Politics & Government

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

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday that the Trump Administration will rescind the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program – also called DACA – and allow legal protections for the roughly 800,000 “DREAMers,” who arrived in the country illegally as children, to expire in six months.

Unless Congress acts, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said on Tuesday, ending DACA will hurt the city’s universities and hospitals as well as tech and other corporate employers.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

For several months, the state Health Department has been refusing to disclose who is on the panels that scored applications for medical marijuana licenses.

But now, the Department of Open Records is ordering the agency to release the information. 

The Open Records decision comes after protracted back-and-forth between the DOH and PennLive.

After releasing permits to grow, process and sell medical marijuana to select applicants, the department wouldn’t name the panelists who had made those decisions.

Wolf: Pennsylvanians Will 'Get Hurt' If Budget Isn't Funded

Sep 5, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is warning that Pennsylvanians will "get hurt" if state lawmakers don't pass a revenue package to balance a nearly $32 billion budget bill they approved more than two months ago.

Wolf also told interviewers on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh on Tuesday that his decision day is Sept. 15, when he'll have to start freezing some spending to prevent the state's main bank account from going below zero.

Wolf says freezing spending could affect roads, schools and emergency response systems.

No House votes are scheduled this week.

casey.senate.gov

Statewide political party leaders are starting to hone their messaging for—and against—candidates, more than a year before the midterm elections

Particular attention is already being paid to Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, between incumbent Democrat Bob Casey and one of several Republican challengers.

The emails have been coming steadily for a few months now.

Salvos from the state Republican Party criticize Casey’s votes against cutting funds to sanctuary cities, or his shifts to the left on abortion and gun control.

Messages from the Democrats are similar.

PA Court To Mull Hearing Partisan Gerrymandering Suit Similar To Case Before SCOTUS

Sep 1, 2017
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Tom Rentschler, an attorney and former high school teacher, has lived in Berks County for most of his life. He remembers as a young adult going to the grocery store and bumping into his local congressman.

But Rentschler, 53, says over time he and other voters in Berks County have lost their voice.

"I just don't think we have anyone speaking for our county," he says.

Few Surprises At Small Toomey Town Hall

Sep 1, 2017
Emma Lee / WHYY

In a much-anticipated town hall held Thursday night in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Pat Toomey said little that would surprise his constituents.

Evan Vucci / AP

A focus group of 12 Pittsburgh voters expressed bipartisan disappointment in Donald Trump's leadership skills as president. The group consisted of five Trump voters, six Hillary Clinton voters and one person who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Alex Brandon / AP

Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is set to face voters in a televised town hall.

Toomey will take questions at the PBS station in Bethlehem on Thursday night. It's his second televised town hall since President Donald Trump took office.

Toomey, a conservative, was considered to be one of the nation's most vulnerable incumbents heading into last November's election but won a narrow victory for his second term.

Philadelphia Is The Latest City To Sue U.S. Government Over 'Sanctuary' Conditions

Aug 30, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Philadelphia on Wednesday became the latest "sanctuary city" to sue Attorney General Jeff Sessions over what officials say are unconstitutional immigration restrictions placed on a major federal grant.

The city is asking the court to stop Sessions from adding these conditions to a its Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grant, which it uses to pay police overtime, upgrade equipment and courtroom technology and train officers.

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

More than eight months after a fight over funding for the state’s jobless program, the Wolf administration says the program is still working inadequately, and needs more money soon.

At a House committee meeting Tuesday, lawmakers attempted to hammer out how to make a long-term fix. But many left saying they still didn’t have enough information.

In April, the legislature authorized a short-term, $15 million funding solution, which was designed to tide over the Unemployment Compensation Program and kick-start upgrades to its decades-old computer system.

Wolf To GOP: State's Finances Will Soon Be 'Much More Dire'

Aug 29, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf warned House Republican leaders Tuesday that failing to fully fund the state budget will put Pennsylvania in "a much more dire financial situation" in the coming weeks.

Wolf's letter to Speaker Mike Turzai, Majority Leader Dave Reed and six other House GOP leaders urged them to act quickly to fill the budget's $2.2 billion revenue gap.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta will announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

Campaign spokesman Jon Anzur told The Associated Press on Monday night that Barletta will release a video announcing his run for the Senate seat held by two-term Democrat Bob Casey.

The Pennsylvania Republican's entry into the race was widely expected after the AP reported last month that Barletta had relayed his plans to GOP officials and activists.

What Will The House Do? It’s Pennsylvania’s $2B Question

Aug 28, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

The question of what Pennsylvania's House Republican majority will do about a $2.2 billion hole in the state budget is sending ripples of worry through some quarters.

Kalim Bhatti / AP

A new law going into effect Friday aims to cut down on drunk driving.

It requires first-time offenders to have breathalyzers installed in their cars—something 48 other states already do.

Car breathalyzers—officially called Ignition Interlock Systems—require drivers to blow into a device to start their vehicle. If the device detects any alcohol, the car won’t start, and it’ll also register the attempt.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

With talk swirling of possible spending freezes over the unbalanced state budget, counties are trying to figure out how they may be impacted.

County commissioners are beginning to put together contingency plans in case any of their state funds get cut off.

Governor Tom Wolf has already stopped some spending to put it into budgetary reserves, and indicated this week that more could be coming.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Lt. Governor Mike Stack, a Democrat, has been facing scrutiny for several months—ever since he was stripped of his police detail and personal staff for verbally abusing them.

Google Maps

Less than two months into a new budget year, the state seems to be engaged in a loop of borrowing and paying itself back. 

On Aug. 16, the Pennsylvania Treasury provided a $750 million loan to the General Fund to pay its bills.

“It’s always a problem when you’re having to borrow money to pay your daily living expenses,” said Deputy Treasurer Jack Stollsteimer.

The state is scheduled to repay that loan Wednesday, as August revenues come into commonwealth coffers, but then ask for another loan at the end of the month from the Treasury’s Short Term Investment Pool.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

If Pennsylvania’s $2.2 billion budget gap isn’t filled soon, Governor Tom Wolf is indicating the commonwealth could be heading for major spending freezes.

Wolf said Tuesday that the situation could be resolved if House Republicans would just agree to a Senate revenue plan that includes several new taxes.

Caucus leaders are, for the most part, staying mum on how their negotiations are progressing.

By Sept. 15, the governor said he either has to put spending for certain state programs on hold, or borrow more money from the Treasury.

Matt Rourke / AP

A state Senate proposal that would essentially charge protesters for being arrested is causing some backlash at the Capitol.

The GOP sponsor says it would protect taxpayers from bearing the cost of violent or destructive protests.

But opponents say it will infringe on free speech.

First-term Republican Senator Scott Martin of Lancaster County said he was inspired to write the bill after hearing of the damage Dakota Access Pipeline protesters did last year.  

But he noted, it could actually apply much more widely.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

It’s been nearly a month since the state Senate voted through a revenue plan that would fund the state budget—if the House agrees to it.

 

But Harrisburg watchdogs are still poring over it to figure out where money is going.

 

The right-leaning Commonwealth Foundation has released a report detailing instances where senators slipped spending into a bill meant to fund the budget.

 

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania has had an unbalanced budget for nearly a month, and advocacy groups around the commonwealth say they have real concerns Governor Tom Wolf will soon have to start freezing spending as a result.

NPR

President Trump is addressing the nation Monday at 9 p.m., on U.S. engagement and "the path forward" in Afghanistan and South Asia.

Senior U.S. officials tell NPR that the president is expected to order about 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The decision follows months of deliberation within the Trump administration, involving top military commanders, political advisers and even enlisted veterans of the nearly 16-year war.

NPR journalists from across the newsroom are offering context and analysis about President Trump's remarks.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

In the wake of Charlottesville, a Pennsylvania lawmaker wants to extend what qualifies as a hate crime in the commonwealth.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Monday is state Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller's first day leading the commonwealth's sprawling Department of Human Services.

Pennsylvania Running Out Of Options For Cash To Pay Bills

Aug 21, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Top state officials are warning that Pennsylvania's deficit-strapped government is rapidly approaching a more severe stage in its seven-week-old budget stalemate, one in which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf may have to start deciding which bills to pay and which to postpone.

Taxes are still being collected and checks are being cut by the Pennsylvania Treasury under a nearly $32 billion budget bill that lawmakers approved June 30, the day before the current fiscal year began.

Chris Knight / AP

Pennsylvania's general fund is on track to be $1.6 billion dollars underwater by the middle of next month.

In the past, the state Treasury has extended lines of credit to help the state keep paying immediate expenses when funds bottom out.

But Treasurer Joe Torsella says that may no longer be fiscally prudent.

The cash balance would have already hit zero this month, if not for a short term, $750 million credit line from the Treasury. The state has to pay that back with interest next week. But the fund is expected to run dry yet again before the end of August.

Matt Rourke / AP

 Retail and manufacturing jobs are on the decline--both in Pennsylvania, and around the country.

So a state lawmaker is looking for ways to pinpoint exactly where those jobs are going--and how to stop the bleeding.

Matt Rourke / AP

Gov. Tom Wolf will nominate his insurance commissioner, Teresa Miller, to lead Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services while he waits to see whether lawmakers will approve its merger with the Department of Health.

Pennsylvania Senate / state.pa.gov

A longtime Republican state lawmaker is seriously exploring a bid for Lieutenant Governor.

Senator David Argall of, Schuylkill County, said controversies surrounding current Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack’s behavior strongly influenced his decision to run.

In Pennsylvania, candidates for Lieutenant Governor and Governor run separately in party primaries, and together in the general election.

Argall has previously criticized Stack and Wolf’s partnership—which has, at times, been troubled.

ocations outside Pittsburgh.
Gene J. Puskar / AP

A lawmaker accused of using his political influence to benefit an illegal gambling ring pleaded guilty Tuesday to two misdemeanor charges.

Democratic state Rep. Marc Gergely entered pleas in Pittsburgh to counts of conspiracy and accepting an illegal campaign contribution. Felony counts were withdrawn. The seven-term lawmaker, who remains in office, is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 6.

Pages