Law
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) began a rewriting of the Pennsylvania Noxious Weed Law during the last two years. PLNA reviewed and commented on several drafts of the law, making sure that the green industry was represented on the proposed Noxious Weed Committee. For back ground see the August 22, 2014 article in PLNA e-News.
PLNA continues to be concerned about several aspects of the draft law, but last we heard, the draft was under review by the governor’s office. Given the fact that we will have a new governor in a few weeks, this is one of the issues that PLNA is taking up with the Wolf transition team at PDA. If the new administration wants to continue pursuing the new Noxious Weed Law, PLNA will press to see our concerns addressed.
PLNA will continue to look for ways to encourage the use of green infrastructure by state and local governments to improve water quality, reduce storm water runoff and increase groundwater recharge. In a conversation with Governor-elect Wolf’s Policy Secretary-designate John Hanger, PLNA’s government relations consultant Gregg Robertson emphasized the use of green roofs, bio-swales, rain gardens and other green infrastructure as the solution to many of the Commonwealth’s water quality issues. Mr. Hanger agreed.
PLNA is an active member of the Pennsylvania Invasive Species Council (PISC). The Council is comprised of several state agencies and other public members to develop a state-wide approach to the identification and control of non-native invasive species. So far, discussion has not ventured into plants that are economically valuable to the green industry.
PLNA’s position has been that we will follow the science. If the science shows that a plant that is gown and sold by our industry is environmentally harmful, then we will work with regulators to take the steps necessary to protect Pennsylvania’s environment. PLNA has even proposed a draft protocol for scientifically assessing a plants invasive tendencies.
But so far, more immediate invasive threats have taken the time of the Council, such as emerald ash borer, Asian long-horned beetle, feral swine, didymo and many others.
PLNA will continue to be an active and constructive member of the Council, always urging the Council to follow the science.