Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf plans to publicize some of the private donations that'll cover the costs of his inauguration day and transition team.

On Tuesday, the transition team scheduled two disclosure dates - January 15 and March 30 - when Wolf will share who ponied up to pay for his inauguration day festivities and his transition team's costs.

It's typical for governors to get private sponsors to underwrite inauguration day, but Wolf said he didn't want to burden taxpayers with his transition, either.

The rental car company Hertz owes Allegheny County nearly three quarters of a million dollars, according to County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

Wagner found the error while auditing three years worth of activities at Pittsburgh International Airport. Car rental companies are to collect and send to the county a $2 per vehicle per day tax. Due to a computer glitch, Hertz Corporation had not been submitting the receipts to the county.

If there's anything you need to call your state lawmaker about, try to do it before Thursday.

That's the day marking the start of this year's annual Pennsylvania Society weekend, a four-day-long retreat centered in Manhattan that attracts the commonwealth's political elite.

Reception hosts and the people on their invite lists defend the weekend as a way to see most of the state's movers and shakers in one convenient location.

The city of Pittsburgh wants all police officers to be wearing body cameras within two years instead of six.

In the wake of civil unrest after grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, the Peduto administration will shorten the timeline for implementation of such technology.

Amendments to Mayor Bill Peduto’s 2015 budget proposal that would free up money for the purchases came before City Council on Monday.

Despite rumors that she was setting her sights on the County Executive’s office, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner will be officially launching her campaign for a second term at an event Monday night.

“I recognize that when you are running against any incumbent, that’s something that’s difficult,” Wagner said of her decision to not run for what's considered the third most powerful position in the state. “I think things can be done better in the county. It’s probably obvious by my position on some things, but at the same time I enjoy my job.”

401kcalculator.org / Flickr

For the first time since the early 1990’s, major legislation for people with disabilities is poised to be approved by Congress.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, also known as the ABLE Act could make it possible for disabled people to live independently and work without fear of losing important benefits. The ABLE Act just passed the House and is now making its way through the Senate.

Bob Casey, a US Senator representing Pennsylvania has been sponsoring the legislation. He joins us along with Jillian Zacks, an estate attorney specializing in special needs planning, and a mother of 2 children on the autism spectrum.

Jillian Zacks recommends the website 21andAble.org for those aiding young adults with disabilities who are transitioning into adulthood.

In a break with recent history, Governor-elect Tom Wolf's transition will be paid for by private donations, not tax dollars.

A spokesman said Wolf will not take the $250,000 estimated by the state budget secretary to cover the costs of setting up offices for the changeover.

Instead, private donations will be accepted and disclosed on the Wolf's transition website by inauguration day, January 20. Late donations will be disclosed 30 days after the fact, said spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

90.5 / Michael Lynch

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, with the support of Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf, announced his bid for re-election Thursday.

The Squirrel Hill Democrat is seeking a second four-year term, and his campaign can be summed up in two words: jobs and transportation.

With desirable jobs come young talent, and according to Fitzgerald, that talent leads to progress.

You can do it for your retirement, you can do it for your child’s education, but you can’t put money away tax free to help make sure your child with a disability will have the money he or she needs after you are gone. A bill up for a vote Wednesday in the U.S. Senate would make that a reality.

Lottery players have been sitting on the sidelines for games like Mega Millions and Powerball, and state bean-counters can tell.

"We're seeing some weakness in our lottery fund revenues, where sales are not keeping pace to projections," said state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby at his mid-year budget briefing Wednesday. "That's certainly a risk that's out there that we need to be mindful of and potentially plan for."

The announcement came as a bit of a surprise, since lawmakers earlier this year made a technical tweak to maximize game profits.

A mid-year progress report on the state's budget outlook is giving the outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett and incoming Governor-elect Tom Wolf a chance to put each other on notice, becoming the latest chapter in what's becoming a rocky gubernatorial transition.

With his legally mandated mid-year budget report Wednesday, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby confirmed what independent agencies have said for months: Next year's budget situation will be tough, due to rising mandated costs, weak revenues, and the amount of one-time funding sources used to balance this year's spending plan.

State lawmakers are spending the next month getting ready for the new legislative session beginning this month, lining up committee assignments and preparing the proposals they’ll introduce.

A bird’s eye view of the two-year session that just wrapped up in November finds that a total of 369 proposals were enacted.

House lawmakers introduced 3,610 measures (and 1,091 resolutions), and senators introduced 1,981 proposals (and more than 500 resolutions).

A bipartisan duo of state senators is looking to make it a bit more painful for lawmakers to pass a late state budget — by putting top officials’ pay on the line.

Under the measure backed by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin), a budget passed after the end of the fiscal year on June 30 would trigger a suspension of pay for state lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, the governor and his cabinet. A similar measure introduced in the latest legislative session suspended pay for only the governor and state lawmakers.

If it’s too cold for you outside, then it’s too cold for your pet.

That’s the message Councilwoman Darlene Harris is sending Pittsburghers with the two pieces of legislation she introduced Tuesday.

The first piece of legislation would fine cat and dog owners a maximum of $500 dollars for leaving their pets outside for a long period of time when temperatures are below 32 degrees or higher than 90 degrees.

Not even a year old yet, Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation and Performance addressed 2015 budget requests at one in a series of City Council budget hearings Tuesday.

The department’s budget has a proposed increase of about $255,000, a 1.84 percent change. Salaries in the budget decrease by about 2 percent. Department Chief Debra Lam said in less than one year, Innovation and Performance has already done a lot – including updating the 311 system.

One of the items Mayor Bill Peduto ran on was making the Bureau of Building Inspection its own department, which would report directly to the mayor, rather than to the head of public safety. Such a move is intended to modernize the department, among other things.

This Week in PA Politics 12/1

Dec 1, 2014

Pennsylvania land banks in need of extra funds. Nearly two years since the beginning of state-mandated land banking in Pennsylvania, the seven established banks are suffering from a lack of proper funding, 90.5 WESA’s Mary Wilson reports. Looking towards well-funded land banking efforts in Ohio and New York, Wilson suggests the possibility of using tax dollars as well as money made from large bank settlements to fund the seven ventures currently operating.

Advocates for assisted suicide are promoting legislation that allows doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who request it.

The national debate was set off earlier this month with the death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. She publicized her decision to take drugs to end her life after learning she had terminal brain cancer.

Gov. Tom Corbett and Gov.-elect Tom Wolf are doing a bit of interregnum sparring over how to add hundreds of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians to the state's Medicaid rolls.

There's a simple question at the center of their disagreement: should the guy in charge push his policies, or defer to the new guy's preferences?

Wolf favors full Medicaid expansion, authorized by the federal health care overhaul and designed to open up federally-covered health care benefits to Pennsylvanians whose income is 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

A housing advocate says Pennsylvania is falling behind neighboring states in its efforts to combat blight.

Nearly two years ago, the state passed legislation for what's called land banking — a set of new tools for cities and counties to grab up derelict properties and speed their return to productive use. Sometimes that means flipping houses, sometimes it means demolishing a structure to turn the plot into green space or storm water management.

Seven land banks have been established in the commonwealth, but a lack of funding has made the process slow-going.

An audit of the retail operations at the Pittsburgh International Airport found that, overall, the prices are similar to what you’d find in non-airport retailers. Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said the airport must adhere to a “street pricing” policy that dates back to when the facility opened and offered some of the only shopping in the area.

“Each year it’s typical that we find a number of items that are overpriced at the airport,” said Wagner, “this year’s included a Harley Davidson jacket, a pair of headphones and a few other items.”

Allegheny County has followed in the City of Pittsburgh’s footsteps and will no longer include a question about prior criminal convictions on its job applications starting in January.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the policy increases the number of available applicants to fill county positions and gives those with prior convictions a fair shot at an interview.

As many families gear up for their Thanksgiving feasts, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is calling attention to those who are struggling to put food on their dinner tables.

Casey is pushing for passage of a bill that would expand and make permanent tax incentives for businesses that donate to food banks. Nearly 2 million Pennsylvania residents are food insecure.

To spur small business growth, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced Tuesday that his proposed 2015 budget will include a sharp increase in spending for storefront and streetface renovation, as well as business district support grants.

Renovation funds are proposed to jump from $75,000 to $360,000. Storefront renovation funds are matching grants of up to $5,000 used by businesses to improve aesthetics, while the streetface program provides businesses with $35,000 in forgivable loans in an attempt to revitalize struggling business districts.

As a community member and organizer, Tim Stevens, President of the Black Political Empowerment Project, gives his reaction to the grand jury's decision in Ferguson, MO. He also presents us with some historical perspective on community and police demonstrations in Pittsburgh.

Julia Johnson, a 22 year old social justice activist, says last night's announcement "reflects a larger problem with systemic racism and sets an ugly precedent.” She talks about the peaceful demonstrations being planned in Pittsburgh and the local issues that connect to this case.

President Obama's Monday night speech following the Ferguson decision touches emphasizes the need for a larger conversation about police and community interaction. 

Pittsburgh City Council on Monday introduced four bills related to 2015 property taxes, one of which would raise the tax rate by 0.5 mills to 8.06 mills.

That means the city will collect an additional 50 cents for every $1,000 a piece of real estate is worth.

“For a home worth $100,000, it’s about $40/year,” said Kevin Acklin, chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto.

This Week in PA Politics 11/24

Nov 24, 2014

The investigation into Lewd emails continues. Chief Justice Ron Castille said the investigation into the almost 4,000 pornographic emails sent amongst members of the Attorney General’s office is still ongoing, 90.5 WESA’s Mary Wilson reports. Aside from Justice Seamus McCaffery, all other state Supreme Court justices have been “exonerated,” but many other state employees implicated in the email ring have been fired or have resigned.

A new Pennsylvania law was enacted Monday changing the Department of Public Welfare's title to the Department of Human Services.

Pennsylvania's DPW had been the last in the country to include the word "welfare" in its title — a term some considered weighted with negative connotations. DHS spokeswoman Cait Gillis said another problem is that the name was not reflective of the work they do at the department.

The Corbett administration has to come up with a plan to reopen state health centers after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled it can’t close any of its 60 public health hubs statewide.

“We are still reviewing the ruling in full to determine the implications to the plan moving forward and will be providing additional communication to the public and to our staff as soon as that review is complete,” said Aimee Tysarczyk, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

Most Pennsylvania counties use voting systems that election experts now say are unreliable and a bit shady, but replacing voting technology would be costly, and not all election directors like the look of alternative devices.

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