Poorly-written bill hurt UC centers

Well that was fast (by Harrisburg standards).

On April 24, Gov. Wolf signed SB250 (now known as Act 1 of 2017), that makes $15 million available to reopen the three unemployment compensation centers for the next nine months.

It took just 36 days from the introduction of the bill until it was signed. That’s certainly great news for the employees and users of the system.

But how did this debacle come to be in the first place?

Back in 2013, the General Assembly passed a law (Act 34 HB26) that moved a portion of employee tax contributions from the U.C. Fund to a new fund to be used for service and infrastructure (technology), improvements known as the SIIF.

It covered the years from 2013-16, and over those four years, $170 million of Pennsylvania taxpayers’ money was spent plus federal tax dollars allocated for the same purpose.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016 and all of a sudden our elected officials discover that they didn’t get what they thought they paid for.

Why did it take four years?

Who was minding the store?

The 2013 legislation included a requirement that each year the Department of Labor and Industry provide a report to the governor and the General Assembly that …. “shall include an accounting for the contributions deposited into the fund, the expenditures and transfers from the fund during the prior year and a description of the purposes for which expenditures from the fund were made in the prior year.”

In other words, nothing more than what you’d record in your checkbook record.

As I see it (with the advantage of hindsight), the groundwork for failure was laid by writing a bill that was lacking in providing for a more rigorous accountability of monies spent and results achieved as indicated by their absence in the previous bill but now included in the bill just passed.

The current legislation now provides for a report before a center can be closed, a report each month for the next nine months and a plan to eliminate reliance on the SIIF going forward.

Future technology funding requests must be supported by a report that includes a description of the upgrades, what the improvements will be, the cost, the cost savings, time frame, copies of contracts and how the improvements will address any audit recommendations.

Did our elected officials miss anything this time around?

Hopefully the current (2017-18) class of legislators has learned from their predecessor’s past mistakes. Employees and customers of the U.C. Centers took the hit for this poorly worded legislation.

Legislators rarely do as evidenced by the fact that they almost never pass legislation that has an impact on their accountability or perks.

Let’s keep track between now and November 2018 to see how many pieces of legislation they pass that have an impact on them or how well they manage our money.

Then vote accordingly.

Visit the websites www.legis.state.pa.us or www.openstates.org and read about the bills that are being written.

Jeff Bowman