Pennsylvania lawmakers picked up in January where they left off prior to the holiday season with more nuanced debates over legislative and congressional redistricting. The once-in-a-decade process has historically been a strong matter of debate, but many followers of the issue see this year as particularly contentious.
While House Republicans continue to argue the new maps approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission are strong examples of gerrymandering, their public sparring with Gov. Tom Wolf over the new congressional maps took center stage. Both the House and Senate approved new maps, sending the plans to the governor who has expressed his opposition.
The state Supreme Court has issued a stay on further action by a lower court on disputed Pennsylvania’s congressional maps until it decides whether to weigh in on it.
Given the battle here between parties, it seems more and more likely the congressional maps will depend on the courts for a final decision. This scenario would likely create significant waves in the state’s political circles.
Sticking with the politics, the race for the Republican gubernatorial nod has begun to heat up. January presented folks with the state’s first republican primary debate, and the crowded field of candidates continue to make headlines.
Among the biggest names in the gubernatorial race, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman publicly called on his colleagues in the state House to begin considering impeachment procedures against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. The move sparked some strong debates from folks both for and against Corman’s call. House leaders have not decided if they will move forward with the effort.
In addition to an open seat in the governor’s office, the November 2022 General Election will also bring about significant change in the legislature. Each day, more veteran lawmakers are announcing plans to retire, which will ensure a lot of new faces in Harrisburg next year. That change — coupled with a new administration — will likely add to the already complex environment that exists when debating and negotiating new public policies.
On the legislative action front, revisions to the state’s procurement-centered laws and cybersecurity have been lead issues over the lasts several weeks. The state Senate passed a pair of bills along party lines to focus on state ransomware attacks and the creation of a new office to oversee all state-centered IT matters. Down the hall in the House, a group of bills focusing how the state handles contracts with vendors were primed for consideration.
Gov. Wolf brought out his veto pen again in January, as he officially said “no” to a resolution that would have blocked the state from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) — a pillar of the administration’s environmental and energy policy. The move was not unexpected, but that did not downplay the angst the veto created among lawmakers who oppose RGGI.
The sale of wine and spirits is also again at the center of lawmakers’ debates, as another measure to privatize the state-owned liquor system is up for consideration. House Bill 2272 would initiate a constitutional amendment on the matter, potentially leaving it up to voters as to whether the state should be in the liquor business. To nobody’s surprise, the idea has been a lightning rod for some pretty animated discussions among lawmakers.
With the governor’s budget address only a few short weeks away, many are looking for clues as to what the Wolf administration will prioritize in its final year. And it certainly appears state revenues will be in a good place when the budget is due June 30.
In the latest report from the Department of Revenue, the state is running about $1.5 billion ahead of projections. With reports citing the potential for the state to be sitting on an estimated $13 billion surplus by year’s end, Governor Wolf has been anything but shy about how his administration has factored into the current situation. Republicans in the House have expressed far greater layers of caution on these funds.
All told, this fiscal outlook will undoubtedly make the spring budget negotiations very complex. And those who monitor these negotiations closely believe this could be one of the most unique state budgets in recent memory.