Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Pittsburgh City Council will get to take its shot at the 2016 operating and capital budgets as proposed by Mayor Bill Peduto on Monday.

“I think there are some things that council is going to move around,” said council Finance and Law Committee Chair Natalia Rudiak. “Of course it’s a matter of where are we going to add, and… where are we going to take away.”

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

  County Controller Chelsa Wagner might appeal a decision Friday that prohibits her from auditing the performance of most county authorities.

Wagner may conduct performance audits of entities subject to county jurisdiction, including the jail and county police and health departments, but can’t assess its Airport Authority, Sanitary Authority, Port Authority and the city-county Sports Exhibition Authority, Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James said Friday.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

  Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald had no problem winning a second, four-year term in Tuesday’s election.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Iraq war veteran and former magisterial district judge Guy Reschenthaler has clinched the state Senate seat vacated by former Democratic Sen. Matt Smith in June.

Democrats swept all three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Tuesday's election, locking in a majority on the state's highest court for at least a decade that could help shape the legislative redistricting that will follow the 2020 census.

The winners of the seven-way race were Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty and Superior Court judges David Wecht and Christine Donohue of Allegheny County.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA News

Three technologists worked with city departments for almost a year to reform the way the city buys goods and services like fire trucks and office supplies – a process known as procurement.

Laura Meixell, analytics and strategy manager for the city's open data program, said there used to be a page buried in the city’s website where businesses could find contract openings.

The requests weren't categorized, and vendors would have to check back if there was a new post, she said.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

  This year’s race for three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just broken a national record.

Total campaign spending has reached $15.8 million, according to advocacy groups. That figure breaks the record held by Illinois for its two-way Supreme Court race in 2004.

For its new title, Pennsylvania can thank an unprecedented number of open Supreme Court seats as well as several groups that care about how the high court handles cases involving them.

PA High Court Defers Email Probe To Ethics Panel

Nov 2, 2015
Daniel Shanken / AP File Photo

  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is deferring action on whether one of its justices violated conduct rules by sending and receiving explicit emails.

The court issued a statement Monday that left judgment to the Judicial Conduct Board based on the recommendation of a law firm it hired to review the email scandal surrounding Justice Michael Eakin.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

  Every time Pennsylvania voters are asked to make their picks in a race for the Supreme Court, they have to indulge in a polite fiction – one that party leaders and candidates both seem to dislike.

The candidates for justice have a party next to their names, but they must disavow party politics if they make it to the bench. Voters just have to pretend there’s no contradiction.

At a recent forum, three candidates for Supreme Court described how they navigate that process.

www.arnet4statesenate.com / www.guyforpa.com

State Sen. Matt Smith's surprise announcement in May that he would leave office in June to become the head of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce has resulted in this week’s special election pitting Democrat Heather Arnet against Republican Guy Reschenthaler.

An annual commonwealth tradition may take a backseat to state budget negotiations.

Every December, the state’s top politicians head to New York City to see and be seen at a long weekend of fundraisers, parties and one swanky gala collectively referred to as Pennsylvania Society. But some are already talking about skipping the trip if the state doesn’t have a budget by the date of the main event on December 12.

Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

Pennsylvania schools have borrowed at least $431 million since the state’s budget impasse began in July.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office has now heard from more than half of the state’s school districts in an effort to track the fiscal effects of the state’s budget stalemate.

“It’s bad now, but we go from bad to borderline disastrous if something isn’t done by Thanksgiving,” DePasquale said.

Matt Rourke / AP

  Pennsylvanians increasingly think Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane should resign, according to a new poll from Robert Morris University.

Political science professor Philip Harold said 43.6% of the more than 500 people surveyed think she should resign, up 10 percentage points from May.

He said it’s the first time a clear plurality of those polled said she should quit, and he attributed that to increasing news coverage of the criminal charges Kane is facing.

The state Senate has named the members of a special committee tasked with investigating how the attorney general’s suspended law license affects her ability to do her job.

The chairman says the panel will report its findings in 30 days -- a first step toward considering Kathleen Kane’s removal from office.

Top Senate GOP aide Drew Crompton says leaders decided to create the special committee once the suspension of Kane’s law license went into effect last week.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command Director Admiral Michael Rogers spent the day in Pittsburgh on Monday, making stops at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh as well as the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance.

At CMU, Rogers fielded questions from students and faculty on topics ranging from the impact of the Edward Snowden leaks to U.S.-China relations to how foreign nationals can contribute to U.S. cybersecurity.

Pat Pilon / Flickr

  Public utility companies cannot charge customers a fee to receive a paper utility bill in the mail, the Public Utility Commission decided Thursday.

The five-member commission unanimously approved a motion concluding the expense of providing a paper bill to customers is included in operating expenses of the utility and charging a fee is not consistent with commission regulations, long-standing precedent or established practices of Pennsylvania Public Utilities.

Bradley C. Bower / AP Photo

An activist is trying to enlist Pennsylvania’s high court in his effort to drive besieged state Attorney General Kathleen Kane out of office.

Gene Stilp of Dauphin County plans to sue the state Senate and the governor in an effort to prompt them to oust Kane by way of a vaguely defined process in the state Constitution known as “direct removal.” For more than a month, legislative aides have pondered the move, though it’s not clear how it would work.

Senators Hold Opiate Abuse Hearing In Pittsburgh

Oct 16, 2015

Two Pennsylvania senators convened a field hearing on opiate abuse Thursday at Allegheny General Hospital in an effort to jumpstart support for a bill filed in July.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA News

The city’s financial oversight board has authorized the release of the remaining $5.8 million in 2014 gaming funds it has been withholding – with a few stipulations.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a package of bills that primary sponsor Councilman Dan Gilman said will improve ethics and transparency in city government and municipal elections.

Raunchy e-mails flagged by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane have prompted firings, reprimands, court-requested reviews and now, a planned internal audit by the Office of Attorney General. 

Kane’s spokesman Chuck Ardo said the agency plans to do a post-mortem on its efforts to let the state Supreme Court and the Judicial Conduct Board review inappropriate e-mails exchanged between judges and OAG employees.

The examination, Ardo said, is intended to settle a dispute about the e-mails: “who looked at them and when.”

Ted Murphy / Flickr

Minority groups saw a two percentage point increase in casino employment throughout the state, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s 8th annual diversity report.

Racial minorities now comprise about 33 percent of casinos' total workforce. Analysts found 43 percent of employees are women.

Wolf Open To Gambling Expansion, But Skeptical

Oct 14, 2015

The possibility of legalizing new forms of gambling in Pennsylvania has been a low-priority debate among state legislators for at least a year.

The effort is getting more attention now as Republican state lawmakers search for ways to fill a budget gap without ceding to the kind of tax increases supported by Governor Tom Wolf.

Wolf has said he would consider a gambling expansion.

The state Supreme Court is conducting its second review in as many years of potentially inappropriate e-mails exchanged by one of its sitting justices, Michael Eakin.

In a written statement released Monday, the state’s high court said the follow-up investigation is necessary because Attorney General Kathleen Kane didn’t fork over all pertinent messages during a review last year.

Senator Bob Casey

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is calling for a legislative fix to prevent monthly premium cost increases for Medicare beneficiaries.

The Medicare Trustees Report predicts 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will see a more than 50 percent increase to their monthly premium in 2016, from $104 to $159 for the part of their plan that covers lab tests, surgeries, doctor visits and medical supplies. 

Wolf Tax Plan Voted Down By House

Oct 8, 2015
Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

  Gov. Tom Wolf’s revised tax package failed a vote in the state House on Wednesday as nine members of his own party voted against it. 

Republicans and Democrats disagreed about what the vote proved, and shared no specific plans for finalizing a state budget that is now 100 days late. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Two parts of Councilman Ricky Burgess’s “City for All Agenda” received unanimous preliminary approval in Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday.

If the bills are formally approved next week, the city will establish a Wage Review Commission and the HELP Initiative, which would create a strategy for preserving and increasing affordable housing in the East End.

Wolf Adjusts Tax Plan Ahead Of House Vote

Oct 7, 2015

Gov. Tom Wolf is scaling back his tax wish-list ahead of an expected vote in the House on Wednesday.

The revised proposal, released Tuesday afternoon, includes a smaller personal income tax increase and a natural gas drilling tax, but no sales tax hike or increases to cigarette and business taxes.

Mayor Peduto On The Police Bureau's Growing Diversity

Oct 7, 2015
Keith Srakocic / AP Images

As word that one of the cadets moving through the Pittsburgh Police academy would upon graduation be the first transgender officer hired by the city begins to spread throughout the ranks and being reported by local media, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is calling it a non issue.

“I’m not even sure if that is the case,” said Peduto while on WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh.  “It’s not a criteria that we have as part of a test to become a police officer, nor is it something that we can even ask.”

Peduto said the criteria for becoming an officer is very different than asking about sexual identity.

Jim Bowen / flickr

Governor Tom Wolf is attempting to reframe the state budget debate ahead of a tax vote planned for Wednesday in the House.

Calling it a “once in a generation vote,” Wolf said he continues to try to cobble together support for broad-based tax increases.

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