The 2021-2022 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly begins on Tuesday, January 5th, with the swearing-in of the members of the House and Senate.
The first month of the new legislative session is the time for the legislature’s reorganization,
A flood of co-sponsor request memos in December from Senators and Representatives indicates that there will be a great deal of legislation introduced early in the new year. Pugliese Associates monitors each of these memos as an advanced look at which issues may be affecting our clients, even before the actual bills are introduced.
Governor Wolf will give his budget address to the General Assembly on February 2nd. In addition to proposing spending levels in the various state agencies, the budget address is traditionally the main opportunity for the Governor to lay out to the General Assembly, and directly to all Pennsylvanians, policy proposals the Governor believes the legislature should enact.
Soon after the budget address, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin a series of hearings on the Governor’s proposed spending. During these hearings in February and March, legislators listen to testimony from state agency officials on the fiscal needs of their agencies. Questions from Appropriations Committee members seek to draw from state agency officials the justification for specific spending requests.
Pugliese Associates expects 2021 to be another fiscally challenging year for the Commonwealth as state tax revenue continues to be dampened by the economic effects of the pandemic. Advocates of various state programs, on the other hand, will be pressing for an increase in program funding as service providers have been seriously affected by the level of funding of many program areas, particularly in the human service area.
The passage in Congress of the latest federal relief legislation will generate discussions inside the Capitol almost as soon as legislators are sworn in, as well as from interest groups across Pennsylvania regarding how the State’s share of that money should be specifically spent. As of this writing, it is unclear as to how much of the federal money will be directed solely by the Wolf Administration, and how much of it will be directed through the enactment of state legislation.
There are other issues that may see early session action. Newly-elected Senate Pro Tempore Jake Corman in December called for the creation of a bipartisan committee of Senators to recommend legislative changes to how Pennsylvania conducts elections, as there has been much concern over the November election process. It is possible that legislation addressing such issues as voting by mail and the time periods for county election offices to conduct elections may move.
Also of note is the expected quick movement of legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to change the way Pennsylvanians elect appellate judges,
The key issue in the first six months of the calendar year will be how PA will need to confront the end of the State’s fiscal year deficit that is anticipated to be in the billions of dollars. It will be interesting to analyze the month of December’s revenue numbers, ie., the level of consumer spending that occurred during the holidays. Regardless of December’s revenue numbers, the Commonwealth will still be financially challenged to deal with a deficit without any new taxes.
While no two legislative sessions are ever alike, Pugliese Associates can confidently state, this upcoming one will in one respect be like all the previous ones. It will start slow and build in the level of activity until we get to a very busy June.