Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

City Council is slated on Wednesday to consider Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak's plain language resolution, which aims to do away with forms and other documents filled with legalese that may be hard for some people to understand.

Screenshot from pittsburghpa.opengov.com

Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday will take a final vote on a bill that would take the city one step closer to the creation of a Regional Data Center.

The legislation authorizes the city to enter into cooperation agreements with Allegheny County and the University of Pittsburgh to create and operate a web-based open data portal.

Courtesy Guy Reschenthaler official Facebook page

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania has nominated a former judge and military prosecutor to run in this fall’s special election to fill the seat left vacant by former state Sen. Matt Smith (D-Mt. Lebanon).

Guy Reschenthaler will run against a still unnamed Democratic opponent on Nov. 3rd.

Reschenthaler, who tendered his resignation as a District Judge upon receiving the nomination, beat out five other opponents in five rounds of voting.

Megan Sweeney, communications director for the party, said 81 conferees met Sunday morning in Pittsburgh to cast their votes.

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) has enlisted the support of the entire Pennsylvania delegation and more than 200 other members of Congress in asking fellow members working on appropriations bills to force the U.S. Army to leave the Apache helicopters currently assigned to National Guard units right where they are. 

The Republican this week circulated for signatures a letter asking that funding to move the 200 helicopters be removed from the pending budget. Twenty-four of those aircraft are based in Johnstown.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf isn't ruling out a switch to 401(k)-style retirement plans for future state and school employees.

"I think we can actually come up with a pension plan that's fair to employees and that meets the concerns that have been expressed by taxpayers," said Wolf when asked if he could sign such a proposal.

AP Photo/Chris Knight

Some see the state Capitol deadlock over a state budget as political dysfunction or theatre. But it's also a social experiment: this is the year Pennsylvanians will see how a court decision ending "payless paydays" affects the budget negotiations.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order last month aimed at shoring up aging facilities in the city’s public safety, public works and parks departments.

Eleven projects deemed critical are expected to get underway as soon as possible at a price tag of $1.6 million.

So where does the city find that much money in the middle of the year?

Sam Ashbaugh, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has an idea.

Emily Previti / WITF

After nine years of state intervention, Nanticoke’s got a balanced budget, most debts paid off and a full complement of financial management staff in place.

But it all happened at the expense of taxpayers and required changing the city’s form of government. 

Administrative staff, certain volunteers and university employees are no longer required by state law to be fingerprinted and submit to criminal history and child abuse background checks.

The tweaks to the child protection law were signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on July 1.

Lawmakers had beefed up background check requirements last legislative session in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. But some groups thought the changes went too far – like university professors who balked at having to be fingerprinted in order to teach their 17-year-old students.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the long-overdue system to merge the payroll operations of the city and Allegheny County will be in place by the end of the year.

The lack of an operational system prompted the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which has financial oversight of the city, to withhold millions of dollars in slot machine revenues.

The State Of Sewer Pipelines In Pennsylvania

Jul 8, 2015
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Pennsylvania is an old state, one where people settled and built infrastructure early. That means much of the infrastructure in the Commonwealth’s cities is breaking down with age, needs expensive maintenance, retrofits, or replacement, or just doesn’t fit with contemporary ideas of urban planning. Add to that many cities’ struggling budgets, which keep sewer repairs and maintenance from being addressed in a timely manner.

One week after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a GOP budget curtailing the state’s authority to spend money, negotiations over a new plan are at a standstill.

A Tuesday meeting between Republicans and the governor appeared to yield no progress toward the middle on a mix of tax proposals offered by Wolf and opposed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The City of Pittsburgh is on target to meet revenue expectations and possibly end with a surplus, according to City Controller Michael Lamb.

Lamb, who gave a mid-year update at the City County Building on Tuesday, said Pittsburgh made progress on its long-term debt through December despite having borrowed money in 2014. But, he said, city officials could do more.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

“This is Pittsburgh. We want French fries on our sandwiches, not (the flu),” Councilman Corey O’Connor told a group of supporters shortly before introducing legislation that would mandate paid sick days for all workers in the city.

William Del Toro is a natural lobbyist. He doesn't like noise or distractions, but in a loud, busy part of the Capitol one morning, he enthusiastically answered questions about job opportunities for people with disabilities.

"I'm going to tell you the truth," said Del Toro, pushing his glasses up. "I don't believe in the word, a disability. I think it's just we're all unique. We think a different way."

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Eve Picker takes her computer out of her bag and clicks through a mostly empty website of filler text and stock photos. Picker is a Pittsburgh-based developer with a portfolio of complicated projects, but she says this one is probably the most difficult thing she’s ever done. In just a few weeks, the newest real estate crowdfunding platform, Small Change, will launch.

While Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders continue to battle over a new budget: how much to spend, where to get the necessary revenues — tax hikes? — the Department of Revenue reports that the commonwealth ended Fiscal Year 2014-15 with a surplus.

“About $412 million, which is 1.4 percent above the estimate that was set last July,” said department spokesperson Elizabeth Brassell.

Gov. Tom Wolf has let fly another veto of a major Republican priority – the privatization of the state-run liquor system.

In a written statement Thursday, Wolf said he doesn’t want to sell a state asset before it reaches its full money-making potential: “This legislation falls short of a responsible means to reform our state liquor system and to maximize revenues to benefit our citizen.”

Steve Miskin, House GOP spokesman, called the move disappointing.

AP Photo/Chris Knight

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says even though formal budget negotiations will not begin until Monday morning, he and his staff will be busy over the holiday weekend. 

The Democratic governor rejected the budget passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate, leaving the state without a spending plan as of Wednesday. He said both sides have put down their markers.

Late budgets aren’t the statewide shock they used to be.

Sure, the commonwealth loses the authority to make certain payments. Standoffs in the '70s, '80s and '90s meant thousands of state workers went unpaid. But recent court rulings say the state has to pay its employees’ salaries. Other critical services will have to be funded as well.

“I don’t think people should be terribly panicked or concerned,” said Christopher Craig, chief counsel to the state Treasurer. “It will take quite some for any real impact to be noticeable.”

When Allegheny County’s Home Rule Charter was adopted in 1999, it established a council comprised of 13 members elected by districts and two at-large members: one Democrat and one Republican.

Now, Republican County Councilman Edward Kress of Shaler wants to increase the number of at-large members to three, to account for citizens who might not affiliate with either of the main parties.

Pittsburgh area nonprofits that receive state funding are being warned to prepare for a long budget delay.

Kate Dewey is president of The Forbes Funds, the host organization for the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, which offers an array of services to assist nonprofits throughout the region. Dewey said the partnership is recommending several steps nonprofits can take to ensure their long-term stability.

Following the release of recommendations from Gov. Tom Wolf’s Task Force on Municipal Pensions, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said that while the recommendations do not contain every pension change he’d like to see, it’s an important start.

“We wanted to see some movement on a hybrid model, defined benefit plan, and perhaps reform state Act 205 which gives funding to cities with distressed pension plans like Pittsburgh,” said Peduto’s spokesman Tim McNulty, “but, it was an important first step.”

AP Photo/Chris Knight

The war of rhetoric has begun in earnest in Harrisburg over the state budget. This week, the Republican controlled House and Senate approved a balanced $30 billion budget that was quickly vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday.

Wolf, who is a Democrat, said the budget is based on gimmicks and lacks fiscal integrity.

AP Photo/Chris Knight

Pennsylvania's Democratic governor is inviting legislative leaders to meet in his Capitol offices, a day after the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a state budget he vetoed.

Gov. Tom Wolf said he hopes the Wednesday afternoon meeting will restart negotiations over a spending plan for the fiscal year that has just begun.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Republican Allegheny County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh on Tuesday suggested to the Government Review Commission that the legislative body on which she serves be disbanded.

At a news conference ahead of the commission’s meeting Tuesday afternoon, Heidelbaugh called the council “superfluous,” citing a 91.8 percent passage rate for ordinances proposed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

AP Photo/Chris Knight

Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed the entire GOP-crafted budget package sent to him Tuesday.

The governor announced his plans shortly after the bill passed the Republican-controlled Legislature Friday night. He has pointed out that the spending blueprint lacks his top priorities — a new tax on the natural gas industry, for starters. On Tuesday, Wolf said the budget also lacks basic fiscal integrity.

In mid-June, the Port Authority announced it is considering a one-time $5 fee for ConnectCard service. The proposal has been met with some criticism from riders, who expressed their views at a public hearing on Tuesday.

Many who spoke also offered potential fixes to avoid charging for the cards.

Edward Wagner of Brighton Heights opened up the public comment session by suggesting the Port Authority should not only keep ConnectCards free, but should also offer a discount to riders who use them because they save time.

Counties, school districts and other groups that rely on state funding are preparing themselves for a late commonwealth budget, as Gov. Tom Wolf has all but promised to veto a GOP-crafted spending plan expected to land on his desk Tuesday.

A budget deal between the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic Wolf administration could be elusive. That would not stop commonwealth employees from being paid, due to a 2009 court ruling. The commonwealth would also have authority to pay for critical functions, like state prison meals and human services.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Speaking at a press event in Troy Hill Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey pushed for legislation he’s supporting that would improve summer food programs for children.

The bill would improve the area eligibility test to allow communities to participate if 40 percent of the children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (rather than the 50 percent it currently is). It would also provide funding for transportation grants that could be used for food trucks and allow sites to serve a third meal (rather than two meals and a snack).

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