Politics & Government

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

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After long months of partisan debate over funding for Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation program, the legislature has passed a fix—of sorts.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

State House Republicans are attempting to chart a new course for liquor sales in Pennsylvania, pushing a traditionally state-run system further and further toward privatization.

Submitted / Victor Stanley

City-owned trash cans in Pittsburgh could soon tell public works when they need to be emptied.

The Peduto administration is asking city council to approve a $275,000 three-and-a-half year contract to add the technology to trash cans in parks and on sidewalks. The data would be sent to iPads issued to public works managers.

“The technology is going to tells us exactly what cans need to be emptied and instead of the truck running around eight hours a day, they’ll be able to do maybe just do two hours emptying litter receptacles,” Pittsburgh Public Works Director Jim Gable said.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, China is the fourth largest international trading partner for the Pittsburgh region, behind Canada, Mexico and Japan.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Several House committees held the latest in a string of hearings Monday about Governor Tom Wolf’s plan to consolidate four state agencies.

Many lawmakers expressed the same concerns they’ve been voicing for weeks—they want more details before they make any decisions.

The combination of the departments of Drugs and Alcohol, Aging, Human Services, and Health is considered the biggest agency merger the commonwealth has ever done.

Indiana County Republican Cris Dush voiced a common complaint—that it’s all moving way too fast.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Over the last several years, three separate scandals involving three separate judges have hit the commonwealth’s Supreme Court.

These and other issues have prompted nonpartisan group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to release a report detailing the judicial discipline system’s shortfalls—and what the state can do to fix it.

The high-profile problems came one after another.

In 2013, Justice Joan Orie Melvin was found guilty of multiple felonies related to her use of state employees for campaign work.  

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Misbehaving students in Kindergarten through fifth grade would no longer be given out-of-school suspensions under a measure introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

House Bill 715 would require districts to find alternative disciplinary methods for elementary students for anything other than offenses that put the health of students or teachers at risk.

Pennsylvania Primary Features Appeals Court, Local Contests

Apr 17, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Numerous contests for school boards and county and municipal government, as well as a handful of appeals court races will be on the ballot next month in Pennsylvania's primary election.

Ted S. Warren / AP

One year ago, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law was signed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Officials with the Department of Health said they hope the first prescriptions will be filled in May of 2018.  

Daveynin / Flickr

The House GOP-led budget proposal—which passed on to the Senate last week—has drawn criticism from legislative Democrats, and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf for its austere tax cuts.

But it’s also seeing pushback from a more bipartisan group: the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association.

For the last few budget cycles, state funding has stayed largely flat for a number of county-level programs—including probation services, behavioral health services, and the multi-use Human Services Development Fund.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

One of the more contentious parts of Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal is a bid to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 an hour.

It’s currently $7.25—the lowest the federal government allows.

Chris Knight / AP

State lawmakers are making progress on next year's budget three months before their June 30 deadline.

But it's still a legislature prone to deadlock, so state Treasurer Joe Torsella is making preparations for a potential impasse.

Most of the time when Harrisburg misses its budget deadline, it's not a serious issue. A majority of state services can keep running for a time on the budget from the previous fiscal year.

But if lawmakers miss the deadline by a lot, questions arise. Namely, can the treasury keep paying out public money to the branches of government?

Associated Press

The state House has passed a bill to keep certain drug and violent crime offenders in prison longer.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A 72-year-old Pittsburgh woman has been arrested for her role in an international lottery scam.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Audrey Huff was responsible for collecting at least $295,000 from other seniors across the country and sending it to Jamaica through at least 300 wire transfers.

Huff was arraigned Wednesday on several charges including theft by deception and criminal conspiracy.

Shapiro said it is unclear how, or if, Huff was benefiting by serving as a mule, but that she knew she was breaking the law.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Eight weeks after Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a $32.3 billion budget proposal for the new fiscal year, the Republican-controlled state House Tuesday approved its own version, a $31.5 billion spending plan.

The GOP plan was introduced Monday and was approved quickly along party lines with four Republicans joining all Democrats in voting “no.”  The Republican budget includes no tax hikes and cuts $800 million from Wolf’s proposal.

The governor called the Republican version “an opening conversation.”

Pennsylvania House GOP Plan Doubles Down On Spending

Apr 4, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

House Republicans on Monday unveiled a $31.5 billion no-new-taxes budget proposal for Pennsylvania government that would add politically touchy cutbacks to a relatively austere plan floated by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf as the state grapples with a huge deficit.

The plan left many questions unanswered, including how it would fill a projected $3 billion deficit without a tax increase, and how it would find such significant savings in two of the costliest services in state government, prisons and health care for the poor.

Maryland To Pennsylvania (And 4 Other States): We'll Redistrict When You Do

Apr 4, 2017
Googlemaps

President Donald Trump, a Republican, won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin of 68,000 votes. The state has about 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. 

Matt Rourke / AP

The 2018 gubernatorial election is still well over a year away. But already, Republicans are announcing intentions to contest Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf’s bid for reelection.

It’s likely that GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai—long rumored to be interested in higher office—will soon be among them.

Pittsburgh-based political agency Cold Spark Media has confirmed it’s working with the Allegheny County Republican. Mark Harris, a partner with the agency acting as Turzai’s strategist, said the politician may explore a run more seriously after the state budget is finished.

Mark J. Terrill / AP

A new Pennsylvania program allows adults with disabilities and their families to save money for future expenses.

Pennsylvania ABLE was launched Monday and is open to people with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities or blindness – or anyone who qualifies for Social Security Income or Supplemental Security Disability Income

It’s the result of the federal ABLE Act which was passed in 2014, led by Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. It was then up to individual states to design their own programs.

FBI Corruption Probe In Pennsylvania Had More In Its Sights

Apr 3, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Fresh revelations show how federal authorities tried to use disgraced former state Treasurer Rob McCord to implicate others in a broad pay-to-play investigation of Pennsylvania government, but it leaves the question of whether the FBI probe is effectively finished.

The investigation dates to 2009, when the FBI set up a fake company with phony executives who began hiring lobbyists in Harrisburg and making campaign contributions. It has thus far produced charges against four people, including McCord and John Estey, a onetime chief of staff to former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, on Wednesday announced plans to introduce three bills that would authorize the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to replace private water and sewer lines.

Matt Rourke / AP

The Wolf administration is gearing up to launch one of the most ambitious parts of its proposed 2017-18 budget—consolidating four of the state’s biggest health agencies.

But few concrete details have been released about merging the departments of Human Services, Drugs and Alcohol, Health, and Aging. And lawmakers are expressing concerns that the plan won’t be fully ready by budget day in three months.

Christian Naenny / Flickr

 

 

From a conference room at the North Shore offices of Peoples Gas, president and CEO Morgan O’Brien has a view of Pittsburgh’s rivers.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

District attorneys from Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties are calling on legislators to restore mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated mandatory minimum sentences in 2015, saying criminal defendants did not know the potential sentence they faced until after conviction. Offenders knew their punishment carried at least a fixed punishment time and prosecutors used that to leverage information from an offender.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A year after seven firefighters were forced to bail out of a second-story window during a house fire in Wilkinsburg, Chief Darryl Jones said he’s reviewing recommendations for how to prevent a similar situation.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

After eight years on Pittsburgh City Council, Natalia Rudiak said she is “a bit burned out.”

“I'm looking forward to really spending some time on some self-care and spending some time with my family,” she said.

Communities With Casinos In Pennsylvania Concerned About Possible Funding Changes

Mar 27, 2017
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

When playing the slots in Pennsylvania, casinos and gamblers aren't the only ones making money.

The state collects 54 cents for every dollar a player loses in a slot machine.

The state uses most of that money, about 34 cents, for reducing property taxes. The state's horse racing industry gets 11 cents and 5 cents goes to a state economic development trust fund. The remaining 4 cents is split among the communities that host the casino.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

At the age of 13, Alex Hoffman was already using alcohol and marijuana. By 14, he was on juvenile probation.

“I wouldn’t stop smoking weed, I wouldn’t stop drinking, so I kept failing drug tests and that lead to my first time going involuntarily into juvenile rehab,” Hoffman said.

It was not his last involuntary commitment. He bounced in and out of programs and jail for years before getting clean three years ago, at the age of 21. He remembered being dropped off at a juvenile facility by his parents on his 16th birthday.

casey.senate.gov

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey said Thursday he has “serious concerns” about Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch and plans to vote against his confirmation.

Thursday marks the fourth and final day of confirmation hearings for Gorsuch. Congress is expected to vote Monday, April 3.

Matt Rourke / AP

On the heels of a survey finding Pennsylvanians support efforts to reform the state justice system, one lawmaker said he plans to introduce what he called “clean slate” legislation.

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