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Week of March 4, 2019
Department of State Budget Hearing
While I am not a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I participated as chair of the Senate State Government Committee, which has oversight of the Department of State (DOS), as part of its budget hearing. Watch below to see Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar’s responses to my following questions:
- Why did it take the Administration over a year to determine the total estimated cost of replacing every voting machine in every county across the Commonwealth?
- How much has DOS spent to replace voting machines from February 2018 (when they issued their directive to replace all voting machines across PA) to date, and what has been the nature of these expenditures?
- What is the distribution formula DOS plans to use to reimburse counties for costs associated with the replacement of voting machines?
- What has been the counties’ reaction to DOS‘s proposed financing plans?
- Are they comfortable with the proposed $15 million and the five-year funding schedule?
- What are you doing to reduce their concerns?
- We received a letter from the Snyder County Commissioners on DOS‘s plan to ask the certified vendors to provide financing – How many of the certified vendors are providing financing?
- Over how many years and for what percentage?
- Have other counties seen higher costs to finance new voting machines?
- Why isn’t a bond to provide 100% financing over the useful life of the machines a better option for both the counties and the Commonwealth?
2016 Election Lawsuit
- Am I correct that DOS’s agreement with Ms. Stein to settle her lawsuit is considered a “private settlement agreement?”
- How can any state agency enter into a “private settlement agreement”?
- How has DOS, or how are you planning to, cover the costs of this private settlement agreement?
“Robust Pre-Certification Audit”
- Am I correct the Commonwealth has committed to a “robust pre-certification audit” and that DOS has established a group to give advice and recommendations to follow through with such an audit?
- Who are the members of this group and how were they chosen?
- A number of these organizations appear to be groups that lobby for various changes in PA’s election laws, how are they not “special interests”?
- You are involving outside groups but did not invite anyone from the General Assembly – why?
- As you have made a number of references to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s call for paper ballots, other than calling for paper ballots, what specific requirements, guidelines or recommendations has the US Department of Homeland Security issued to the states for paper ballots?
- Experts agree a key to fair, accurate and secure elections is guaranteeing an unbroken, bipartisan chain of custody. Should the Commonwealth move to paper ballots, and what safeguards will DOS work to establish to ensure PA’s ballots will have the guarantee of an unbroken, bipartisan chain of custody?
- In 2017, the Senate State Government Committee held a public hearing on noncitizens possibly registering and possibly actually voting in elections. What actions has DOS taken to ensure noncitizens neither register nor vote?
- Where in your budget have you devoted resources to ensure noncitizens are neither registering to vote nor actually voting in PA elections?
- Where in DOS’s budget are you covering the costs associated with the Governor’s Redistricting Commission, which he established by Executive Order?
Department of General Services Budget Hearing
Also as chair of the Senate State Government Committee, which has oversight over the Department of General Services (DGS), I participated in their Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing. Watch below to see Secretary of General Services Curt Topper’s responses to my following questions:
DGS Proposed Budget Program Measures
- DGS’s proposed budget includes three program measures: generate procurement savings for the Commonwealth; increase participation and opportunities for small diverse businesses and small businesses, and; reduce energy consumption and associated energy costs in state-owned facilities. What kinds of efforts has DGS already accomplished in these areas?
- What challenges have occurred and what future challenges do you anticipate?
- Where in the DGS budget are the expenditures to cover the costs of making purchases for other state agencies?
- Would you be able to give me the costs associated with DOS’s “new IFB/COSTARS Voting Systems and ePollbooks Contract Rebid”?
- What is the history of this procurement – why was it rebid and how many times was it rebid?
- Were there any aspects of the voting machine procurement you found to be interesting, unique or otherwise out of the ordinary? What are your thoughts on the requirements asking vendors to: bid, lease and install versus outright purchases, with lease terms of between 12 and 96 months and for installment or finance purchase plans for pricing of three, five and eight-year plans?
- Given the short shelf life of technology, do you believe 12 to 96 month leases, or three to eight year purchase plans, are realistic?
- When agencies like DOS come to DGS to make purchases on their behalf, how much input, recommendations or control do you have over purchases?
- How much discretion or influence did you have on the purchase of voting machines?
- Is there anything you would have liked to have done differently in retrospect that may have made for a better purchase of voting machines?
DGS’s role in Medical Cannabis Permit Selection
- Last year, I asked if DGS played a role in the selection of permits for medical cannabis grower/processors and dispensaries, and you told me DGS was involved in the selection of these permit holders. Would you walk us through the applications process and the work DGS did in cooperation with the Department of Health to award permits for grower/processors and dispensaries?
- Who established the scoring criteria for rating applications?
- Why was so much emphasis placed upon diversity and “community impact”?
- Would you walk us through the process that was used to determine how applicants received higher scores for diversity and for “community impact”?
- What, if anything, was done to ensure the points awarded for diversity and “community impact” were consistent from region to region?
Real Estate Modernization
- One issue that has come up consistently is real estate modernization, and we both know it’s going to take time. In the interim, is there anything we could accomplish in the near term while we work toward more comprehensive changes?
Column: Sound Familiar?
Which Governor of Pennsylvania addressed the General Assembly with the opening: “this is a historic day”? This Governor went on to add: “for you are receiving the most innovative, long-range financial plan ever presented to a legislative body in the United States.”
“In no other budget, will you find the new approaches we are taking to solve the fiscal crisis of our Commonwealth – a crisis that is faced by every other state and local government across this Nation.”
Labeling his budget as “truth in spending,” the Governor promised: “no longer will we look at programs and their cost from year-to-year, avoiding the realities of the future.”
“This is without a doubt a major step in the ‘truth-in-spending’ plan we began last year for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania – a plan that requires that we show the people the future price tag of programs that are undertaken, together with the necessary revenues to pay for them.
“This financial plan will put an end to unplanned and uncontrolled spending. Now we will have a better comprehension of where we are headed in the financial woods of government.
“We hear citizens complain that they need better highways; better schools, colleges, universities and more financial assistance for their children; better mental hospitals and programs for those of their family afflicted by mental illness; better nursing homes for their aged parents; more welfare assistance for their children; more money for cleaning up the streams for purer water and better fishing; increased assistance to their local governments for better housing, recreation and transportation; expanded industrial development programs to give them better jobs.
“At the same time, when the subject of providing the tax revenues to pay the bill is discussed, these same citizens complain that the price is too high – ‘cut other appropriations but leave mine alone,’ they say.
“We are told that the education systems of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other cities cannot survive without huge new injections of State assistance.
“This is no small problem, ladies and gentlemen of the General Assembly. For many of those who advocate spending more, all too often, fail to support the measures that raise the money to pay the price.”
This same Governor went on to note that the major drivers of the Commonwealth’s budget at that time were education (56%) and health and welfare (23%). The remaining 21% of the state budget went to all other programs and services, including moneys for colleges, hospitals, and pensions and benefit costs for state employees.
That Governor went on to tout the cost reduction and efficiency efforts of his Administration: “we have made some great strides.” Computerization, consolidation of services, and merger of departments and agencies were specific examples he cited.
He then outlined the options to pass a balanced state budget: “cut back, stand pat, or go forward.” The Governor opted for the latter, calling for new revenues. However, while he provided a list of existing Pennsylvania taxes, he made no specific recommendation for which one(s) to increase, and pledged: “I stand ready to work and cooperate with you.” He hoped work on the budget would begin “with dispatch so that we can arrive at an agreement before the end of the fiscal year.”
Other than the budget figures, it appears the rhetoric never changes. The Governor of that era proposed a $1,421,398,000 state budget – an increase of $296,977,000 over the previous year (over 26%). However, the Commonwealth needed $492,593,000 in new revenues to pass a balanced budget that year.
Who was the Governor quoted? Answer: Raymond P. Shafer, January 28, 1969.
48th Spotlight Video Feature: Mount Gretna Theatre
My first 48th Spotlight of 2019 features the Mount Gretna Theatre! I spoke with Brian Kurtas, Executive Producer, at the beautiful and historic Mount Gretna Playhouse. We also visited Movement Laboratory in Lebanon, about taking the arts into schools through touring outreach. Watch below!