Government & Politics

Government & Politics
1:00 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

Senate Mulls Plan To Boost Affordable Housing

Affordable housing hasn’t been an agenda-topper for state lawmakers this year faced with too many line items and not enough money. But a bipartisan group of senators are backing a plan that could boost residential housing stock by letting the real estate market do the heavy lifting.  

The state’s one percent tax on real estate transfers is being eyed as a way to pay for it.

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Government & Politics
7:33 am
Thu June 12, 2014

With Dismal Revenue Outlook, Party Leaders Warm To Each Other

Revenue updates continue to leave state lawmakers cold, but partisan tensions may be starting to thaw as leaders sense tough decisions ahead.

The news is bad and not getting better for anyone interested in finishing a state budget by the end of June. April tax collections were down by hundreds of millions of dollars, followed by a May haul that came in roughly $100 million below estimate. On Wednesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) said June revenues are expected to contribute to the growing deficit.

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Allegheny County
5:53 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

Allegheny County Controller Releases Yearly Report on County's Fiscal Health

The takeaway: Allegheny County's fiscal condition is good, but policy makers shouldn't be complacent because challenges are on the horizon.

That's according to County Controller Chelsa Wagner, who released her 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report Tuesday.

The report shows that the county’s fund balance stands at $28 million — up $15 million from the previous year,  and Standard & Poor’s rating agency has upgraded the county’s debt from A+ to AA-. Wagner also noted that jobs increased by more than 20,000 making the region home to more than 1.2 million employees.

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Government & Politics
7:46 am
Wed June 11, 2014

Plan To Reduce Penn State Board Goes To Full Senate

The full Senate will take up a measure to reduce the size of Penn State’s Board of Trustees, thereby responding to criticisms of how the university handled the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.

Under the proposal, Penn State’s current governing body would go from 30 to 23 voting members. Changes, by attrition, would go into effect in 2016.

Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) proposed the overhaul to address concerns voiced in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal.

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Government & Politics
5:08 pm
Tue June 10, 2014

Medical Marijuana Could Get Senate Panel Vote Soon

A measure to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania could be ready for a state Senate committee vote this month, supporters say.

The bill would set up state oversight of doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of illnesses, said Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), the Republican leading the charge for medical marijuana.

“Whether you’re suffering from epilepsy, diabetes, various forms of cancer, post-traumatic stress syndrome – I could go on,” Folmer said.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:29 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Single Payer Health Care... Not Yet for the United States

Credit Andye / Flickr

 

What does Single Payer Health Care look like? How does it work? One need look no further than England, home to the world's largest single-payer health system. Sir David Nicholson, former CEO of England's National Health Service, provided some insight to the single payer health system and how it relates to health care questions posed in our country today.

Money for health care is collected through general taxation in England’s single payer system, which is then given to the department of health, and allocated out to the clinical commission groups. These groups then essentially purchase services from hospitals. The system treats over a million people every 36 hours, according to Sir Nicholson. 

But would this work in the United States? Sir Nicholson doesn’t believe so, but offers this advice for the U.S.-- get more help from medical groups themselves, rather than the government.

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Government & Politics
4:33 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Judge Takes On Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage

The federal judge who struck down Pennsylvania's law banning recognition of same-sex marriage says he saw no proof that same-sex marriage destroys the strength of families.

Judge John E. Jones III spoke Monday on WITF-FM's hour-long show "Smart Talk."

He was responding to a statement by Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh read to him by the show's host. But Jones says a link between family strength and same-sex marriage hasn't been proven.

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Pension reform
10:00 am
Thu June 5, 2014

PA House Leader Leaves Door Open to Defer Pension Payments

The Pennsylvania House Majority Leader isn’t ruling out a move to trim the state’s scheduled payments toward its pension debt.

“There’s not an appetite to reduce the collars (scheduled payments) in the House,” said Representative Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), as he stressed the need for an overhaul to pension benefits for future employees.

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Government & Politics
6:14 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

Congressman Tim Murphy's Plan to Fix Veterans Affairs

Congressman Tim Murphy talked about changes that need to be made in within the VA
Credit Office of Congressman Tim Murphy

When Eric Shinseki resigned as Veterans Affairs Secretary last Friday, he publicly apologized for a scandal which involved months of wait-times for veterans in need of medical care.

U.S. Representative Tim Murphy is calling for an independent audit of the Pittsburgh VA because he believes that more than 700 local veterans have been involved in the VA scandal. Some he said, have been waiting for years, and the VA has been hiding the problem.

In explaining how this neglect could have happened and how the scandal can be resolved, Murphy said it's a matter of either incompetence, or purposely misleading and misrepresenting numbers.

"The latter one, I believe, is probably going to go more into criminal prosecution, especially if it led to any harm or deaths of veterans," said Murphy "When a person has manipulated a list to get their bonuses or promotions or pay raises. That is just wrong and its criminal." 

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City Government
3:13 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

ICA Recommends Hefty Slash To City Budget; Peduto Pushes Back

Days after the Act 47 Recovery Coordinators submitted their 166-page plan to the city for review, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, or ICA, put in their two cents.

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Government & Politics
10:39 am
Wed June 4, 2014

Senate Panel Considers Online Gambling

State lawmakers are toying with the idea of allowing online bets as a way to boost state tax revenue.

Making online gambling legal could yield $68 million its first year for the state, and $110 million annually in later years. That’s according to policy consultants who assessed Pennsylvania’s gambling landscape for the state Legislature.

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Government & Politics
5:04 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

State Senate To Consider Smaller Government Across All Branches

Fewer legislators, fewer judges and no lieutenant governor — that’s the vision approved by a state Senate committee this week.

Proposed constitutional amendments to shrink the size of government across the three branches have been sent to the full Senate for consideration. Under the measures, the House would go from 203 to 153 members, the Senate would lose five seats, two judgeships each would be eliminated from the state Superior Court and Supreme Court. The lieutenant governor would also get the axe.

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Government & Politics
8:42 am
Tue June 3, 2014

PA Tax Collections Came In $108 Million Below Expectations Last Month

Pennsylvania tax collections last month fell short by about $108 million, or five and a half percent.

The report wasn’t unexpected, but still came as unwelcome news for state lawmakers facing a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. Less than a month remains to hammer out a spending plan for the next fiscal year.

Republicans, who control the General Assembly, still aren’t sure how they’ll bridge the gap.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:47 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Examining Mike Fleck's Plans To Run Despite Losing The Republican Primary

Current State Representative of District 81, Mike Fleck failed to win the Republican primary this year, but he still plans on running for re-election.
Credit Pennsylvania House of Representatives / http://www.house.state.pa.us/

Pennsylvania's first openly gay Republican legislator, State Rep. Mike Fleck, says he still will appear on the ballot in November's general election, even though he lost the Republican nomination in the primary.

John Micek, long-time Capitol reporter and now editor of the editorial and opinion pages for the Patriot-News and PennLive, explained that this is situation for Fleck is very unusual. When asked to rank it on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, Micek ranked it a 12. 

"This is one of the great stories to come out of Election Day 2014, Primary Day 2014," he said. "Ironically, the same day that, you know, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, here in Harrisburg, struck down Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Law. It was not an irony that went unobserved by a lot of people."

Some people did not even realize that someone could be on the Republican ballot and win the primary for the Democratic party as a write-in.

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Government & Politics
5:23 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Pittsburgh Receives Latest Act 47 Recovery Plan

Pittsburgh’s Recovery Coordinators have submitted a new plan – the third since the city has been under distressed Act 47 oversight – to get the city into solvent financial shape.

In addition to eliminating operating deficits and reducing the city’s debt payments, the latest plan to get Pittsburgh out of commonwealth oversight focuses on beefing up the employee pension fund.

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Government & Politics
4:38 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Pittsburgh Officials Indict International Cyber-Criminal

Evgeniy Bogachev was last known to reside in Anapa, Russia and is believed to be a flight risk.
Credit Courtesy U.S. Department of Justice

Law enforcement officials in Pittsburgh had a major hand in bringing down an international ring of cyber criminals, according U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton.

The indictment, unsealed Monday, names Russian citizen Evgeny Bogachev as one of five defendants, charged with conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. The indictment alleges that Bogachev was the mastermind behind two malware programs that infected the computers of as many as one million people worldwide, 25 percent of whom were in the United States.

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Government & Politics
10:55 am
Mon June 2, 2014

State Pension Beat: Of Debt And Design Changes

Democratic and Republican state lawmakers differ as to whether it matters that a plan to change pension benefits doesn't take a big bite out of the massive debt the state has already accrued.

The Republican plan to change pension benefits for future state and school employees would bring savings — just not the kind that would help the state pay off pension debt much faster than existing law requires.

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Government & Politics
7:13 am
Fri May 30, 2014

Budget Talks Begin As Revenue Shortfall Gets Wider

State lawmakers return to Harrisburg next week for the relatively action-packed month of June. It’s a time reserved for finalizing a state budget before the July 1 deadline, and all signs point to a tough road ahead.

A projected $1.2 billion deficit is likely to grow, as May tax collections have been lackluster.

“May’s collection numbers, to date, have been below what we would’ve hoped,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. “So we’re very closely watching how the month of May will close.”

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Government & Politics
4:56 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Strip District Added To National Register Of Historic Places

Mayor Bill Peduto announces the naming of Pittsburgh's Strip District as a National Historic District.
Credit Irina Zhorov/90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s Strip District has been added to the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic District.

There are currently 18 National Historic Districts registered in Pittsburgh, with the Strip District the latest addition. The 13-block area being recognized will include more than 60 buildings between 15th and 22nd streets and the St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:09 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Mandatory Interrogation Recording Could Improve All Sides of Law Enforcement

A screen capture showing Ariel Castro during his interrogation with the FBI.
Credit FBI

The U.S. Department of Justice has decided law enforcement agencies including the FBI, DEA and ATF must electronically record interrogations of people in custody. What could this mean for the future of law enforcement since some of these agencies have been resistant to this change in the past?

University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris said many local and state law enforcement agencies have already been using recordings for interrogations. 

“They know there’s a better way. Once you’ve tried doing this, once you’ve used recordings in court. It’s crazy not to, because it improves the process.”

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Government & Politics
7:06 am
Thu May 29, 2014

Pension Overhaul Plan Could Save $11B For State Over 30 Years, Actuary Says

House lawmakers have the actuarial analysis they need to start collecting votes on a measure to overhaul the state’s pension plans.

A state commission central to the debate over changing public pension benefits in Pennsylvania says its consulting actuary finds that the amended House proposal would save more than $11 billion for the commonwealth over a 30-year span.

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Government & Politics
7:00 am
Thu May 29, 2014

Immigrants In PA Seek Change To Obtain Driver’s Licenses

For a decade, Pennsylvania allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Now immigrants in the commonwealth face long odds to restore the old rule.

The undocumented Pennsylvania residents who gathered Wednesday at the state Capitol – some with U.S.-born children, some whose spouses had been deported – said that as Washington dithers on overhauling immigration laws, state lawmakers could do something to help immigrants contribute to the commonwealth’s economy.

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Government & Politics
1:46 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Peduto Launches Initiative To Attract More Immigrants

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced Wednesday the creation of Welcoming Pittsburgh, an initiative aimed at attracting and retaining immigrants in order to advance the city.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people flocked to the city from all over the world to work in the steel mills and factories. The Pittsburgh of today was built by the immigrants of the past. One century later, Pittsburgh has lost much of its population and the city is feeling the effects.

The answer to rebuilding Pittsburgh, according to Peduto, is to kickstart immigration—again.

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Election 2014
11:40 am
Wed May 28, 2014

RMU Poll Shows Corbett Losing Favor With Key Demographic

Gov. Tom Corbett is losing favor with a key demographic, those 50 and older, that helped him get elected in 2010.

An online survey conducted by Robert Morris University shows 30.8 percent of the 508 registered PA voters who were questioned said that they favored the governor. The poll was conducted from May 6th-13th—before the May 20th primary election.

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Government & Politics
9:08 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Fleck Says His Primary Close-Call Was About His Sexual Orientation, Not His Voting Record

Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state lawmaker says he nearly lost his reelection effort because of voters’ reaction to his sexual orientation, not his voting record.

Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon) has unofficially lost the Republican primary for his House district, but has won the Democratic primary by a margin of 15 write-in votes. The Department of State, which oversees elections, is expected to certify the results next week, making them final.

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Government & Politics
9:03 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Activists Renew Their Push To Ban Public Officials From Accepting Gifts

Government reform activists say they haven’t forgotten state lawmakers’ pledges to address the blind spots in Pennsylvania law on accepting gifts.

On Tuesday in a relatively deserted state Capitol, Harrisburg’s most avid gadflies renewed their push to ban public officials from accepting any gifts.

“This has to be statutory. It has to be legislation. It has to impact all three branches,” said Eric Epstein, of Rock the Capital.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon May 26, 2014

NJ, PA Face Similar Pressures To Defer Pension Payments

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are caught between a rock and a hard place: The budget shortfalls that make deferring pension fund contributions so tempting, and the credit downgrades that await them if they skip more scheduled payments on ballooning pension debt.

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Special Programming
12:00 am
Mon May 26, 2014

America Abroad: Shrinking America’s Military

US military truck in Afghanistan 2011
Credit Cpl. Timothy P. Chesnavage, U.S. Marine Corps / wikipedia

This special Memorial Day program airs May 26, 2014 at noon and 8pm on 90.5 WESA.

The Pentagon has announced plans to shrink the U.S. military to pre-World War II levels following the end of the war in Iraq, and the continued withdrawal from Afghanistan. On this edition of America Abroad, hosted by Madeline Brand, hear reactions to a smaller U.S. military from allies in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East and whether America's ability to advance its interests is compromised. 

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Health
1:30 pm
Sun May 25, 2014

City Council Unanimously Supports State Legislation from Women's Health Caucus

Councilman Dan Gilman (left) expresses support for the legislative priorities of the Women's Health Caucus, which includes Sen. Matt Smith (middle) and Rep. Erin Mulchany (right).
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus’s package of state legislative measures meant to improve women’s health, economic status and well-being.

“We are not talking about one issue. This isn’t just about reproductive rights. This is not just about equal pay,” said Councilman Dan Gilman, who introduced the Will of Council resolution. “This is about moving an agenda for Pennsylvania’s women forward, treating them as whole people, people who should be living longer, healthier, strong economic lives.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:20 pm
Sat May 24, 2014

New Bill Would Help People With Disabilities Live Independently

Credit Office of Senator Bob Casey

For people living with disabilities, life is filled with difficulties both large and small. Among the concerns is the often difficult financial situation that many of the disabled find themselves in.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or ABLE Act, is a bill backed by Senator Bob Casey that would allow the creation of tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities that could be used to fund education, housing, transportation, and more. The money saved in this account would not count against the person’s eligibility for programs like Medicaid.

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