Politics & Government

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

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

When the state’s finances are the subject of partisan debate, it helps to turn to the analyses of the ratings agencies that judge creditworthiness – and two of the three major credit ratings agencies are warning that Pennsylvania’s fiscal problems aren’t over, even if its budget impasse is.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania is a closed primary state, which means you have to be registered as a Democrat to vote for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, and you have to be registered as a Republican to vote for John Kasich, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

If you’ve moved since the last time you voted, you’ll need to update your address. If you’re not registered at all but want to vote, you’ll need to register. If you’re 17 but will be 18 by April 26, go ahead and register; you’re eligible to vote in this election.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

The number of complaints filed against Pittsburgh police has decreased 43 percent since 2013. During the same time period, complaints and lawsuits against the city and its employees have dropped by 50 percent.

Heads of departments that investigate those complaints and suits said the decreases are attributable to better training.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Well, this is awkward.

Mayor Bill Peduto unveiled a new portrait of the city's namesake on Wednesday, decades after Steel City mayors first began gesturing to an incorrect likeness -- Pitt's son, it turns out -- hanging in the mayor's conference room since at least the David L. Lawrence administration. 

Wolf’s Budget Finale Leaves Some Loose Ends

Mar 23, 2016
Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

The state spending stalemate is ending, but lawmakers could face some unfinished budget business.

While Governor Tom Wolf will let the rest of a state budget take effect, he’s vetoing companion legislation known as the fiscal code.

The fiscal code is often referred to as the budget’s instruction manual. Wolf’s office said this one had directions the governor didn’t appreciate – like wiping out new gas drilling regulations and authorizing borrowing to reimburse school construction costs (the governor said the debt service will be too expensive at this point).  

tanjila ahmed / Flickr

Possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana would be reduced from a civil offense to a summary offense under new legislation proposed to Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday.

Fines for possessing or smoking a “small amount of marijuana" would remain at $25 and $100, respectively.

Sponsoring Councilman Daniel Lavelle said the hope is that a summary offense, which does not explicitly state that the fine was imposed for cannabis use, would have less of a negative impact than a civil offense when an offender is applying for jobs or seeking a new residence.

In Key Vote, Medical Marijuana Passes House

Mar 17, 2016
Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

A plan to allow certain forms of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania has cleared a major hurdle, passing the state House and now heading to the Senate, where a similar proposal was approved last year.

Budget Plan Puts GOP, Wolf On Collision Course

Mar 16, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP

State lawmakers and Governor Tom Wolf could be headed for another clash over the Pennsylvania budget, now more than eight months late.

Top Republican lawmakers say they’ll pass a plan this week to restore funds vetoed by the governor late last year. The more than $6 billion proposal would bring the total state budget to about $30 billion, and the supplemental funding aims to make a variety of line items whole again – like the schools, rural hospitals, and agricultural programs on the brink of closing because they haven’t received all their state money.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Keith Srakocic / AP

 

A second Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice quit the bench Tuesday in a widening scandal over raunchy and otherwise offensive emails that he and others exchanged with friends and lawyers.

Justice Michael Eakin's decision to retire marks the latest fallout since embattled state Attorney General Kathleen Kane began releasing hundreds of emails in 2014 to the media and ethics agencies. Kane has since been indicted on perjury and other charges that she claims were trumped up because she took on the old boys' club of Pennsylvania's judiciary and law enforcement.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers To Take Up Medical Marijuana Proposal

Mar 14, 2016
Brett Levin / Flickr

 

A proposal to allow marijuana to be prescribed for a list of medical conditions is heading to the Pennsylvania House floor, where it could face changes before a final vote.

The House planned to take up more than 220 amendments to the bill on Monday, and it could be Wednesday or later before the chamber decides whether to approve the legislation.

Do Budget Talks Warrant An Outside Mediator?

Mar 14, 2016
Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

State budget hearings for the governor’s most recent spending proposal have drawn to a close, but not without an unusual bit of advice from a House lawmaker.

Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Philadelphia) said it’s time for legislative leaders and the governor’s office to bring in some outside help to end the budget impasse: a third-party mediator.

“I am calling for mediation,” said DeLissio, testifying to the final, sparsely attended budget hearing by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. “I am concerned that things have been said that cannot be unsaid.”

Wolf Cabinet Member Resigns After Mysterious Leave

Mar 11, 2016
National Guard Bureau / nationalguard.mil

The commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard has resigned after almost two months on an unexplained leave of absence.

Adjutant General James Joseph is stepping down after taking a paid leave of absence that was announced by the Wolf administration Jan. 14.

Last Budget Meeting Was In December, Lawmaker Says

Mar 11, 2016
Governor Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

The state hasn’t had a full spending plan for more than eight months, but top lawmakers haven’t yet had a budget meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration in 2016, the House Appropriations Committee chairman said Thursday.

“We haven’t met since December,” said Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware). “And we should have been.”

Topher I / Flickr

Pennsylvania’s capital city is looking to go down a path blazed by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Harrisburg’s city council is exploring the decriminalization of marijuana possession with two public meetings this month.

Councilman Cornelius Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that even low-level criminal charges can prevent pot smokers from landing jobs or receiving financial aid for school.  

“In many instances, these arrests have had a direct impact on the trajectory of people’s lives based upon a mistake someone has made when they were young,” said Johnson.

DBKING / Flickr

Pennsylvania's Democratic Party committee members went through a divisive process of buttonholing, cajoling and promising on Saturday but ultimately could not deliver endorsements in contested primary races for U.S. senator and state attorney general.  

House Panel Puts Kane On Defense Over Email Probe

Mar 7, 2016
Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

A special investigation into objectionable emails exchanged from state computers has cost the commonwealth $67,000 and counting.

The revelation came from Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Monday as she answered questions from a state House panel.

The probe began in December, when Kane appointed a special prosecutor, former Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, and hired his Washington, D.C. law firm, Buckley Sandler, to examine the emails and any impropriety among judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and others.

Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections

Pennsylvania’s prison system won’t run out of money this month, though it doesn’t technically have spending authority under the state budget.

Nearly half of the state corrections budget was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf late last year, in a bid to force lawmakers back into budget negotiations.

That hasn’t happened, and now the treasury has stepped in to approve payments of prison operating expenses, including employee salaries, security and safety costs, health care and inmates’ food.

Alex Brandon / AP

Security tasked with guarding U.S. Senator Pat Toomey’s Pittsburgh office challenged a handful of activists hoping to deliver a petition to the Pennsylvania Republican on Thursday.

Organizers said the petition bearing 27,000 signatures urged the state’s junior senator to act on President Obama’s eventual nominee to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, but most activists weren’t allowed inside. Security guards said they called the Pittsburgh Police, but no officers came to the scene.

State Touts Hotline To Prevent Bullying

Mar 1, 2016
Phil Whitehouse / Flickr

The state is trying to get the word out about a bullying prevention hotline that’s been up and running since before the beginning of the school year.

The 24-7 service takes messages from people concerned about bullying in Pennsylvania schools. Social worker Karla Joyce-Good handles responses as part of her job at a non-profit partnering with the state. She said there’s good reason to care about bullying.

Mark Taylor / Flickr

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is installing a new system with the goal of identifying and prioritizing issues, such as main breaks, before they happen.

Brendan Shubert, PWSA manager of external affairs, said the electronic software flags when multiple water main breaks are reported in an area. PWSA will prioritize that area in the following year's budget. 

Then the authority can make that area a priority in the following year’s budget.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Gov. Tom Wolf has cancer.

Wolf announced the diagnosis a statement Wednesday, calling it a treatable form of prostate cancer.

Did Kane Give Impeachment The Slip?

Feb 23, 2016
Rich Schultz / AP

A state House panel tasked with evaluating state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s impeachability began its work Tuesday, hearing of possible complications ahead.

Democratic House Minority Leader Frank Dermody spoke to the House’s subcommittee on courts about his experience leading the 1994 impeachment of the late Rolf Larsen, a former state Supreme Court justice. He sees potential problems for this impeachment effort – namely, the fact that there’s now a definite expiration date on Kane’s tenure.

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

Budget hearings got off to a testy start in the state Capitol as the Wolf administration defended the governor’s spending proposal on Monday, the first day of three weeks of scheduled hearings.

The Capitol hasn’t fully emerged from last year’s budget stalemate over taxes and spending, but lawmakers are launching into this year’s planning process, even if it’s not clear how the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature can meet in the middle.

Governor Tom Wolf / flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf launched a website Monday where he says taxpayers can track the $150 million he pledged to save through streamlining state agencies.  

Michael Watkins / AP

 

Gov. Tom Wolf is asking for federal disaster aid to help Pennsylvania cover costs from last month's massive snowstorm.

Wolf sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he declare a major disaster in Pennsylvania to reimburse 31 counties for storm costs.

He says municipal, county and state agencies spent more than $55 million to respond to the historic storm between Jan. 22 and Jan. 23.

Top Aide Leaving Wolf Administration

Feb 19, 2016
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

John Hanger, a top policy adviser and rhetorical brawler for Governor Tom Wolf, is stepping down from his post, the administration announced Friday.

Hanger said he’s leaving the governor’s office to spend more time with his family in Massachusetts, where his wife has worked since 2010. Keeping two homes and a demanding job, he said, have worn on him.

“My back is giving out,” said Hanger. “I’m not the kind of person, frankly, that can throttle back very well.”

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

President Barack Obama said Sunday he plans to pick a Supreme Court nominee following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia died while on a hunting trip at a friend's luxury West Texas ranch late Saturday. 

Embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane Won't Run Again

Feb 16, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP

  Pennsylvania's embattled attorney general said Tuesday she will not seek a second term, facing pressure from within her own party after being hobbled for months by criminal perjury charges and the suspension of her law license.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced the decision in her hometown of Scranton just hours before a deadline to submit signatures to make the primary ballot.

John Heller / AP

 

The man who once served as Allegheny County's first elected executive is stepping down as chairman of the county Republican committee.

Eighty-three-year-old James Roddey announced his resignation at the party's Spirit of Lincoln Dinner on Monday night.

Roddey says the county party raised $1.3 million under his leadership and that the Pittsburgh-based county now has more Republicans than any other county in the state.

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