Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Matt Rourke / AP


A top aide to Pennsylvania's attorney general is in court Monday defending charges he snooped on emails to keep tabs on a grand jury investigation involving boss Kathleen Kane.

A defense lawyer has argued that Patrick Reese wasn't aware of the court order protecting the emails.

Montgomery County prosecutors charged Reese with criminal contempt the same day in August they charged Kane with perjury and obstruction.

Kane denies charges that she leaked grand jury material and then lied about it.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

The Alfred E. Hunt Armory takes up an entire city block of Shadyside. Its original purpose was to house military weapons. It was later a training facility and a community center. It was the venue for Led Zeppelin’s first Pittsburgh show and touted presidential candidates and evangelist Billy Graham.

The more than a century old historic landmark was last used by the 28th infantry of the National Guard until 2013.  

Jim Bowen / Flickr

As state lawmakers struggle to agree on a budget, a coalition of 32 community organizations has banded together to push for changes in the budget-making process for future years. 

Max King, president of The Pittsburgh Foundation, said he wants there to be a hard deadline in which no state employees gets paid until a budget is in place. The state is supposed to have a new budget by July 1 each year.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

City Councilman Ricky Burgess is pushing a pair of bills that he said would empower people in some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods to guide economic and community development.

Budget Talks Consider Expanding Sales Tax

Dec 2, 2015
Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Rank-and-file state House lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week hoping for specifics of a budget deal.

They left Tuesday evening disappointed.

Flickr user Raquel Camargo

As state legislators in Harrisburg continue to wrestle with a framework budget proposal, rumors are surfacing that a sales tax on admission to arts and cultural institutions could be on the table.

Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny), minority chair of the House Finance Committee said nothing is “set in stone,” but the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is asking supporters to “act swiftly and with unity” according to an email.

ereyesleblanc / Flickr

Joining cities such as Amsterdam, Shanghai and Barcelona, Pittsburgh has signed onto the “Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.” It’s a worldwide effort to examine the system of how food is produced and distributed as demographics change.

PA Budget Stalemate Won’t Disrupt Hunting Season

Nov 30, 2015
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

  Let the record show that Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) thinks lawmakers should be in on Monday, but he knows he’d probably be overruled.

“In Pennsylvania, it’s a big deal to have a session day on a hunting season day – first day of buck season,” Bloom said Tuesday as his colleagues filed past him on their way back from the House floor.

The state budget is nearly a full five months late, and state lawmakers say they’ll return after Thanksgiving to work until they have a deal – but they won’t be back bright and early Monday morning.

Counties May Sue PA Over 5-Month Budget Standoff

Nov 25, 2015
David Flores / Flickr

Pennsylvania's cash-strapped counties are saying enough is enough as the budget impasse in Harrisburg nears its sixth month. They are exploring a lawsuit to force the state to release funds, and at least one already declared it will protest by withholding millions of dollars it collects in state real estate transfer taxes and court fees.

The stalemate between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican lawmakers has meant a lack of state funding for school districts, counties and nonprofits, which in turn have reduced staff, slashed services and borrowed money to cover costs.

Capitol Recap: Proposed Municipal Pensions Fix Would Allow Skipping Public Bids

Nov 25, 2015
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

The exemption would apply to 98 percent of Pennsylvania's municipal retirement systems.

Susquehanna Township's figured out a way to save $40,000 a year, every year.

That's three percent of their budget, freed up. Without compromising anything for residents, or firing anyone.

But to public officials in the 25,000 person community, getting there was almost not worth the trouble.

Pittsburgh City Council is one step closer to prohibiting large trucks from parking on residential streets overnight.

“In a residential community you shouldn’t be able to leave you large trucks. A – it’s a public safety concern on many of our narrow streets, B – residential community is meant for residential parking,” said Councilman Dan Gilman. 

Wolf: Budget Framework In 'Deep Peril'

Nov 23, 2015
Marc Levy / AP

A tentative outline for a state budget looks like it could crumble this week, dealing a bitter reality check to Governor Tom Wolf and the top lawmakers who said they could deliver a spending plan by Thanksgiving.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

At the Survivors Inc. domestic violence shelter off the main drag in Gettysburg, the hardship of the state budget impasse is quantified with two numbers: 70 and 111.

That’s how many adults and children, respectively, had been turned away by the shelter since the standstill began in July, through September. 

“Normally we don’t have any turn-aways,” said Survivors CEO Terri Hamrick as tears came to her eyes. “A lot of them ended up staying where they are. And some of them, we don’t know where they went.” 

Courtney Rhodes / Flickr

  A bill enacting harsher penalties for breaking traffic laws in work zones is awaiting Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature. Senate Bill 887 unanimously passed the Senate last week.

“This legislation provides for additional penalties depending upon the nature of the injury to a worker, a municipal worker or a police officer or emergency responder; it’s geared toward trying to change the culture of drivers on our roadways,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Republican Liquor Plan Passes State House Amid Budget Talks

Nov 19, 2015
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

  A divided state House is sending a new proposal to privatize Pennsylvania's government-run liquor system to the Senate, but it's not much different than a Republican-backed plan that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed in June.

The House voted 110 to 86 on Thursday for a bill that would close all 600 state stores and create 1,200 permits to sell wine and liquor.

Beer distributors would get the first opportunity to buy the permits, and what's left would be auctioned off.

Matt Rourke / AP

Cases are being dragged out due to legal challenges in the Office of the Attorney General without Kathleen Kane’s personal involvement.

It’s not clear who should sign off on the state’s next bond and top lawyers of the office aren’t sure who has ultimate control over hiring and firing decisions.

William Real / Flickr

Pittsburgh’s old property violations system was, in a word, cumbersome.

“A citizen would put a call into 311. We would then print out that call here (and) manually hand it to an inspector. They would then go out, see the property, inspect it, write on the back of the paper if there was a violation and then give it to someone to be typed up, and then we’d actually mail it out,” said Maura Kennedy, director of the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections, or PLI. “That took weeks.”

(CC-BY 3.0)

Updated: 3:15 p.m.  

Carnegie Mellon University is facing renewed criticism over its alleged role in a massive takedown of "Dark Web" sites last year.  

Kane's Top Deputies Called Before Senate Panel

Nov 17, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP

Perhaps what Attorney General Kathleen Kane needs is an asterisk – a footnote, or some other kind of small explanation of her current situation.

That’s what one legal ethicist advised in testimony Tuesday to the state Senate committee considering Kane’s removal in light of her law license suspension last month.

School Officials Lobby To Keep Taxing Abilities

Nov 16, 2015
Mary Wilson / WHYY

Tiny preschoolers and K-12 school students took Monday off to join school board members and exasperated parents calling for an end to the state budget impasse, as Gov. Tom Wolf signaled a budget deal wouldn’t be ready before December. 

Members of the advocacy coalition known as Campaign for Fair Education Funding fanned out throughout the Capitol building to meet individually with their lawmakers and ask for a finalized state budget.

Screengrab / Twitter

As the state budget impasse continues, organizations that provide assistance to those in need across Pennsylvania are going into debt to cover costs.

Victim Outreach Intervention Center (VOICe) is one of those. The Butler County organization provides services to individuals and families who are survivors of sexual, domestic and other types of violence. Executive Director Heidi Artman said the organization relies heavily on state funding and she sums up the last few months as such.


As the state budget impasse wears through its fifth month, service organizations and some of their funders are calling on state lawmakers to take action before services and programs statewide face more delays in funding.

The Pittsburgh Foundation partnered with the United Way of Allegheny County to launch a social media campaign using #PAPeopleCount. The groups are asking service providers, nonprofits and residents to let their digital voices be heard.

cgkinla / Flickr

It’s become something of a routine in Pittsburgh City Council’s weekly committee meetings: when legislation to create a registry of rental properties in the city comes up for discussion, Public Safety Chair Councilman Daniel Lavelle asks that the bill be held for another week — or two, or three.

A May 2015 investigation into why the bill wasn’t moving forward in council garnered few solid answers, but it now appears that Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration is prepared to revive the long-dormant proposal.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA


The state auditor general said Tuesday that he wants to disband a financial oversight group that's no longer needed in order to funnel funds into city pensions. 

State Budget Negotiators Point To A Rough-Hewn Deal

Nov 10, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP

Legislative leaders and the Wolf administration said Monday they have a rough map to reach a final budget deal by Thanksgiving.

“This is the first time I think that we’ve seen a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf.

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.