Health - May 2, 2014

Governor Corbett now supports medical marijuana

Just days after Senator Daylin Leach said he’d stage a sit in if Governor Corbett did not meet on the issue, the Governor has changed his position to one of support for medical marijuana. The Governor had previously said he would veto any medical marijuana legislation that came across his desk. He further had said that there wouldn’t even be consideration on the issue until the federal government legalized medical marijuana and the Food and Drug Administration did some testing.  In a press release on Thursday Governor Corbett said he had been looking into the issue “extensively” and “listening to many perspectives,” and that he would back a “medically responsible proposal” to allow some sick children access to medical marijuana.  Corbett noted that the issue must also protect the public health and safety of all Pennsylvanians while helping these families with sick children.  A Quinnipiac Poll conducted in March found that 85 percent of Pennsylvanians favored legalization of medical marijuana.

Budget Roundup

Governor Corbett was also in the news this week as he’s looking to cut $1.2 billion from his proposed $29.4 billion budget this year.  As the revenue shortfall continues to grow Corbett met with Republican legislators this week to discuss the $800 million in cuts by the administration and to ask the Legislature to produce another $400 million in cuts.  Corbett promised no new taxes while he was campaigning but with continued shortfalls the legislature is starting to mull a severance tax. Pennsylvania could also see big revenues if it taxed other tobacco products; currently Pennsylvania is the only state that does not do so, we only tax cigarettes.

April’s tax revenue collections were less than expected and now estimates are that the fiscal year may end down $608 million than projected at the start. When Corbett unveiled his budget in February he had pledged to spend an extra $1 billion with money going towards public schools, college grants, more state troopers, and reducing the waiting list for community-based homes.  House Republican spokesman, Steve Miskin, said “It’s going to be a tough budget year.”  Legislators are combing the budget, line by line, to see what can be done to make up for the shortfall.  On Monday this week, Standard & Poor’s “criticized the proposed budget as unbalanced and unsustainable” and threatened to downgrade the state’s credit rating if it did not make “significant strides to structurally balance the budget and address long-term pension liabilities.” 

Options are running out as the proposed budget already relies on higher-than-anticipated revenue projections, a reduction in some pension payments and a “transfer of $225 million from an investment fund tied to the Tobacco Settlement Fund to partially pay” for some pension contributions. The Morning Call reports that Corbett could “postpone a roughly $390 million payment to private managed-care organizations that operate the Medicaid program” in PA’s counties and that he also anticipates $125 million in savings if the federal government agrees to his Healthy PA plan.  Corbett could also forgo some of the business tax cuts being proposed.  The administration and the legislature have a long way to go in a short amount of time.  The legislature is in session next week and then out until June. Budget negotiations are happening now and the legislature is scheduled to be in every week in June but just how it all shakes out remains to be seen.