Politics & Government

We cover politics and government with an eye to providing to voters clear, in-depth, nonpartisan information. 

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb on Thursday released a draft of the performance audit of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority Thursday with 53 recommended changes.

The audit was concurrent with widespread customer billing and meter problems, issues of lead in drinking water and inconsistent leadership.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is hoping to stabilize and grow affordable housing options in the city through a series of executive orders.

City of Pittsburgh

The city of Pittsburgh is looking for feedback on its Burgh’s Eye View application at a series of public meetings this month and next.

The application is an interactive map that shows data related to public safety, 3-1-1 requests, building code violations and city facilities.

The site has had more than 10,000 unique users since being introduced in October 2016, according to lead developer Geoffrey Arnold.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

A flush and boil water advisory affecting 100,000 Pittsburghers earlier this month, delays in lead test results and billing snafus have led Mayor Bill Peduto to call for an advisory panel to mull the idea of restructuring the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Westmoreland County Jail / Westmoreland County

A bill aimed at withholding funds from sanctuary municipalities is making its way through the state legislature, but some western Pennsylvania counties aren’t sure how it will affect their policy.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The state Senate has been closed for a day following a vandalism incident.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports an email was forwarded to all Senate employees on Sunday announcing the closure of the Senate side of the Capitol on Monday. Drew Crompton, counsel to Sen. Joe Scarnati, says a man gained access to the Capitol early Sunday and sprayed a fire extinguisher in the hallways by the Senate's offices and chambers.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

When a child is abducted, millions of Pennsylvanians are asked to help through the Amber Alert system. State Representative Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, is hoping to use a similar system when a police officer is hurt.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny County Housing Authority sold five homes in Penn Hills and three lots in Duquesne to the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.

Frank Aggazio, Executive Director of the Allegheny County Housing Authority, said the partnership is a way to offer homeownership to low-income county residents who no longer need housing assistance. The county sold the five dilapidated properties and lots for $218,000.

Bradley C. Bower / AP

A Pennsylvania state senator has used a profanity-laced tweet to defend a fellow state lawmaker in Texas after President Donald Trump joked about destroying the unnamed lawmaker's career.

Trump told a Texas sheriff during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday that they could "destroy" the career of a Texas lawmaker who is trying to reform asset-forfeiture laws that critics say police abuse as a funding source. The comment was met with laughs in the room.

Sanctuary Cities Bill Clears Pennsylvania Senate

Feb 8, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

The Municipal Sanctuary and Federal Enforcement, or SAFE, Act would restrict state funding for communities where law enforcement agencies don't cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Pennsylvania Senate OKs 20-Week Abortion Ban; Veto Awaits

Feb 8, 2017
Nati Harnik / AP

After an emotionally charged and graphic debate, the state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would make Pennsylvania the latest state to ban abortions at 20 weeks and restrict how the vast majority of second-trimester abortions are performed.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

It’s been less than two weeks since the Wolf administration announced that the 136-year old Pittsburgh state prison would shut down by June 30. But Allegheny County Executive said developers have already shown interest in the 24-acre site along the Ohio River.

“We’ve already gotten some calls from people that are interested in it,” Fitzgerald said. 

SCI Pittsburgh was one of five state prisons under consideration to be closed to reduce costs.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations has begun examining the cause of last week’s flush and boil order for more than 100,000 Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers.

OMI will conduct interviews with PWSA employees to determine whether the problem stemmed from faulty infrastructure, improper chlorine meters or operator error.

Matt Slocum / AP

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey joined 49 of his fellow Republicans in confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday afternoon.

In a statement released before his vote, Toomey said he was pleased to vote in favor of the school choice advocate.

“Because of Betsy’s work to expand charter schools, virtual schools, school choice, tuition tax credits and education savings accounts, hundreds of thousands of children who had been trapped in failing schools have been able to access a quality education,” Toomey wrote.

Chris Knight / AP

The top-ranking Republican in the Pennsylvania House says he's encouraged by aspects of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's budget proposal, but says there's a lot in the details that needs to be closely examined.

House Speaker Mike Turzai said Tuesday that Wolf took a few pages from the GOP playbook in crafting a $32.3 billion spending plan that does not raise income or sales tax rates.

Still, Turzai says he'd like to see more emphasis on privatizing government functions, encouraging school choice and reducing state debt.

Google Maps

A Pennsylvania lawmaker has dropped his efforts to name a bridge after former Vice President Joe Biden.

Scranton City Council opposed the move by Democratic state Rep. Kevin Haggerty because the bridge being built in Biden's hometown is already named for a veteran. It honors Col. Frank Duffy, the highest-ranking soldier from Scranton to die in World War I.

Haggerty says he wasn't aware the bridge was already named for a veteran when he proposed naming it for Biden last week.

Democratic state Sen. John Blake sponsored the 2015 bill to name the bridge after Duffy.

Wolf Seeks Cuts, Revenues To Plug $3B Budget Gap

Feb 7, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf asked lawmakers Tuesday to help fill a $3 billion projected deficit by imposing a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production and signing off on potentially touchy cuts in spending, including transportation aid to schools.

Ben Margot / AP

Nearly two-thirds of those who spoke at an Allegheny County Council public hearing Monday night came out against expanding the ban on smoking in public places to include e-cigarettes.  

The expansion was approved by the Allegheny County Board of Health, but still must be approved by the county council and signed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has said he is in favor of the expansion.

Before the 23 speakers were allowed to give their testimony, council members heard from a panel of eight experts on the subject of vaping.

Matt Slocum (L), Mel Evans (R) / AP

Two of Pennsylvania’s top elected office holders used their first few days in office to address ethics-related issues by asking employees to sign pledges.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro distributed his code of conduct to every employee and he said they all voluntarily signed the document.

Katie Meyer

Pennsylvania's Senate Democrats are calling for reforms to the commonwealth's long-standing system of using property taxes to pay for public schools.

It's an initiative that's renewed nearly every session. But now, the group is calling for a special legislative session.

School property tax collections this fiscal year are in the range of $14 billion.

The system has long been criticized for allowing the state's wealthiest school systems to collect far more tax money than their lower-income peers.

AP Photo

At U.S. Senator Pat Toomey's various offices in Pennsylvania and Washington, the phones have been ringing off the hook for days.

Constituents are calling in droves, filling voice mailboxes with pleas for the Republican not to confirm President Donald Trump's cabinet appointees--particularly education secretary pick Betsy DeVos.

But the newly reelected Toomey seems to have his mind made up.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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AP Photo

A proposal to extend the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases is on a fast-track through the state Senate.

It's the exact same measure as a bill that died in the House last session, and for that reason, it's likely to see the same resistance when it reaches the House this time around.

The bill--sponsored by Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati--would eliminate time limits on childhood sexual abuse victims filing lawsuits against their abusers.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Less than a week before he presents his 2017-18 budget, Gov. Tom Wolf is revealing few hints about his spending plan other than it will be streamlined and won't include any “broad-based tax increases."

Wolf hasn't said if the new budget will be less, the same or more than the current $31.5 billion one.

“You’ll have to wait and see,” Wolf said. “I think this has to be living within our means and not fudging the numbers. Not smoke and mirrors, not making stuff up.”

PA General Assembly

Local activists are putting pressure on Representative Dom Costa (D-Allegheny) to remove his name as co-sponsor of a bill that would cut off state funding from “sanctuary campuses” in Pennsylvania.

Costa was listed as the sole Democratic co-sponsor, which Anita Boehm, executive director of his Harrisburg office, said was a mistake.

Cliff Owen / AP

President Donald Trump said on Twitter that he will announce a nominee to the Supreme Court Tuesday evening at 8 p.m.

Among those names on the short list is Pittsburgher Thomas Hardiman, 51, a federal judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Hardiman was appointed to the post in 2007 by President George W. Bush.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf will ask lawmakers for another $10 million to help save the lives of people overdosing on heroin or prescription drugs.

The Wolf administration said Tuesday that the Democratic governor wants the money to help law enforcement agencies and first responders buy the overdose antidote naloxone.

Grants would be available through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Wolf will make the request in the budget proposal he submits to the Legislature next week for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Roughly ten months after receiving recommendations from the Government Review Commission, Allegheny County council members have been slow to make changes.

The review commission, made of up of nine people, meets every 10 years as stipulated by the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter, for a top-to-bottom review of government operations. It met in 2015 and had a year to review county operations.  

Merging 4 Agencies Seen As Way To Cut Red Tape, Not Programs

Jan 30, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration says consolidating four state public health agencies into a single department will improve efficiency, eliminate red tape and keep benefits programs intact. But it's not giving a projection on how much money it could save and a spokesman says any layoffs will be minimal since the administration's already pared back employee complements.

The Wolf administration made its first public comments on the plan Monday. The administration notified agency employees Friday, but gave no details.

Thousands Protest Trump Immigration Orders At Philly Airport

Jan 30, 2017
Paige Pfleger / WHYY

An estimated 5,000 protesters filled the sidewalks and roadways outside of Philadelphia International Airport Sunday to denounce President Donald Trump's executive actions restricting entry into the country. It was the second straight night demonstrators gathered at the airport demanding that Trump lift his ban on immigration into the United States from several Muslim-majority countries.

Chanting "no hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here," the droves of protesters assembled peacefully down a long stretch of road outside Terminal B. 

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