Politics & Government

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

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. 

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday will debate a heavily amended version of Theresa Kail-Smith’s Bike Lane Advisory Board legislation.

Last week, Kail-Smith asked that her legislation to be held for a week to allow council members to review the changes.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Seven months after the board of the state-appointed authority that oversees Pittsburgh’s budget fired its executive director amid concerns of financial mismanagement, the board still does not know exactly where its money was going in 2015 and 2016.

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

Protesters have gathered at Philadelphia International Airport to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban.

The protesters began waving signs and chanting "Let them in!" and other slogans Sunday afternoon. 

Emily Cohen / NewsWorks

At 5:30 in the morning of November 9, 2016, Natasha Taylor-Smith crept into her 13-year-old daughter's bedroom. 

She picked up her daughter's smartphone, typed "CNN.com" into the browser and saw a large picture of now-President Donald Trump.

Taylor-Smith put down the phone and woke her daughter up.

"As soon as she opened her eyes, she says, 'Did Hillary win?' and I said, 'No,'" Taylor-Smith recalled. 

Her daughter gave her a confused look. 

"'Donald Trump's going to be our president?" she asked.

"Yes," Taylor-Smith replied.

PA Auditor General

A sixth-grader from Lycoming County has collected 750 signatures on a petition calling for all of the unprocessed rape kits in the state to be tested and the state’s auditor general wants to stand behind her effort.

A 2015 Pennsylvania law required all new rape kits collected by police to be tested within six months. But many of the older DNA specimens are still sitting on shelves. In fact, End The Backlog estimates 3,000 rape kits are sitting untested in Pennsylvania. Some of them have been on shelves for more than a decade.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA

A package of bills in Pittsburgh City Council intended to help immigrants and refugees living in the city drew its first opposition during debate Wednesday.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said since Councilman Dan Gilman introduced the suite of six bills last week, her office has gotten calls both for and against the measures.

Katie Meyer / WITF

In one of the state Capitol’s busy lobbies, there’s a clock that tracks unfunded pension liabilities. All day and night, that clock ticks upwards, adding billions of dollars to Pennsylvania’s debts every year.

The clock’s overseen by a small, dedicated group of pension overhaul advocates and on Tuesday, they dragged it up to the Capitol’s main rotunda to make a renewed call to lawmakers: find a way to halt the clock’s rising numbers, once and for all.

Ex-Harrisburg Mayor Pleads Guilty In Wild West Museum Artifacts Case

Jan 23, 2017
Diana Robinson / Keystone Crossroads

A former mayor pleaded guilty Monday to 20 counts of receiving stolen property related to his ill-starred effort to bring a Wild West museum to his central Pennsylvania city.

Former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed, 67, faces serious health problems and felt pleading guilty was the right thing to do, his lawyer said.

"We think this is an opportunity now to move on with his life and get the treatment he needs for his illness," said attorney Henry Hockeimer Jr.

Corrections Officials Tell Senators Prisons Can Close Safely

Jan 23, 2017
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

Pennsylvania corrections officials are telling state senators they can close two prisons without jeopardizing the security of staff, inmates or the public.

Monday's joint Senate committee hearing comes four days before the Department of Corrections is to announce which two prisons it'll close. The hearing in the state Capitol is packed with corrections officers and their supporters.

The two prisons are to be chosen from a list of five prisons: Frackville, Mercer, Pittsburgh, Retreat and Waymart.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 FM WESA

Earlier this month, the Pittsburgh Planning Commission rejected plans to redevelop the former Penn Plaza site in East Liberty, saying not enough public input was given. Last week, the developer filed an appeal saying there had been ample opportunity for public input.

Before the appeal was filed, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin said the administration stood behind the commission’s decision and will stay involved.

John Minchillo / AP

 

While Washington, D.C. prepared for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, more than 300 mayors gathered blocks from the White House for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

They chatted, they swapped cards, they exchanged insight on engaging seniors, dealing with hunger, and and how to pay for infrastructure.

While Pennsylvania mayors said they’re largely hopeful that the new administration will work with cities, they’re not holding their breath.

Pittsburgh Budget Gets Final Blessing

Jan 20, 2017
Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA

Nearly three weeks into the new year, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority has given final approval to Pittsburgh’s 2017 budget.

The ICA approved Pittsburgh’s budget in October with the condition that the city find a way to replace $10 million in gaming revenues that would no longer be flowing into the city’s coffers.

evans.house.gov

Four out of Pennsylvania’s five Democratic congressmen have declared they’re sitting out President-Elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

They join a growing contingent of more than 50 Democrats opting out of Trump’s ceremony.

One after another this week, Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans and Bob Brady of Philadelphia, and Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh variously expressed opposition to Trump’s rhetoric and policies, and support for Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Lewis prominently tangled with Trump over his own inauguration boycott.

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