Friday Happy Hour: Surly Reptile Edition

Gator 7.19.19Hot enough for you? Look at the bright side – it’ll make that cold Happy Hour beverage taste that much better, clear through the weekend! And in the event you’re clueless about how to stay cool, please accept these helpful tips from accredited medical professionals.

Or, you could do what our governor and his lieutenant did this week, stopping in at Midtown Harrisburg’s Urban Churn ice cream shop for a couple of chocolate cones. It’s part of something called the “Pursue Your Scoops” passport program, which encourages people to try ice cream from 32 of Pennsylvania’s creameries. Chill out, eat yummy, locally sourced ice cream and support the state’s dairy industry? Sounds like a win-win-win to us.

About 300 PA GOP committee members gathered in Hershey to elect Philadelphia lawyer Lawrence Tabas as committee chair. Bernadette “Bernie” Comfort, the other candidate for the post, will continue in her role as vice chair and work closely with Tabas as part of the deal that averts a GOP family fight that could have hurt President Trump’s re-election effort.

At least seven state legislators became restaurant servers for an hour to call attention to a push to increase the minimum wage. The state minimum wage has remained at $7.25 per hour for a decade, and the tipped minimum wage – the wage that applies to restaurant workers – has been $2.83 per hour for 30 years. The seven are Senators Vince Hughes and Art Haywood and Representatives Jordan Harris, Joanna McClinton, Stephen Kinsey, Chris Rabb and Summer Lee.

In Washington, the U.S. House passed a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. It appears to have about as good a chance in the Senate as a Popsicle in hell.

And Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had a bit of an oopsie moment when a rift surfaced with some staff members over the fact that they are paid less than the $15 per hour rate championed by the candidate.

While the minimum wage issue has a tough road ahead, workers in Pittsburgh got a boost when the PA Supreme Court upheld an ordinance requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. The Paid Sick Days Act, passed in 2015, requires employers to offer employees one hour of sick leave for every 35 hours worked.

Also in the Steel City, Mayor Bill Peduto confirmed on Twitter that he plans to seek a third term. The former City Council member has made no secret of his intention to seek a third mayoral term before hanging up his cleats.

SEIU Local 668, which represents about 10,000 Commonwealth employees, ratified a four-year contract that will boost wages nearly 18 percent. It leaves 13 smaller bargaining units with contracts that expired June 30, who remain in negotiations.

It turns out that closing down the Three Mile Island nuclear plant isn’t as simple as winterizing the ol’ summer beach cottage. Reports this week said it would take some 60 years and a billion dollars to complete the task.

This week’s Groundhog Day moment was spurred by the Turnpike Commission announcing that it will hike tolls by 6% early next year, causing a deluge of at least a million Google news alerts and at least a thousand negative motorist reaction stories. We can look forward to repeating the cycle through 2044.

We’ll concede that Kentucky pretty much perfected whiskey, but its birthplace was actually our very own Commonwealth. So asserts the Whiskey Rebellion Trail, which invites you to regional tours of craft distilleries and other accoutrements in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington.

Governor Wolf held a ceremonial signing event for six bills that will expand protections and support for crime victims. He was joined by Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm, legislators and advocates.

Our Shameless Client Plug props this week go to Associated PA Constructors’ Bob Latham, who explains that while Pennsylvania may have the highest gasoline taxes in the country, more than one-fifth of the gas-tax revenue collected – amounting to the equivalent of 12 cents per gallon – is spent on things other than highways. To view the entire segment on Pennsylvania Newsmakers, click here.

In our We Can’t Make This Up section, police in Tennessee are freaking out – and we don’t blame them – over the prospect of wildlife ingesting illegal substances that drug dealers flush down the toilet when authorities are kicking down the door. One police department posted a picture on Facebook of methamphetamine that a miscreant was trying to flush as a recent bust went down. Just imagine how surly a meth-gator would be. Or even worse, a crack-o-dile.

And that’s what passes for news around here, hot off the presses! Very hot. We’ll be back next week with more of the news, commentary, client plugs and shameless puns you’ve come to expect. Until then, stay classy and stay cool!


Making a difference the Triad way

By Todd Brysiak

I’m the proud parent of a cancer survivor. In June 2016, my then 8-year-old daughter began her battle with leukemia. Almost immediately, my wife and I learned the likelihood of our daughter attending school that fall was slim. Her immune system was going to be so compromised from the cancer treatment that entering a classroom with her friends was going to be a serious health risk.

Her education became one of many immediate problems we needed to consider. We were frustrated and concerned. But then we learned about telepresence education technology.

Ok, I get it. Most reading this are now likely asking, “what the heck is telepresence education?” And to be fair, I probably would be too if I didn’t know the issue intimately. It didn’t exactly grab major headlines, but here’s a quick breakdown for those who are wondering.

Telepresence education is new technology that allows home-bound students – those unable to attend school – the opportunity to continue their full-time education while battling serious medical conditions. Simply put, it’s a robot in the classroom that takes the place of the student – think of an iPad attached to a Segway. They access the device from their own iPad or laptop and manage the robot’s motions all while having a real-time video connection with their friends and teachers. They can ask questions and interact like any other student, but from various places outside the classroom.

Thankfully, our local intermediate unit already had access and a plan to help us use a telepresence robot. Our daughter may Dock-with-doublenot have been able to attend the 3rd grade in-person, but she wasn’t going to miss it either.

Every day, for almost an entire school year, she logged on to her iPad and participated in school like any other student – some days from her bedroom others from her hospital bed during chemo treatments. It was an absolute game changer, and it brought elements of calm to what was then a world of daily chaos.

Now, I’m not naive. I know we were lucky. Not all communities have this technology as an option, which is exactly why the movement and enactment of the Keystone Telepresence Education Grant program is so important. Parents of home-bound children face monumental challenges and worries each day. How to educate their children shouldn’t be one of them.

As you can imagine, this technology isn’t cheap. Nothing of significance is these days. But thanks to the action on Senate Bill 144 (Act 18), the state will now provide up to $300,000 in annual grants to intermediate units so they can secure this technology for local schools and students in the community.

Amid the annual budget-related teeth-gnashing that occurs in the final days of June, lawmakers tossed aside partisan differences and joined in complete unanimity to support an issue that will have a major impact on some Pennsylvania families. Yep, we’re talking zero opposition. Not a single “no” vote.

Team Triad regularly meets to discuss emerging issues and opportunities for our clients or potential clients.  There was instant consensus, last year.  We would pursue this initiative, not because it was financially rewarding, but because it was great public policy, could be an amazing asset for families facing life-changing challenges, and it was important to me. Everyone knew this was worth every bit of the effort needed to help drive it home.  

To give you a sense of how forward-thinking this effort is, Pennsylvania is now only the second known state in the nation with such a program. Maryland was the first to do so last year after the family of a young girl, named Peyton Walton, lobbied to create a telepresence program to support other home-bound kids after seeing how it benefited Peyton during her treatment for cancer.

We, here at Triad, were proud to play a part in helping see the Pennsylvania program cross the finish line last month. On behalf of Double Robotics – a manufacturer of telepresence technology – our team was involved in the development of this program and worked closely with legislative advocates. And while our Triad team always fights to win for our clients, this effort obviously carried with it a very personal connection.

A lot of folks deserve credit for this success – most far more than me. It’s easy for me to say it’s important; I lived it. But to see so many lawmakers take such a personal interest in a new and unique idea and push for it to come together in less than a year was both impressive and gratifying. More importantly, it helped bring about a change that really will make a difference in the lives of a lot of very special kids.

I admit, when the advocacy opportunity on this issue arose, I was tentative. I initially felt it was a little too close to home. But when considering the potential impact on kids who didn’t have access to the technology my daughter had, it just made sense to do it. And seeing the result, I’m glad I did.


2019-2020 Budget Successes

Triad logo

Following a hectic budget season, our team here at Triad believes it’s important to highlight some of the “wins” we helped secure on behalf of our clients. Each budget season comes with its own unique set of challenges, and this year was no different. But through the negotiations and compromises, we were able to help bring several key issues across the finish line. Here’s a breakdown of our clients’ 2019-2020 budget wins:

  • Expansion of the Qualified Manufacturing Innovation and Reinvestment Deduction (QMIRD) tax credit, which encourages investments and job creation efforts for manufacturers with a capital investment of at least $100 million in Pennsylvania. 
  • Continued long-term funding to support reduced-fee AP exams for underprivileged students. This will contribute to the overall effort of creating greater access to higher education opportunities, regardless of a family’s economic status.
  • The Keystone Telepresence Education Grant program, which was signed into law along with the budget. This new program will provide access to education for children who, for medical reasons, are unable to physically attend school. This legislation is life-changing for children and families undergoing medical treatments, such as pediatric cancer. 
  • Extension of the sunset provisions for Transportation Network Company (TNC) services law. This new one-year extension will allow TNCs to continue operating around the Commonwealth as the state continues to embrace these popular transportation services. 
  • Additional funding for small water and sewer projects in the form of grant allotments, making $40 million available for water and sewer projects that range between $30,000 and $500,000.
  • Additional funding for residential natural gas infrastructure expansion. Specifically, this broadens the pool of eligible grant recipients and increases the maximum grant amount to $1.5 million. It will provide natural gas companies with greater opportunities to expand their operations in the Commonwealth.
  • Establishment of the governor’s PA Preferred Organics program. This program will help make Pennsylvania the nation’s leading organic farming state by further enhancing the growth of the industry. 
  • Establishing a pilot program for an increased enrollment in Living Independence for the Elderly (LIFE) programs, beginning Sept. 1.  LIFE is a managed-care program that provides a comprehensive, all-inclusive package of medical and supportive services for those under the age of 55. The enrollment expansion in the pilot program will allow more individuals who meet the requirements to live independently while receiving the necessary services and supports they require.

The Triad team is proud that so many issues included as part of this year’s budget proved to benefit many of its clients, and just as importantly so many citizens of the Commonwealth. We’re looking forward to a busy fall, where we expect lawmakers will continue to debate a host of tier-one issues. Our goal is to continue the momentum we realized in June and bring about more wins for our team of clients.


Wednesday Happy Hour: Forever Roll Edition

Forever Roll

Welcome to your truncated Happy Hour as we prepare to lock the doors at Triad World Headquarters for the long Independence Day weekend. We are sure that, like us, you are getting ready to decamp for Washington, D.C. to be part of President Trump’s salute to the military. Or perhaps you are just gonna do some grilling out and consume a few adult beverages. Either way, happy birthday, America!

And what would an Independence Day celebration be without we ungrateful colonials kicking England’s butt again? Thanks, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team!

Before we dive too deeply into the weeds of this week’s events, we direct your attention to this painstakingly crafted 2019-2020 state budget recap. Triad’s public affairs team spent days locked in the basement producing it, and jeepers, did it pay off. We respectfully submit you will find no better handbook on what your legislature passed last week. 

Of course, every budget season ends with a few issues being left on the sidelines until the fall. The legislature will return in September and, notwithstanding some other very important business, we are fairly certain that the governor’s RestorePA plan will be front and center

On Monday, Governor Wolf gave his pen a workout, signing a flurry of bills that did make it across the finish line. First up was the Farm Bill, a truly bipartisan package of bills that will inject $23 million into the industry that feeds us. A special shout-out goes to our good friends at Pocono Organics on that one!

Governor Wolf also affixed his signature to Pennsylvania’s new GI Bill, making us the first state in the country to provide college tuition assistance to spouses and children of active duty military members. This was perhaps one of the most overlooked achievement of the budget season. Because as usual, there is always some sort of distraction that captures the attention of the media and…

Oh, hey there, Mr. Distraction of 2019, didn’t see you standing there. During debate on a bill to end the state’s General Assistance cash grant program, the usually-stodgy Senate went screaming off the rails. If you haven’t seen the kerfuffle a million times on social media, you’ve obviously been living in a cave somewhere. Our suggestion? Go back to the cave until the fall. 

Pennsylvania will also have a new state-based exchange for health insurance, thanks to yet another bipartisan effort (see how often we do that bipartisan thing here? Hello D.C.?). Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came together to pass the law with the type of speed and alacrity you typically only see in the General Assembly when it comes to animal cruelty legislation. Cuz, you know, puppies and kitties. 

And every year there is a little policy nugget stuffed into one of the budget bills that few see coming. This year’s prize goes to the pre-emption of taxes or local bans on single-use plastic bags for the next year until a study is completed. This little gem will probably not sit too well with council members in a certain large city in the eastern end of the state. 

Foes of public-sector unions spent this time last year celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s so-called Janus decision, which effectively outlawed fair share for workers who do not want to be part of a union.  The decision was hailed by said foes as essentially the end of public sector unions. Narrator: It was not the end of public-sector unions.

On Monday, 30 million criminal records in Pennsylvania were permanently sealed, thanks to the state’s Clean Slate Law, passed one year ago. These low-level offenders who have done clean time can now feel free to get their lives back on track. The list of people who made this possible is too lengthy, so just hop on Twitter since every elected official in the Commonwealth tweeted about it on Monday.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale made it official this week, announcing he will run for Congress next year. DePasquale detractors responded by criticizing him for, essentially, doing his job too well. Or running for higher office. Or something. 

Harrisburg School District has a new state-appointed receiver, who spent exactly 20 seconds on the job before sacking everyone in sight. It is gonna be a fun few months for those formerly in charge of Harrisburg’s schools, trust us. Editor’s note: “sacking” is the preferred English word for “firing.” So why did we use it? Because FREEDOM, BABY!   

Our Shameless Client Plug this week goes out to our friends at Energy Transfer Partners, who just ponied up $300,000 to the Township of Aston for an all-inclusive, handicap-accessible playground. Great job!  

Our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week takes us to Wisconsin, where a man was given jail time for repeatedly clogging women’s room toilets with weird objects.   

In related WCMTU news, Charmin has now unveiled the Forever Roll of toilet paper, which can last a single person up to two months and is roughly the size of a Volkswagen. 

That’s what passes for news around here as we put the 2019-2020 state budget in the rearview mirror and head off to the grill! From all your friends at Triad, have a safe and joyous July 4th weekend!


2019-2020 Budget Recap

2019-20 Budget Recap

Governor-Wolf-Signs-Bill

The Governor signed the 2019-2020 General Appropriations budget. Our friends at the House Republican and Democratic Appropriations Committees offer their perspectives on key elements of the budget.

Some highlights of the 2019-2020 General Appropriations budget:

  • The budget spends $33.997 billion for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, a 1.8% increase.
  • Contains no new broad-based taxes or fees.
  • Maintains and expands several workforce development initiatives.
  • Agriculture investments increase, this is to couple with the Pennsylvania Farming First Initiative, which was recently voted on in the legislature.
    •    New line items include:
      • $4.5 million for Agriculture Business and Workforce Investment
      • $1 million for Livestock and Consumer Protection
      • $2 million for Animal Health and Diagnostics Commission
    • Overall Agriculture received a $19.5 million increase
  • Includes historic levels of school funding:
    • $160 million increase in Basic Education Funding
    • $50 million in special education funding
    • Overall increase of $432 million for pre-k-12 education
  • The Department of Human Services, receives a $97.3 million increase from the 2018-19 budget:
    • Additional $26.3 million for mental health services.
    • $12 million, a 5% increase, for homecare workers who care for seniors and those with physical disabilities.
    • $5 million for community-based family centers, providing access to home visiting services to 800 more Pennsylvania families.
    • Supports individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism services, and enhanced care for seniors.
  • Approximately $300 million invested for the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

FY 2019 / 2020 Code Bill Summaries

The State General Assembly also passed several budget-related bills on topics including Education, Agriculture, Elections, Taxes, Healthcare, and government operations. Highlights include:

Budget Implementation (Fiscal Code)

  • Nearly $500 million for debt service for Tobacco Settlement Fund, Tobacco Revenue Bond Debt Service Account, Race Horse Development Fund, and Farm Show Complex Restricted Revenue Account.
  • No monies from the Oil & Gas Lease Fund shall be transferred this year. In the previous year, $20 million was transferred from the Oil & Gas Lease Fund to the Environmental Stewardship Fund. Approx. $16 million will be appropriated from the General Fund to the Environmental Stewardship Fund. A $10 million decrease from FY 2018/2019.
  • Philadelphia Parking Authority received an extension until Dec. 31, 2020 for the 1.4% gross receipts fee to be paid by Transportation Network Companies.
  • The Secretary of the Budget will be required to deposit 100% of any FY 18-19 surplus to the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund, adding nearly $300 million into the fund.
  • Small water and sewer projects received a boost in grant allotments, making $40 million available for water and sewer projects that range between $30,000 and $500,000.
  • No ordinance or tax on Plastic bags, single-use plastics, and other plastic container use may be enacted until impact studies are issued.  
  • Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund
    • Amendments were made to broaden the pool of eligible grant recipients to include large residential conversion projects and combined heat and power applicants.
    • The maximum grant amount increased by $500,000 to $1,500,000.
    • The CFA has been directed to develop streamlined guidelines for applicants submitting for grants of $75,000 or less.
  • Commonwealth Finance Authority (CAN) transfers:
    • $5 million shall be transferred from the CFA First Industries Program account to a new CFA account for research and development; organic transition, value-added processing and marketing grants in support of PA’s dairy industry.
    • $12 million shall be transferred from the CFA Building Pennsylvania Program account to a new CFA account established for blight remediation.
    • $24 million shall be transferred from the CFA New Venture PA Venture Capital Program account to be made available for distribution under the H2O PA Act.
  • Provisions were included that impact new and existing programs:
      • Dept. of Agriculture was granted legislative approval to develop PA Preferred Organics, hiring staff and communicating research to the USDA and General Assembly.
      • Dept. of Community and Economic Development received increased funds for Main Street, Elm Street and Enterprise Programs. The Dept also received a new line of funding for a broadband expansion pilot program.
      • Dept. of Education received historic funding, notably increasing appropriations to adult learning, mental health, pre-K and trauma-informed programming.
      • Dept. of Labor & Industry received funds to enhance Workforce Development and Training Programs, under guidance of the Governor to create new industry partnerships.

Election Code

SB 48 makes changes to the absentee ballot deadlines, process, and counting along with: elimination of straight-party voting.

  • Counties may apply for assistance to pay for new voting machines, up to $90 million in bonds may be issued.

Healthcare and Human Services

The General Assembly passed legislation that includes: General Cash Assistance program for single, eligible persons has not been funded for five years, but the program would be eliminated through HB 33. Re- reauthorizes the Philadelphia hospital assessment for an additional five years through June 30, 2024.


Senate Bill 695 provides for an analysis of non-emergency medical transportation and other human services transportation programs; provide for an analysis of a uniform Statewide preferred drug list; and extend the Nursing Facility assessment and the Intermediate Care Facilities for Persons with an Intellectual Disability.


Education

Several education bills were passed by the General Assembly. Highlights include historic levels of school funding, new career and technical education programs, reevaluated formulas for school repair & reimbursement, and measures to increase school safety.

  • $25 million increase in EITC for businesses and private school families.
  • Creation of “Innovation Schools”, groups of private, specialized and/or non-profit schools that provide alternatives to a public-school education.
  • New formula to assess school construction and repair reimbursements, likely to decrease reimbursements unless the facility is LEED certified.
  • Establishment of college scholarship program for foster or adopted children to state or state-related universities.
  • Students are now entitled to trauma-informed education, including: professional trauma training for teachers, funding for security infrastructure up to $3.2 million per project, and requirement of at least one professionally trained, mental health staff member.
  • Establishment of the Keystone Telepresence Education Grant, which provides funding for real-time telepresence equipment for students who must take a leave of absence from school due to serious medical conditions.
  • Students in need of financial assistance will receive funding support from PDE to help ensure all have access to Advanced Placement exams in preparation for college.

The legislation establishing “School-to-Work” and technical education funding did not make it to the finish-line and will be considered in the fall.


Taxes

Changes to the Sales Tax

  • Retail sales from large, online, out-of-state retailers, such as Amazon.com are now subject to PA sales tax. Revenues are estimated to $5 million in the upcoming Fiscal Year.
  • Clarification of applicability of sales tax at Brew Pubs
  • Elimination of the inheritance tax for those who inherit real estate under the age of 21.

Changes to the Personal Income Tax

  • Conformity with Federal Opportunity Zones for treatment of capital gains, where investors in Opportunity Funds can receive federal tax deferrals/eliminations and other tax benefits on unrealized capital gains associated with these investments.
  • Income Tax Returns will now provide an option to donate to the Veterans’ Trust Fund.

Corporate Net Income Tax

  • Expansions to the existing Manufacturing Innovation and Reinvestment Deduction program within the corporate net income tax (CNIT) to create two tiers of private investment levels, supporting businesses that make investments in the state and create new jobs.

Realty Transfer Tax

  • Raises the $25 million limit on RTT funds deposited into the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund PHARE Fund to $40 million annually.
  • Exempts sales of preserved agricultural lands to first time farmers.

Tax Credit Programs impacted include:

  • PA Film Tax Credit Program
  • Entertainment Economic Enhancement Program (Concert Rehearsal and Tour Tax Credit)
  • Tax Credit for New Jobs (Job Creation Tax Credit)
    • Repealed
  • Rural Jobs and Investment Act
    • Increases tax credit cap from $1 million per year over four years o $6 million per year over five years, to provide time to raise these funds.
    • Defined job creation metrics and goals requirements.
    • Businesses with 150 or fewer employees are eligible, down from 250 or fewer.
  • Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit:
    • Adds “youth and adolescent development services” to the list of policy goals that are eligible for the credit.
      Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Fund: DCED shall institute an application processing fee based on the amount of tax credits applied for, not to exceed $2,000. Proceeds will be distributed to the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Administration Account and allocated to Historic Rehabilitation Projects under its jurisdiction.
  • Keystone Opportunity Zones
    • Cambria, Clearfield and Lancaster Counties are now eligible to apply for KOZ tax credits.

Agriculture
Components of Governor Wolf’s Farm Bill were passed by the General Assembly, specifically:

Tax Credits

  • New tax credits for landowners who lease or sell farmland to first time farmers.
  • Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP)
    • Increases the cap of the REAP tax credit from $10 million per fiscal year to $13 million per fiscal year, beginning with FY 2019-20.
    • The $3 million cap increase is targeted for geographic areas and best management practices for nutrient and sediment reductions within the Chesapeake Bay watershed area.
    • Raises and expands the existing cap per eligible applicant from $150,000 per lifetime to $250,000 in tax credits in any consecutive seven-year period.
  • Sediment Health and crop revitalization tax credits, including up to 90% of eligible costs to recoup riparian forest buffers, livestock stream support, stream crossings, cover crops, soil health, and best management practices and nutrient management.

Dairy-Related Programs and Reforms

  • Creation of the Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission, reviewing agriculture education and dairy production for young or entering dairy farmers, then making recommendations to the Dept. of Agriculture and General Assembly.
  • Dairy Investment Program is established to support R & D, transition to organic, and marketing.
  • Milk Haulers now exempt from “State of Emergency” highway closures.

Farmer Education and Support

  • Several new programs to promote collaboration and education across the agricultural industry at a local level, including:
    • Agricultural Business Development Center
    • Agriculture and Youth Development Grants
    • Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grant
    • Commonwealth Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
  • “Healthy Farms Healthy Schools” program enhanced and renamed to “Farm-to-School” program.
  • Soil conservation research funding.
  • Farm equipment transportation regulation rollback to allow tractors and other wide equipment onto certain roads and highways.

PA Preferred Organics Program. The Department is expected to hire staff, market the program and communicate with the USDA.

Administrative Code: House Bill 1461