ROBERT SWIFT: Capitol Matters: Your tax dollars at work
HARRISBURG - The state budget hearings now under way provide a look at where many state initiatives and programs stand as cabinet secretaries and elected row officers outline accomplishments in order to justify spending requests.
A sampling from the first week of hearings before the Senate and House Appropriations Committees on the 2014-15 budget is provided below.
Online tax collections
The state has collected more than $88 million in sales taxes from out-of-state Internet retailers since the Revenue Department started enforcing a little-used law in 2012, said Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser.
That revenue comes from more than 100 e-commerce firms that have a warehouse or distribution center in Pennsylvania and sell products to customers in the state.
Mr. Meuser said his department has gotten substantial compliance from firms under this category in paying sales taxes.
In 2012, the revenue department announced it would enforce the law that requires retailers with a "nexus" or physical presence in the state to collect the sales tax and began outreach efforts to those businesses.
"It's simply a matter of fairness under the existing law, and it's essential that both e-commerce retailers with nexus and brick-and-mortar stores in Pennsylvania, many of which are small businesses employing thousands of Pennsylvanians with retail jobs, are treated equally, said Mr. Meuser.
Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane wants to hire 16 new drug enforcement agents at a cost of $2.1 million. Pennsylvania faces serious problems with addiction due to use of heroin and prescription drugs, she added.
A multi-pronged approach is needed to address drug abuse, said Ms. Kane, including treatment for addiction and school programs to educate youth about those dangers.
Mental health services for state prison inmates
The state Corrections Department is improving the delivery of psychological and psychiatric services to inmates, said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. An estimated 10 percent of inmates are seriously mentally ill while another 10 percent to 15 percent receive mental health services, he added.
The department is also training employees in crisis intervention to help those with mental illness.
"Restructuring our mental health program, from performance measures to training to partnerships with outside agencies, will allow us to best treat, support and improve outcomes of the mentally ill population," said Mr. Wetzel.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part.