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By Senator John M. DiSanto

 

The General Assembly recently took action to maintain Pennsylvania citizens’ access to federal buildings and prevent the burden of needing a passport to fly within the U.S.

 

Lawmakers came together in a bipartisan fashion and approved compromise legislation to bring the Commonwealth into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this federal law established increased security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibited federal agencies from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that did not meet these standards.

 

Concerned that that federal government sought to regulate what was previously under the domain of the states – driver’s licenses – the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in 2012 to prohibit the Commonwealth from participating in REAL ID.

 

In addition to the issue of states’ rights and the Tenth Amendment, concerns about Pennsylvanians’ privacy rights as part of a nationwide driver license database prompted passage of the REAL ID Nonparticipation Act of 2012.

 

The National Conference of State Legislators estimated that REAL ID implementation costs nationwide could be as much as $11 billion. It is estimated the initial start-up costs to fully implement REAL ID in Pennsylvania would be $141 million, with $39 million in additional, annual operational costs. The federal government provided PennDOT with just $5.4 million in grants to assist with REAL ID requirements—yet another unfunded mandate from Washington D.C.

 

In addition, the federal law complicates the process of obtaining and renewing a driver’s license. Pennsylvanians will be required to visit a PennDOT facility upon their first renewal after REAL ID compliance, and to produce a certified, raised-seal birth certificate and proof of social security number and principal residence. Also, REAL ID requires a person to apply in person for the re-issuance of their driver’s license if he or she has a material change in his or her personally identifiable information (not including a change in address).

 

While these and other concerns were valid, not meeting the federal requirements comes at a cost to citizens. By June 6 of this year, Pennsylvanians would no longer have been able to gain access to secure federal buildings using their driver’s license. And, by January 2018, Pennsylvanians would need a passport to fly on commercial airlines within the U.S. A recent study determined Pennsylvanians would need to spend nearly $1 billion on passports if the state did not comply with REAL ID.

 

The General Assembly needed to prevent these unacceptable burdens from being placed on our citizens. That meant complying with the federal law while maintaining options for residents.

 

Pennsylvania had already taken 33 of the required 38 steps to enhance ID security as required by the REAL ID Act, such as using digital photos, issuance and expiration dates and a unique identification number on driver’s licenses.  Remaining mandates to be met include having a specific federally approved symbol that is designed to make tampering and forgery more difficult, and requiring a certified birth certificate to issue a driver’s license.

 

Meeting the last remaining federal requirements, while protecting Pennsylvania citizens and taxpayers, was the goal of a lengthy legislative process that featured compromise in the Senate and House of Representatives as well as input from PennDOT. The result was Senate Bill 133.

 

The legislation brings Pennsylvania into compliance with REAL ID, with safeguards for citizens.

 

Senate Bill 133 allows Pennsylvania residents to choose between getting a REAL ID-compliant identification card or a non-compliant card. Holders of standard-issued driver licenses will not be asked to subsidize or cover the cost to issue REAL IDs. Instead, the cost of compliance will be borne by those opting for the federally approved ID. PennDOT will also be required to report annually to the General Assembly regarding the cost to the state of REAL ID compliance.

 

Pennsylvania’s approach to REAL ID prohibits state government from compelling any individual to apply for a REAL ID, and it does not allow Pennsylvania to exclusively mandate a REAL ID for any reason. These are important protections to preserve individual choice for our citizens.

 

Without this legislation, Pennsylvania would have soon become one of only five states to remain noncompliant with REAL ID and without an extension.

 

Now that Governor Wolf has signed Senate Bill 133 into law, PennDOT will begin what is expected to be an 18 to 24 month process to fully implement REAL ID. Given Pennsylvania’s new law to enact REAL ID, it is expected the Department of Homeland Security will provide further extensions that will allow Pennsylvanians, with their Pennsylvania driver’s license or photo ID card, to continue flying commercially and visiting federal facilities in the interim.

 

Our Commonwealth should never blindly comply with every regulation handed down by the federal government, especially those that encroach on what is rightfully a state matter, such as driver licensing. By slowing down the process and creating alternatives, Pennsylvania is implementing REAL ID on its terms, not Washington’s.

 

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Senator John DiSanto represents most of Dauphin and all of Perry County. He was first elected in 2016.

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By Robb Hanrahan

It’s budget time in Pennsylvania and the usual questions are popping up. How late will it be? Or, will it be on time? Every year, the state legislature wrestles with how the Commonwealth will spend its money. Cuts are often considered “draconian” to those who like a program and “necessary” to those who don’t.

So every year around this time on my show “Face the State” the idea of zero base budgeting is tossed about. It’s the total opposite of how we currently decide how much and where the money will be spent in Pennsylvania.

The way we do it now

Currently we use incremental budgeting which always begins with the budget from last year. It’s not a bad way to budget and is used in many businesses and governments. The idea is to approach the coming budget year with the current budget’s numbers. If a department or agency needs more money for programs or services, it requests an increase. The increase must be justified. But here’s where many lawmakers have a problem with this practice. If a department doesn’t use all of the money in the previous budget year, they lose it.

It’s this “use it or lose it” philosophy that has many thinking the only way to go is up. More spending, which requires more revenue, which these days often means more taxes. Money isn’t pouring into the Commonwealth at this point. So to keep the budget balanced without an increase, departments and agencies often have to cut spending. That’s hardly a popular thing to do for one running a multi-million-dollar government agency.

So why not start at zero?

To remove the “use it or lose it” mentality, a process known as zero-base budgeting is floating out there. It’s far from new. A guy named Peter Pyhrr wrote an article about Texas Instruments use of it in 1970. Interest grew in its success. Then, Governor Jimmy Carter implemented ZBB into the state of Georgia’s budget. Carter brought it to Washington where it lasted all of four years until President Reagan killed it in 1980.

It’s a simple idea that gets complicated quickly. Zero based budgeting starts at zero. Sounds good, right?  Each department gathers every expense that it will incur during the next year. Every expense. Then they simply budget for that amount. There’s no “bagging” of last year’s budget and asking for more. The simple genius behind it is that there’s no incentive to spend all of the current year’s budget, and it requires proof of every expense needed. Here’s where it gets complicated. That’s a lot of detail. Detail that requires managers, department heads, even mid-level employees to be recording current expenditures and predicting next year’s. Governments that have used it often had to hire and train more people in order to get it up and running. In other words, it needs more work and is often not very popular with employees.

The reason many government agencies abandoned zero-base budgeting was because it requires time and understanding of its complexity. Units in every department have to justify spending, not only to meet minimal expectations but also to include predictions for providing higher levels of service. The analysis has to be handed up through several levels before finalization. In Pennsylvania, that would have to be done every year. Whew. That would include counting every pencil, paper clip and folder, not just major expenses.

Advantage: detail

ZBB is a great way to have a working knowledge of where every cent is being spent. It provides an efficient allocation of money and can improve cost effective spending on services. It also takes away the “entitlement” philosophy of spending the entire current budget.  ZBB can also weed out stale and outdated programs and departments.

Disadvantage: complexity

With Pennsylvania on a yearly budget cycle, implementing zero-base budgeting would require enormous preparation time and increase the cost of preparing the spending plan. Our state government is huge and complex in and of itself. ZBB requires a microscopic examination of everything that needs money. In my opinion it would probably need a year-round department of its own just to gather the information needed to produce a yearly zero-base budget.

So why all the talk about ZBB?

Because we’re looking at a possible $6-billion-dollar budget deficit by the end of next year if we don’t close the current $700 million deficit this year. Lawmakers are looking for money in every corner and ZBB appears to be an answer to wasteful government spending. In a recent appearance on CBS 21’s “Face the State,” House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor talked about performance base budgeting. It’s a sort of hybrid off-shoot of ZBB which requires accountability and measurable objectives. PBB presents its own list of challenges but may be a possible road to explore as we face the state budget challenge every year.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, almost half the states use performance information but differ in when and where the information is used in the budget process. Basically all information is important in the budget process and performance information can provide background on the purposes of state-funded programs and the results they achieve.

Robb Hanrahan is host of CBS 21’s “Face the State.” The show can be seen every Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m.

 

 

 

 

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By Chris Comisac

Well, folks, Pennsylvania is going to get some more “pension reform.”

I know, the House of Representatives has yet to vote on Senate Bill 1, the latest lacking legislation held up by lawmakers as “reform,” but this is happening.

So what does that mean?

As someone recently said to me, with us “accomplishing pension reform,” we can move on to doing pension reform.

The actuarial note analyzing the legislation indicates there will be no pension system savings, and the risk-shifting within SB1 only matters should the systems incur significant investment shortfalls a couple decades from now. Those shortfalls, should they occur two to three decades from now, will still add more debt to our debt-ridden systems, it just won’t be quite as much added debt – the “historic” savings we’re told SB1 would deliver would come at a significant cost.

It’s pretty clear passing anything with the title “pension reform” has become the goal, not passing something that’s worth passing.

I’m reminded of about two years ago, when I wrote a column in which I argued – with regard to both property taxes and public pensions – doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing.

Carefully reviewing the analysis of this session’s version of “pension reform,” it appears as though lawmakers have found a way to do both: look like they’re doing something while doing nothing.

If this is the “politics of the possible,” we have hit another new low in the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

The comparison between current law and SB1 for both the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) shows little-to-no difference regarding the impacts on employer contribution rates, pension funding ratios and the unfunded accrued liability going forward during the next three decades.

So if accomplishing that is the best we can do, then why vote SB1 in the first place?

We’re told by SB1 proponents it’s because the legislation is “transformative,” that it puts the pension systems on the path to future fiscal health because it reduces pension risk for state taxpayers.

It’s not exactly that, but the analysis of SB1 by actuarial firm Milliman notes a future shift in risk (although at least 30 percent of the state government workforce is exempted from this risk shift): “Over time, the bill also reduces future risk exposure because it transfers a portion of retirement benefits to a DC [defined contribution] plan in which the member assumes investment and longevity risks. The provisions of the bill apply only to new members, and the full reduction in risk exposure will be phased-in over several decades as new employees are hired, become vested and ultimately retire.”

But SB1 still maintains a defined benefit plan that is subject to the political and financial winds that blew up PSERS’ and SERS’ unfunded liability to a combined $76 billion. So while exposing state taxpayers to slightly less risk, there’s still plenty of risk for which current and future Pennsylvanians will be financially responsible (not to mention the $76 billion, and growing, debt already on the books).

It’s true that state taxpayers would continue to be exposed to risk even if the current defined benefit plans were closed, and even if they were fully funded today (they’re obviously not).

Because of the way defined benefit plans work (even after they’re closed), underfunding can occur if the systems’ investment returns come up short, the systems fail to meet the other assumptions built into the costs of the defined benefit plans or lawmakers decide they don’t wish to pay the contributions they need to pay. We’ve seen all three happen in Pennsylvania annually during the better part of the last two decades.

None of that occurs with a defined contribution plan.

So if the risk of a DB plan falling short is the top concern as we’re told by SB1 proponents, why choose a less-than-half-measure like Senate Bill 1 that continues the DB plan, albeit a slightly smaller DB plan?

If the upfront costs of SB1 – and there are greater costs associated with the bill’s changes (including the yet-to-be-discussed roughly $50 million cost to the pension systems to implement the incredibly complex three-tiered benefit plan proposal) – are worth the potential of only partial risk shifting in 20 to 30 years, then why not do the whole enchilada?

Pull the Band-Aid off in one quick rip, instead of what amounts to a slow, painful, centimeter-by-centimeter removal – with all of that pain borne and endured by Pennsylvania taxpayers – that doesn’t end up removing the Band-Aid; in Michigan (where their pension problems are smaller than ours), that state’s failed hybrid pension plan was recently referred to as “a Band-Aid on a bullet wound” by one of that state’s lawmakers.

Just put every new employee – no exemptions – into a standalone DC plan.

I know, I know – “We can’t get the votes for that” is the refrain from some legislative leaders who, if given their druthers, would drop SB1 in a second for something that accomplishes a real change, even if that change also comes two to three decades down the road.

In addition to making needed funding reforms – such as shorter amortization periods for both DB plans, as recommended by the actuary that produced the SB1 analysis – to reduce the risk of an underfunded DB plan, a standalone DC plan for everyone would eventually simplify the retirement systems as well as completely eliminate the risk borne by taxpayers, once the only active plan for SERS and PSERS is the DC plan (which would take several decades to occur).

That would be good public policy.

Obviously it’s important to get the votes to send legislation to a governor that’s willing to sign it, but when did that become the definition of good public policy?

If you’re willing to make no impact on employer contributions or the unfunded liability during the next two decades anyway – which describes SB1 – then why not keep pushing a few more years for legislation that puts SB1 to shame on risk transfer?

Sometimes you have to try – and, yes, fail once in a while – to accomplish your goals. Legislative Republicans would do well to remember the Fiscal Year 2015-16 state budget, if they’ve forgotten that lesson, or maybe Act 120 of 2010, the last “pension reform” which was supposed to fix the things lawmakers are once again trying to fix (and the current “fix” doesn’t look much different, actuarially speaking, than Act 120).

There’s been a lot of failure to accomplish the goal of pension reform the last several years – as evidenced by the continued growth of the pension systems’ unfunded liability – but most of those failures involved bills that were better (some only marginally so) than SB1.

Adopting SB1 would simply be another failure a future General Assembly will have to address.

Chris Comisac is Capitolwire Bureau Chief.

 

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The power of the state attorney general to tackle public corruption would be greatly expanded under a legislative proposal stemming from a state investigation into the large public debt racked up through financing deals at Harrisburg’s trash incinerator.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers plan to introduce a bill giving the attorney general authority to investigate and prosecute county, city, and municipal officials and employees for public corruption. Under current law, the attorney general can only prosecute public corruption cases of state officials and employees under certain circumstances. This occurs when county district attorneys refer a case because they have a conflict of interest or lack adequate resources to pursue it.

A state grand jury issued a report last month wrapping up a state investigation of incinerator deals that led up to $300 million in debt during the tenure of former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed. The investigation was launched followed a referral from Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico.

The grand jury recommended no criminal charges in the incinerator case citing a statute of limitations that expired in 2015. However, the grand jury made recommendations to change state laws to help protect municipal taxpayers from excessive debt in the future. These include expanding the attorney general’s prosecuting power to include local officials and extending the statute of limitations to cover wrongdoing discovered after an official leaves office.

The referral system often causes “undesirable delay” in pursuing criminal charges, the grand jury said.

The grand jury report gave momentum to senators who have pushed to enact stronger municipal debt laws since 2013 in response to the incinerator controversy. They have now gained allies in the House who plan to introduce companion bills.

Under the powers bill, the attorney general could prosecute local officials when state laws are violated, said Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, the sponsor. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction to prosecute local officials for violations of federal laws in such areas as mail fraud and bribery and extortion.

The legislation to expand the attorney general’s power comes after the elective office weathered a series of controversies leading to the conviction of former Attorney General Kathleen Kane for leaking grand jury information to a reporter and lying about it to another grand jury and her resignation from office last summer.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said this week he strongly supports having the additional prosecuting authority. He also noted he’s seeking a $500,000 increase to strengthen the office’s Public Corruption Unit in the fiscal 2017-18 state budget.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, said he would take a close look at what he described as giving the attorney general “super power” to investigate local officials.

The attorney general’s office would need a larger budget if that power was granted, said Harrisburg attorney Water Cohen, a one-time acting attorney general.

“The question here is whether the General Assembly, if it expands the jurisdiction of the OAG, will give the office the necessary resources to actually conduct such additional investigations and prosecutions, which can be very complicated and time-consuming,” wrote Cohen.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association will probably take a position on the legislation.

 

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By Tony May

 

Give Pennsylvania state government some credit.  It has put the Commonwealth on the cutting edge in recent years of some important trends that have slowed the slow slide into Rust Belt decay.

The state authorized casino gaming which has created thousands of new jobs and generated billions in state revenue.  It aided and abetted the birth and growth of the “tight gas” industry making Pennsylvania one of the largest producers of natural gas in the nation.  It countered the national anti-tax trend and authorized an overhaul of the state’s funding strategy for transportation funding.  In a time when Congress has failed in its responsibilities to write a new national transportation policy and fund it, Pennsylvania has turned the corner on replacing and upgrading obsolete bridges and restoring and expanding highways.  And it about to join the growing number of states legalizing cannabis to heal the sick, create jobs and add needed state tax revenues.

Yet Pennsylvania still lags behind other states in population growth, average and median family income, economic development and other vital signs of a thriving economy. So what one, single thing can the General Assembly and the Governor do to get ahead of the curve and increase the rate of economic growth and restore actual population growth to keep Pennsylvania competitive among the states?

The answer is: be more like California – the good aspects of California.  The “Golden State” is unafraid to see itself as an outlier, a trend-setter and innovator.  Pennsylvania is more inclined to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb.  It doesn’t mean that we need threaten to secede from the union, ala California Gov. Jerry Brown.  It means that we need to work harder to chart our own future independent of the largesse of the federal government – something that looks like it might go the way of the dodo bird anyway.

A good place to start would be to evaluate Pennsylvania’s unused capacity and find ways to increase utilization on existing resources.  One of the reasons Pennsylvania faces bitter annual state budget fights is because the decay of our existing economic engine is throwing off less and less cash.  The first factor to address here is population stagnation.

Outside of a few key, mostly suburban counties, Pennsylvania’s population is not growing.  While an increasing population would add to demand for services, it is likely that new residents would generate more in economic demand than they would consume in state and local services.  This would be true even of immigrants from war torn countries.

Another sector that is under-utilized is higher education, particularly our state-owned universities.  Attracting out-pf-state students (perhaps even international students) would help our state-owned schools operate more efficiently.  Because they are operating, for the most part, under capacity, increasing the number of higher-revenue non-resident students would not be denying access to qualified in-state students.  The bottom line would be an economic boost in 14 Pennsylvania non-urban communities.

Third on the list would be a state approach to increase demand for home ownership aimed primarily at third class cities and boroughs.  Pennsylvania’s towns and cities are being hollowed out.  The state should investigate strategies to attract new residents to small  towns where thousands of dwellings stand vacant and decaying.

The best part is that most Pennsylvanians would relish the challenge.  Every Pennsylvania community has local pride; it would be easy to transfer that enthusiasm to support for a state growth effort.

 

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With a Friday court deadline providing a catalyst, lawmakers in the House and Senate are moving to tackle long-debated gambling issues including the reinstatement of a local share assessment on casino slot machine revenue.

Bipartisan votes by the House Gaming Oversight Committee approved two separate bills May 21 to reinstate the local share.

The bills – House Bill 1342 and House Bill 1301– would require that Category 1 and Category 2 casinos pay an annual fee of $10 million to host municipalities and a payment of 2 percent to the host county.

But they differ in how the local share revenue for some casinos would be distributed.

The Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee has scheduled an off-the-floor meeting Tuesday on House Bill 271, a House-approved airport tablet gambling bill seen as a vehicle for gambling expansion legislation.

Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, the committee chairman, said he is preparing to amend the bill with provisions to expand legalized gambling and reinstate the local share. The amendment is expected to address the legalization of internet gambling and fantasy sports betting.

Drew Crompton, chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said the Senate plans to send a gambling bill to the House this week.

With the June 30 budget deadline to pass a fiscal 2017-18 state budget just weeks away, lawmakers are under pressure to fill a revenue hole in the current state budget. The budget is based on the assumption that new gambling will generate $100 million for state coffers.

The state Supreme Court has given lawmakers until Friday to pass a new local share assessment that meets constitutional muster.

The court declared the assessment unconstitutional last fall on grounds that it wasn’t levied uniformly on casinos. The court said a provision in the 2004 gambling law requiring casinos to pay a 2-percent tax or 10 million, whichever is higher, to host municipalities created a variable

The May 26 deadline is the second set by the court since last fall’s court order.

“I think it was important for [committee] members to have a vote on the local share before the court deadline,” said Gaming Oversight Chairman Scott Petri, R-Bucks. “I don’t think the court is going to give us another deadline.”

Committee members voted the interests of their own districts on several amendments to change the existing distribution of local share money, said Petri.

The committee rejected amendments to give part of Hollywood Casino’s local share assessment that goes to Dauphin County to Lebanon County and to give a portion of each casino’s local share assessment to a state-run volunteer fire company grant program.

 

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*College is expensive, and the costs continue to rise. For the 2016–17 academic year, the average cost of in-state tuition, fees, and room and board at a public university is $20,090. At a private school, the average cost is more than double at $45,370.1

Fortunately, the federal government offers tax benefits that can help ease the financial strain. These tax provisions apply to tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance, but not for room and board expenses. You cannot take more than one education tax benefit for the same expense or for the same student during a tax year.

Qualified expenses may be paid by the parents, the student, or even a third party. In order for parents to claim the expenses on their federal tax return, the student must be claimed as an eligible dependent. If the student is not claimed as an eligible dependent on anyone else’s return, the student may claim the expenses. A credit reduces your tax liability dollar for dollar, whereas a deduction only reduces your taxable income.

Education Credits and Deductions

 

American Opportunity Tax Credit — a maximum annual credit of $2,500 for each eligible student’s first four years of undergraduate education. It is calculated as 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified expenses plus up to 25% of the next $2,000 of such expenses. In addition to tuition and fees, the credit may be applied toward expenses for books, supplies, and equipment required for attendance. The student must be pursuing a degree and enrolled at least half-time for one academic period during the tax year. If the credit reduces tax liability to zero, up to 40% of the credit ($1,000) is refundable.

Lifetime Learning Credit — a nonrefundable credit limited to $2,000 per year (20% of the first $10,000 of qualified tuition and fees), per tax return, even if you have multiple students in the household. It applies to all years of post-secondary education, so the credit can be used for graduate school or for undergraduate education after the student uses all four years of the American Opportunity Tax Credit. It also applies to job-development courses even if the student is not pursuing a degree.

Tuition and Fees Deduction — an “above-the-line” tax deduction of up to $4,000 for qualified tuition and fees (scheduled to expire at the end of 2016 unless Congress takes action). The deduction is typically used for a student who is not eligible for an education tax credit.

Determining Qualified Expenses

If you paid tuition and fees during a tax year, you should receive Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, by January 31 of the following year. Generally, you must reduce the amount of qualified expenses shown as paid or billed on the form by the amount of tax-free educational assistance, such as grants or scholarships. However, if scholarships or grants are reported as income on the student’s return and the funds may be used for nonqualified expenses (such as room and board), they do not have to be subtracted from qualified expenses on the parents’ return.

Education credits and deductions are subject to income limits (see chart). If you have questions about the appropriate treatment of educational expenses on your return, be sure to seek advice from a tax professional.

  • College Board, 2016

Happy Investing!

Scott C. Weaver

 

The information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. Copyright 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC.

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By W. Russell McDaid

Our elected officials are tasked with crafting a fair and responsible budget amid difficult circumstances and we are pleased they provided some much-needed assistance to Pennsylvania’s skilled nursing facilities through the access add-on payments for high Medicaid facilities this year.

However, we caution that Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program still does not come close to covering the real cost of care. Nursing facilities received flat funding in this year’s budget, which leaves Pennsylvania’s frailest and sickest residents, such as those with advanced dementia or severe chronic health conditions that require around-the-clock care in skilled nursing facilities, vulnerable.

The funding shortfall in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program is the single biggest challenge facing Pennsylvania’s nursing homes and long-term care providers as the commonwealth works to ensure high-quality, person-centered care for a rapidly aging population.

For a decade, facilities have been asked to do more with less. Skilled nursing facilities still cannot invest in necessary capital improvements or advanced technology that would enhance care, nor can they pay competitive wages that would increase staff retention, which is so vital to high-quality care.

Without adequate funding moving forward, some facilities may have to turn away seniors on Medicaid because they cannot afford their care, creating access to care issues in parts of the state.

In addition to adequate funding for skilled nursing facilities, PHCA has strongly advocated for meaningful tort reform legislation, which would help ease the burden that predatory out-of-state law firms place on our sector’s facilities, staff and residents. Senate Bill 747, which would cap punitive damages at 250% of the amount of compensatory damages for long-term care providers, received bipartisan support in the Senate and now awaits a vote in the House of Representatives.

It is critical that Senate Bill 747 be brought up for a vote in the House when the chamber returns in September. When passed, this important piece of legislation will take our scarce Medicaid dollars back from predatory out-of-state lawyers and keep them here in Pennsylvania paying for quality care where they belong.

Senate Bill 747 is essential to the long-term viability of Pennsylvania’s nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living residences and needs to be passed in the House and earn the Governor’s support to become law this fall.

We plan to continue working with the Wolf Administration and the General Assembly to make the needs of seniors a priority by ensuring our sickest, frailest Pennsylvania residents have access to the services they need to live a healthy, safe, high-quality life with the dignity and respect they deserve.

  1. Russell McDaid is President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

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chef bill

Bricco, one of Harrisburg’s most popular restaurants, has joined forces with Catering from Ciao! Bakery to create a new, enhanced catering service offering more choices for area businesses to order for in-office breakfast, lunch and meetings.

Operating out of Ciao! Bakery, just around the corner from Bricco, at 304 Chestnut Street, all items on Bricco-Ciao!’s menu are made from scratch each day.

“Everything is made fresh and homemade,” says Bill Collier, Bricco’s executive chef and general manager.

“These days, more people are pressed for time, more people are choosing to eat lunch at their desks, and fewer people are able to spend a full hour, enjoying a leisurely lunch,” said Bill Collier, Bricco’s executive chef and general manager. “We are simply recognizing the shifting habits of the downtown business community and maximizing our service by bringing a higher level of quality and service to lunches and meetings at the workplace.”

The Bricco-Ciao! Catering menu will feature a blend of Ciao! Bakery’s most popular sandwiches, as well as legendary offerings from Bricco’s nearly 10 years as one of Harrisburg’s premier lunch destinations. Included on the Bricco-Ciao! Catering menu are Bricco’s signature salads, its sage pappardelle, with braised duck and pancetta, and its Kennett Square mushroom pizza with caramelized onions, as well as other popular dishes and sandwiches.

table bricco-71

Bricco-Ciao! also offers a breakfast menu that includes assorted pastries, fresh fruit bowls, yogurt with fresh berries, and house made granola, coffee, and juice.

Whether it’s an informal lunch for the office staff, or a formal mid-afternoon conference or meeting, Bricco-Ciao! Catering can create a catered lunch to suit group needs. Among the offerings are buffet-style spreads and build-your-own sandwich boards. Bricco-Caio! Catering will also offer pasta salads, garden salads, a soup of the day, and a selection of cheese, fruit and antipasti.

Chef Collier is committed to choosing only the freshest local ingredients when creating the menu, which changes seasonally to reflect the finest of Pennsylvania agriculture as evidenced by a recent catered lunch for a select group of Pennsylvania House of Representatives leaders.

Held in Rep. Peter J. Daley’s office on Dec. 8 at 12 noon, guests were treated to an assortment of fresh sandwiches, garden salads with a choice of pear vinaigrette or parmesan and roasted garlic dressing, tomato basil soup with focaccia, creamy local vegetable risotto with shaved pecorino Romano and fresh herbs, vegetable platter with roasted red peppers, assorted olives, and beets with an assortment of cookies, brownies and other sweets.

“Bricco-Ciao!’s presentation was truly spectacular in quality, flavor and quantity. I give it two taste buds up,” says Daley.

“In addition to outstanding sandwiches, Ciao! Bakery offers European-style artisan breads and pastries and an artisan design cakes. It is considered to be one of the best bakeries in the Harrisburg area,” says Collier.

Orders for Bricco-Ciao! Catering are for groups of 10 or more and must be placed prior to 4 p.m. on the previous business day by calling either 724-0236 or 724-0222.

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