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Change is Gonna Come…

Harrisburg is primed for the Inauguration of Pennsylvania’s 47th Governor, Tom Wolf, the start of the real 2015 legislative session and the beginning of the Wolf Administration. Inaugural activities will take front and center stage next Tuesday, January 20, starting with the swearing in of Lt. Governor Mike Stack in the Senate chamber at 10 a.m., and then proceeding with Governor Wolf’s inaugural ceremony. The Governor and his wife will greet the public at the Governor’s residence from 3-4:30, and then Tuesday evening, the festivities come to a conclusion with a “Let’s Get Started” Inaugural Celebration at the Hershey Lodge. Tickets are available on line here.

After Tuesday, the new Governor will be looking to fulfill his agenda and state government will be seeking solutions to the state’s estimated $1.85 billion deficit.

Wolf Transition

The Wolf team has announced his picks for his top staff in the Office of the Governor, and most of the cabinet. Almost immediately after the election, Wolf named Katie McGinty to be his Chief of Staff. Since then, he has named John Hanger, former DEP Secretary as his Secretary of Policy and Planning; Mary Isenhower, former Executive Director of the State Democratic Party and a senior campaign strategist as Secretary of Legislative Affairs; Obra S. Kernodle Jr. as Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of Public Liaison; Denise Smyler, a Philadelphia attorney as General Counsel; Randy Albright, who has been Executive Director of the Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee was tapped as Secretary of the Budget; and yesterday, he named Sharon Minnich, who served as Deputy Secretary of the Budget and General Services in the Rendell Administration as Secretary of Administration.

Among the notable cabinet secretaries named are Russell Redding as Secretary of Agriculture, John Quigley as Secretary of Environmental Protection and Cindy Adams Dunn as Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources. Dennis Davin was named as Secretary of Community and Economic Development, and Linda Richards was named Wednesday as Secretary of Transportation. Current Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch will become a special assistant to the Governor to help oversee implementation of Act 89’s infrastructure spending plans. Most of the Governor’s nominees are subject to confirmation by the State Senate.

Biographies of the full slate of cabinet appointees are available online here.

General Assembly

Senator Joe Scarnati was re-elected President Pro Tempore in the Senate, and Rep. Mike Turzai was elected Speaker of the House on January 6.  Since that day, the House and Senate caucuses have announced their leadership and Committee chairs for the 2015-2016 session, and a list of those chairs is available online here.

Speaker Turzai said this week that he sees meeting the budget shortfall as reasonable, noting revenues are coming in above predictions, sales of the liquor system could generate $1 billion up front, and serious pension reform would also help meet that continuing issue along with reductions in spending in non-mandated programs. Turzai said he expected the House to again pass legislation to sell off the state liquor wholesale and retail operations, noting he thought the vote would be bipartisan and have at least 120 members in support.

Of other note in the House of Representatives, the Transportation Committee has two new chairs in Majority Chair John Taylor (R, Philadelphia) and Democratic Chair Bill Keller (D, Philadelphia.)

Environmental Resources and Energy

Rep. John Maher (R, Allegheny) has become the new chairman of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Rep. Greg Vitali of Delaware County remains the Democratic chair of that committee.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R, Lycoming) was reappointed as Chairman of the PA Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Sen. John Yudichak (D, Luzerne) returns as Democratic chair.

Yaw said “The committee will continue working to address legislation, policies and issues dealing with Pennsylvania’s natural resources, including regulations, conservation, strategic reserves and standards; public lands and their renewable resources; surface mining, coal, oil, and gas, and mineral leasing; air and water resources.”

During the 2013-14 legislative session, the Senate committee examined several important issues including:  the questionable deduction of natural gas royalty payments by specific gas companies, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed clean energy policy, and flood mitigation and storm water management, to name a few.  The committee also reported out 30 pieces of legislation, 13 of which were signed by Governor Tom Corbett.

Yaw said the Committee will again pursue legislative measures to expand natural gas service for un-served and under-served areas of Pennsylvania, in addition to other important initiatives.

Vitali said he plans to introduce five bills to help protect the environment. The bills would:

  • Require electric distribution companies, such as PECO and PPL, to buy more of their power from wind, solar and other clean energy sources.

  • Require rents and royalties from oil and gas leases on commonwealth-owned land to be used exclusively for conservation, recreation, dams or flood control projects.

  • Provide $25 million per year to the now-defunct PA Sunshine Solar Program. The solar program has provided rebates to homeowners and small businesses that install solar systems.

  • Impose a moratorium on additional leasing of state lands for natural gas drilling, exploration or production.

  • Encourage electric and natural gas distribution utilities to implement energy efficiency and conservation plans.