Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Mary Wilson / WITF

Attorney General Kathleen Kane was all about the budget when she arrived in front of the state House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and lawmakers fired no questions her way about legal "bumps in the road" involving her office over the past year.

Pennsylvania Sen. David Argall (R-Schuykill-Berks) recently introduced a bill which would limit insurers to a year to challenge a bill to a provider.

The legislation would require insurance carriers to review treatment plans, claim forms and bills within a year. It would also require a written statement from the insurer explaining the basis for any retroactive denial so the physician understands what the denial is.

According to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, inefficient claim processing and payment can take up 10-14 percent of work time for a physician.

Tax Exemption Payback Could Stabilize PA Communities, Some Lawmakers Say

Mar 10, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

State Rep. Rob Freeman, D-Easton, wants to use liquor tax proceeds to make up for local government revenue lost to property tax exemption.

Freeman first pitched this to an enthusiastic House Local Government Committee in 2007, but the recession hit before it got any traction.

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

The state budget discussions are a week old, and lawmakers are mired in dueling numbers.

Governor Tom Wolf's administration has referred to a $2.3 billion budget deficit, but the state Independent Fiscal Office estimates the deficit to be a bit south of that figure.

"We would revise it down to something closer to $1.5 or $1.6" billion, said IFO Director Matthew Knittel, during his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee. Knittel said his agency's estimate accounts for lapses -- budget funds that were never spent.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Two bills are sitting in the Senate Committee on State Government aimed at strengthening Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

Legislation introduced by Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) would bring more transparency to state-related universities, while Sen. Dominic Pileggi’s (R-Delaware) bill would establish a fee structure for commercial requests and update definitions within the law.

Joseph / Flickr

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has clarified a container requirement rule – clearing the way for beer distributors to sell 12 packs.

This came after several requests for clarification by a beer distributor and brewery which asked if, under current PLCB regulations, they could “prepare a single large container of malt or brewed beverages consisting of twelve smaller containers, each holding approximately 12 ounces, designed to be sold as a single unit.”

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

The tax shifts and additional spending proposed in Governor Tom Wolf's first budget are enough to keep state lawmakers arguing for weeks.

But, just days after the unveiling of his proposal, they can't even agree on how much the budget spends.

Wolf calls it a $29.9 billion budget.

But Republicans, including Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne of Lehigh County, say it's more like a $33.7 billion plan, once you account for the billions being put into special funds to pay for pension costs and proposed property tax relief.

(Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)


Cities are working hard to plow snowy streets. Sidewalks are an additional challenge. Property owners are generally responsible for clearing walkways and some cities issue fines for uncleared sidewalks.

But Reading has stopped fining residents for not shoveling snow from their sidewalks. Why? Because Reading Public Works crews haven’t been able to clear the mess from the 100 city-owned properties, either.

As a legal challenge to Governor Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty advances, state lawmakers are planning their own review of the capital sentencing system.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the governor can issue reprieves in each death penalty case, effectively imposing a moratorium on state executions.

Wolf cited concerns over the costs and flaws of the capital sentencing system.

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Former U.S. Representative Joe Sestak began a 422-mile walk across Pennsylvania Wednesday to kick off his campaign to capture the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican Pat Toomey.

Sestak announced his candidacy for the 2016 election outside Philadelphia's Independence Hall. He called for more government accountability and decried the "trust deficit" between politicians and the people who elect them.

"I want to earn, starting today, step by step, walking in the shoes of we Pennsylvanians, the trust of our people," Sestak said. "So join me. Walk with me."

Essential Pittsburgh: What's Next for Net Neutrality?

Mar 4, 2015
Gflores / wikipedia

The notion of regulating the Internet using public utility laws has been under consideration for the past year. Now that net neutrality rules have been adopted by U.S. regulators, how will this long-running battle play out in Congress and the courts? As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA-14) explains how the proposed rules might benefit citizens and the Internet at large. 

Also today, Governor Wolf's budget proposal, and a delegation from PA travels to D.C. to convince senators and congressmen to renew the Export-Import Bank charter.

“It’s really not intented to protect the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. It’s really intended to protect the next big thing.” - Representative Doyle

Wolf Seeks Billions in Higher Taxes for Schools, Tax Revamp

Mar 3, 2015
Matt Rourke / Associated Press

In an ambitious first budget plan, Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday proposed more than $4 billion in higher taxes on income, sales and natural gas drilling to support new spending on schools and to cut property taxes as part of an effort to overhaul the way public education is funded.

Wolf, a Democrat, is also asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to cut corporate taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars, borrow more than $4 billion to refinance pension debt and inject new money into business loans, clean energy subsidies and water and sewer system projects.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Today 90.5 WESA presented live coverage of Governor Wolf's budget address to the Pennsylvania Legislature in Harrisburg from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Representative Dave Reed's office

Governor Tom Wolf is set to give his budget address to the General Assembly  Tuesday morning, and lawmakers are expecting proposals for significant tax changes, in addition to the plans already shared by the governor.

Wolf has said he’ll seek a five percent tax on natural gas drillers and rework the state’s corporate tax infrastructure.

Pennsylvania’s multi-billion dollar public and municipal pension issues have long been cited by lawmakers as an obstacle to economic growth. To address pensions, Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) has introduced a bill that would create the Public Pensions Review Commission.

“To examine the current systems, and to recommend statutory or regulatory changes needed to achieve and maintain a sound, stable public pension structure for both the state and for local governments,” said Schwank.

The 25-member group would be authorized to conduct hearings and receive appropriate information and analysis. Some of the questions to be addressed, said Schwank, are what does Pennsylvania’s future workforce like? How can the state attract and retain talent, and how can the state achieve retirement security?

Flickr user Mary Helen Cochran Library

The Pittsburgh Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections has a nice little chunk of change—a bit more than $300,000—set aside for storage of records.

But the catch is the work must be done on microfilm.

The Microfilm Permit Plans Trust Fund was set up in 1986 with strict parameters about how the money could be spent, and nearly thirty years later, the city has finally decided it’s time to broaden those parameters.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Governor Tom Wolf is facing another legal challenge to his gubernatorial authority, less than a month into his term.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s petition to stop Wolf’s effective moratorium on the death penalty comes weeks after state Senate Republicans hauled the new administration to court for firing the Open Records director appointed by Wolf’s predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Each case has brought indignant legal filings accusing Wolf of gubernatorial overreach, but legal experts say the disputes wade into unsettled questions. 

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Gov. Tom Wolf, who ran last year with the backing of environmental groups, will soon be giving a first glimpse at how his administration will approach the powerful Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.

Next week, Wolf's Department of Environmental Protection is preparing to release its plans to update various rules over the drilling industry, including how it must prevent methane leaks and how it must handle toxic wastewater.

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

By a vote of 114-87, the state House has passed a proposal to take apart the state’s liquor system, though the measure is heading to an unenthusiastic Senate and an opposed governor.  

The measure would phase out most state-owned wine and spirit stores and put the state in charge of selling licenses to private retail and wholesale vendors.

House debate went for hours on the merits of the bill – despite the fact that it’s headed for almost certain changes in the Senate.

When she stepped out of the Waterworks Theater Thursday afternoon, Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center 8th grader Denay Clemons called the movie Selma “an awesome portrayal.”

Denay was among approximately five hundred students from several Pittsburgh schools who were taken to see the movie about the marches in Alabama that preceded the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“I only knew a little bit from school work and history but I learned a lot more about what happened actually like with conversation with the people who actually led the movement,” Denay said.

With two weeks to go before the deadline to file nominating petitions, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak has officially announced her candidacy for City Controller. 

Governor Tom Wolf's plans to reduce corporate taxes are getting a cool reception from Republican legislative leaders who are waiting for more details.

On Wednesday, Wolf pulled back the curtain on a few of the "nice surprises" for pro-business groups in his budget proposal. He wants to bring the state's much-maligned 9.99 percent corporate net income tax down to 4.99 percent over two years.

Kumar Appaiah / Flickr

For the third time in as many sessions, State Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny) will introduce legislation putting a limit on outside income for legislators.

House Bill 566 would cap outside earned income for representatives and senators at 35 percent of their base salary as a member of the general assembly. In other words, a legislator with a salary of about $84,000 will be able to bring in as much as $29,400 in outside income.

Gage Skidmore / flickr

Florida Governor Rick Scott came to Philadelphia this week to meet with company heads, to try to lure business to the Sunshine State. Scott campaigned on the promise of growing private sector jobs in Florida and one of his tactics has been to visit other states – including California, Illinois, and Maryland – to recruit job creators.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said it’s a bit unusual for a governor to show up like Scott did in Philadelphia “but it is not unusual at all for that state government to make calls into other businesses to urge them to relocate into their state. I did it very very often when I was governor.” States, and even municipalities, are competing for companies everyday. 

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Governor Tom Wolf says he could’ve picked his words better when he said that Pennsylvania’s biggest problem is “low self-esteem.”

At a recent meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., C-SPAN recorded Wolf’s response to the question: what is the biggest economic issue facing Pennsylvania?

“This is going to sound strange, I mean I agree with everybody – education, we gotta build out the infrastructure, we have to make investments to make sure the economy can function,” said Wolf. “But I think the biggest problem in Pennsylvania is low self-esteem.”

The largest purchaser of supplies and services in Pennsylvania is the state itself. But, for small businesses, particularly those owned by minorities and women, getting contracts to fulfill those needs can be difficult. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill to help address that.

“House Bill 85, which enables minority and women-owned and disadvantaged businesses to compete with larger businesses for state contracts,” said Wheatley.

Among other things, the bill would provide the state authority to waive employee limits; give alternative certification when needed; establish a surety bond guarantee program and the Surety Bond Guarantee Fund; and, in contracts for public works, further provide for contractors' and subcontractors' payment obligations.

A consortium of student government representatives from nine local colleges and universities will have an audience with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto Tuesday evening.

Student leaders from Carlow University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, the Community College of Allegheny County, Duquesne University, La Roche College, Point Park University, Robert Morris University, and the University of Pittsburgh comprise the Pittsburgh Student Government Council (PSGC).

Harvey Barrison / flickr

Pennsylvania may be staring down a $2 billion chasm in next fiscal year's state budget, but the Legislature is doing just fine for cash.

The legislative surplus stood at $161 million as of last June, according to an annual audit report released Monday after a couple of delays.

The report was prepared by private firm Mitchell & Titus. The Legislature isn't subject to the state auditor general's oversight. For years, private auditors have used these reports to urge lawmakers to put a maximum on how much can be kept in reserve.

This year was no different.

Flickr user Brice Hutchinson

In the past, Pittsburgh residents have had a voice in the capital budgeting process, through a series of public hearings usually held in October and November.

The problem with that model, according to Budget Director Sam Ashbaugh, is that the budget is already drafted and has been presented to City Council and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority by that point.

Courtesy Almono LP

City planning and urban development experts from all over the country are in Pittsburgh this week, taking a look at the proposed development plan for the Almono site in Hazelwood as part of the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership fellowship program.