Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Alternative Transportation Receives Federal Funding

Nov 18, 2014

An ambitious plan to redevelop the Civic Arena site in Downtown Pittsburgh has received a sizeable loan to help fund the included multimodal transportation efforts.

A $946,680 loan was awarded to the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh to help fund a proposed intersection, complete with pedestrian safety infrastructure. The intersection, which will sit where they is currently only parking lots is part of the overall Lower Hill Infrastructure Project.

A panel created to examine how the state can better serve and protect elder Pennsylvanians has finished its work after 18 months with more than 100 recommendations.

The Elder Law Task Force, made up of lawyers, prosecutors, judges, advocates and program administrators, issued its final report Monday. Suggestions range from requiring legal guardians to receive training on ethics and liability to increasing funding for legal aid to low-income seniors.

The head of the state’s high court says a review hasn’t wrapped up on any inappropriate emails that may have been exchanged by members of the judiciary.

Chief Justice Ron Castille said Monday that the Judicial Conduct Board is still looking for answers in regard to a batch of 4,000 sexually explicit emails identified by the Office of Attorney General as involving some jurists.

This Week in PA Politics 11/17

Nov 17, 2014

Governor-elect Wolf hires McGinty as his Chief Of Staff. Former Democratic candidate for governor Katie McGinty is joining the team of Governor-elect Tom Wolf as his chief of staff, 90.5 WESA’s Liz Reid reports. McGinty, who worked under former Governor Ed Rendell as head of the Department of Environmental Protection, brings a wealth of experience to the position, most recently as the head of Tom Wolf’s PAC, Fresh Start PA.

When several school districts sued state officials recently over education funding, they re-lit a torch that advocates have been carrying for decades. The lawsuit is a follow-up to a similar legal challenge filed in 1991 and tossed out in 1999, without a resolution.

Judges in the Commonwealth Court and the state Supreme Court said they couldn’t measure whether districts were delivering a sub-par education because of inadequate state funding.

Pennsylvania's nonpartisan agency for budget analysis is pinning a number on the anticipated budget deficit next year: $1.85 billion.

The Independent Fiscal Office's figure comes in a report that clearly outlines what has been referred to in generalities since the passage of this year's roughly $29 billion state budget in July.

State lawmakers say only time will tell how Republican leadership changes will alter the House and Senate majority caucuses and the Legislature's relationship with the incoming administration.

The success of the Governor-elect Tom Wolf's ambitious policy agenda came into question as the election night tallies last week showed Republicans grew their majorities in the House and Senate. But many looked forward to Wednesday's leadership elections as either another nail in the coffin or a glimmer of hope.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner is calling for more transparency in the distribution of Allegheny County’s gaming funds.

Wagner’s office audited the distribution of casino monies to the Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund (CITF) and the Gaming Economic Development Fund (GEDF) from 2010 to 2013 – totalling $28.2 million.

The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County (RAAC), an independent board appointed by the County Executive, is responsible for choosing which applicants receive funds from gaming: ranging from municipalities to non-profits to hospitals.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has fired the director of the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System a month after the department says internal investigators determine she committed unspecified "conduct unbecoming a senior executive."

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Wednesday four of her employees have been fired and 11 suspended without pay for involvement in a pornographic email scandal that also prompted a state Supreme Court justice to step down.

Kane said two other union employees face possible termination after "the exhaustion of their contractually mandated rights." Two others quit before being disciplined, and several others described as having limited involvement received written reprimands or counseling.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It’s been about 2 months since Mayor Bill Peduto has sat down in studio A for his monthly live interview.

We catch up with him and his take on the recent purchase of the August Wilson Center, what the election of Tom Wolf for governor means for Pittsburgh, his recent budget address and we’ll follow up on last month’s live community and police forum.

Oh, and what's up with this "Jagoff" in the dictionary thing???

State Senate Republicans have a new majority leader for the first time in eight years.

Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) will lead the 30-member caucus for the next two-year legislative session along with Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County, who was re-elected to his post Wednesday.

Corman ousted Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-CHester), who had been criticized for not advancing conservative policies, and who many say has clashed with Scarnati.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA), a state operated financial oversight committee, has rejected Mayor Bill Peduto’s nearly $508 million 2015 spending plan Tuesday for a second time.

The ICA said the city continuously ignored the board’s request for financial information, including property tax and parking meter rate adjustment specifics, as well as failing to provide a “signed EMS contract.”

In reaction to charges that he might have misused a county-owned vehicle, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has written a $42,737.52 check to cover all of the mileage he has put on his take home car since assuming office.

Last week County Controller Chela Wagner publicly questioned Fitzgerald’s use of the car citing several instances where he used the vehicle to get to and from what she labeled as political events. Wagner specifically questioned 19,556 miles, which she equated to $13,125 by applying the federal mileage reimbursement rate.

A Republican is Coming to Pittsburgh

Nov 12, 2014

Pittsburgh is as Democratic a city as they come.

The last time the city elected a Republican mayor Franklin Delano Roosevelt was entering his first term as president.

But with redistricting, Democratic State Senator Jim Ferlo, who represents the 38th district, and Republican state Senator Randy Vulakovich, who represents the 40th district, now live within same legislative boundaries. That newly drawn 38th district includes a small portion of Pittsburgh but heavily favors a Republican candidate.

The state House and Senate could return to session next year with new faces leading the Republican majority and Democratic minority caucuses. Leadership elections scheduled Wednesday could change the direction of each chamber for the next two-year session.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is imposing an ethics code on the people tasked with shaping his administration.

The code of ethical conduct is a relatively recent pre-requisite for gubernatorial transition teams. Governor Corbett had his 400-person team pledge a similar oath. Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna said it's a sign of the times.

Katie McGinty / facebook

Former state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty failed to win the Democratic nomination for Governor this spring, but she has nabbed one of the top spots in Gov.-elect Tom Wolf’s administration. Wolf on Monday named McGinty his chief of staff.

McGinty said she’s anticipating a stark and sobering report from the Independent Fiscal Office on Thursday.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said when it comes to honoring veterans, speeches and parades are nice, but effective government services are vital.

He’s calling on his fellow lawmakers to pass the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, introduced in March, which would modify guidelines concerning the fulfillment of disability claims.

According to Casey, the average wait time for a claim at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs Regional Office, or VARO, is 231 days. In Philadelphia, it’s 266 days, and the nationwide average is 240 days.

The 2015 budget for the city of Pittsburgh still needs to have a few more numbers plugged in before City Council can approve it, but the New Year could mean higher property taxes and higher parking rates. 

The mayor has outlined a $508 million operating budget and a $76.6 million capital budget for 2015.  It calls for $4.5 million in additional property tax income and another $5 million in earned income taxes.

The Blurred Line Between Cyber Crime and Cyber Terrorism

Nov 10, 2014
Gflores / wikipedia

Tribune-Review reporter Andrew Conte joins us to discuss how the lines between online thefts and all-out warfare continue to blur as hackers become more effective at attacks that threaten to cause serious economic damage.

Last week the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to cyber security insiders reporting that a destructive malware program known as "BlackEnergy" has been placed in key U.S. infrastructure systems.

We discuss this and other cyber crime issues Conte has investigated for his special series, Cyber Rattling: The Next Threat

This Week in PA Politics 11/10

Nov 10, 2014

The Results from Tuesday’s General Election

Following a southeastern high school that curtailed its season after allegations of hazing, a midstate lawmaker is seeking to criminalize such rituals.

Pennsylvania is one of 44 states with anti-hazing laws, but the commonwealth’s statute applies only to institutions of higher education. Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) said hazing penalties should apply to schools and clubs, as well.

“They should be penalized,” Marsico said. “I mean, they’re old enough to know. If they’re over 13 years of age, they should know better.”

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is accusing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald of mishandling thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds by using his county-owned vehicle for personal purposes.

At a news conference Thursday, Wagner said she sent Fitzgerald a letter instructing him to send her staff accurate documentation so they can determine how much he must reimburse the county. She said his office would have to determine how they would reimburse the funds.

Unofficial statewide tallies show Tuesday’s voter turnout dipped compared to the last gubernatorial election in 2010. Still, Democrat Tom Wolf was able to beat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett with a 10-point margin by piling up votes in the state’s urban centers.

Both candidates lost their home counties, but for Wolf, winning the populous Allegheny County more than made up for losing his home turf in York County.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

“Something I heard at Corbett HQ on election night was ‘Well, no one’s ever going to cut education funding again,’” recalled Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Melissa Daniels at a post-election analysis forum at Chatham University Wednesday afternoon.

The forum, dubbed “The Day After,” was hosted by Chatham’s Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics and moderated by Executive Director Dana Brown.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Mayor Bill Peduto said that for too long the city has had a "Kennywood approach" to pensions — with ups and downs and warnings and signals about their viability and effect on city budget.

In an effort to ensure the pension plans for police, firefighters and municipal employees do not become a financial liability, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has launched an audit of those plans. Peduto joined the auditor general for the announcement, saying it’s time to dig deep into Pittsburgh’s numbers.

American Council on Education / Flickr

Is there a connection between yesterday's national elections and globalization?

We'll pose that question to Dr. Michael Mandelbaum, professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

He comes to Pittsburgh on Monday November 10 to hold a public policy discussion on the future of the global economy, for the World Affairs Council.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The political ads are gone, the polls have closed and the votes have been tabulated. We'll get analysis of yesterday's gubernatorial race from John Baer, political columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. And WESA Senior News Editor Mark Nootbaar joins us with a wrap-up of local races.

Live Tweets from this segment

When incoming Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack takes office in January, he says he might try to hold onto his seat in the state Senate, according to a report in PoliticsPA.   

But a local political science professor said Stack wouldn’t be permitted to keep both jobs under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“According to the constitution, if you’re a senator or a representative, you can’t have any other office that draws a salary,” said Kristin Kanthak, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

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