Moving Forward. The week ended very differently than how it began. On Monday, the General Assembly convened for two days of active session to advance a series of bills to force a re-opening of several facets of the Pennsylvania business sector. This was in direct response to Governor Wolf’s promised veto of Senate Bill 613 which we reported on last week. Go here if you missed that update. Upon vetoing the bill as promised, Gov. Wolf announced his own plan to reopen the economy in a series of controlled stages and on an expected regional basis. His plan can be viewed here.
A key component of this plan was also an announcement that the state’s construction industry can re-open as of May 1. The industry is now working with PennDOT and other state agencies to determine how that reopening will occur and what procedures the industry must follow to get back to work.
The response to Gov. Wolf’s plan seems to be lessening the nerves among republican leaders in the House. Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) introduced a bill of his own (House Bill 2400) that would force the reopening of the construction industry in Pennsylvania as long as they comply with the Center for Disease Control guidelines. Turzai tweeted the following after Wolf’s announcement:
“Gov. Wolf and I had a positive discussion today; he was open to the suggestion that construction activities could be done safely. Working with him on this issue showed we can move forward together on fighting COVID-19, while rebuilding the economy.”
A positive sign indeed that perhaps the General Assembly and the Governor will work together more to pull the state out of certain economic hard time ahead.
Hard Budget Times Ahead. Another common ground within the Capitol is the acceptance that passing a state budget will be significantly more challenging following COVID-19. How we do that, however, remains a sticking point.
The House adopted a bill this week, House Bill 1822, that would freeze spending in several state funds in anticipation that money will be hard to come by. While none of the funds listed in the bill are of direct concern to the highway construction industry, it did freeze funding to the county conservation districts which are involved in the permitting process for many state highway projects. It is unknown at this time what the impact of this will be. We will update you going forward should this bill advance through the Senate and onto the governor.