Politics & Government

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

Heather Kresge / Pittsburgh Democratic Socialists of America

When Arielle Cohen was first approached about joining the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter, she hesitated.

“What I said exactly was: ‘I’m definitely a capital "F" feminist, but I think I’m a lower "s" socialist,’” Cohen said.

Evan Vucci / AP

Over the last week, President Donald Trump has vacillated about how to handle the opioid epidemic that has wracked much of the U.S., including Pennsylvania.

Matt Rourke / AP

Two lawmakers are looking to introduce legislation that would force Pennsylvania to reevaluate its constitution.

The process is known as a constitutional convention.

Such initiatives crop up every few years in the legislature—typically after some form of public outcry. This effort was largely prompted by the commonwealth’s stalled budget.

Senator John Eichelberger of Blair County and Representative Stephen Bloom of Cumberland County—both Republicans—submitted proposals for the convention in their respective chambers.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The Auditor General’s office has released a report detailing how Pennsylvania’s pension system for state employees can cut costs.

The system, known as SERS, is grappling with roughly $20 billion in unfunded liabilities, and has been making concerted efforts to streamline spending.

Since 2007, the fund has reduced the fees it pays to investment managers by more than half.

But in his report, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said there’s room to cut even more of those expenses, noting he doesn’t think SERS’s returns justify its expenditures.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state House has no official plans to resume negotiations on balancing the state budget.

In a rare update, House Majority Leader Dave Reed said while members continue to discuss a proposal passed by the Senate last month, they’re not ready to introduce a counter-offer of their own.

Key components of the Senate plan include a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling, sales tax expansions, and consumer taxes on natural gas, electricity, and phone service.

Reed said the consumer gas tax—known as a gross receipts tax—is particularly hard to swallow.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

For the first time since Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro took office in January, his office has filed charges of drug delivery resulting in death against an Allegheny County resident.

Heather Ainsworth / AP

As lawmakers try to negotiate a budget that’ll pass the House, Senate, and Governor, plus fill a $2 billion funding gap, they’re also grappling with another issue.

Nearly a year ago, the State Supreme Court declared that a law governing how casinos pay fees to their host municipalities was unconstitutional, and gave lawmakers an ultimatum: fix the law, or it’ll be invalidated.

Today, it’s still not fixed. And that’s losing some towns money.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

One of the state’s two largest pension funds has released its financial report for 2016.

The State Employees Retirement System—or SERS—continued a longstanding pattern last year of coming up short of projected long-term earnings.

It brought in $1.6 billion in 2016. That constitutes a 6.5 percent return, and spokeswoman Pamela Hile said that “when talking about an underfunded pension system, that is very good news.”

Kevin McCorry / WHYY

State Treasurer Joe Torsella has extended a temporary, $750 million line of credit to keep Pennsylvania’s general fund balance from running dry this month.

He’s calling the situation “extraordinary and without precedent.”

That doesn’t quite square with the way Governor Tom Wolf has appeared to downplay the impact of the state budget still being unbalanced, over a month into the fiscal year.

Mel Evans / AP

Pennsylvania's state treasurer has authorized a short-term $750 million line of credit to keep the state's general fund from dipping into negative territory.

Treasurer Joe Torsella says the state hasn't had to borrow that much so early in the fiscal year in 25 years.

Torsella, a Democrat who took office in January, is urging legislators to "pass a responsible revenue package."

Tom Downing / WITF

A month past the due date, negotiations on how to fund Pennsylvania's $32 billion spending plan are effectively stalled.

With the state House in indefinite recess as lawmakers consider how to respond to a revenue proposal from the Senate, Governor Tom Wolf is seeking to allay fears about what an unbalanced budget means for the commonwealth.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The revenue component of the state budget still isn’t done, more than a month past its due date.

But that doesn’t mean Pennsylvania has stopped doing business. It’s still spending and taking in money, and it’s still releasing monthly reports on how state collections are stacking up against projections.

The only problem? Because there’s no revenue plan, analysts can’t estimate exactly how much the state should be taking in.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Nearly five weeks after adopting a $32 billion budget for this fiscal year, state lawmakers are still arguing over how to fund it—precisely, how to fill a $2 billion shortfall in revenues.

Matt Rourke / AP

A fund transfer lawmakers are proposing to help balance the state budget is causing some legal headaches.

The Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association—a group created in 1976 to insure healthcare providers—is saying the state is not authorized to take $200 million from its account.

It’s a conflict that first cropped up last year, when the cash-strapped legislature decided to move $200 million dollars from the JUA's surplus to the general fund.

The group said it was inappropriate, and filed suit.

Toby Talbot / AP

Heating bills may be the last thing on your mind as the temperature edges into the '90s, but federal officials are debating how much should be set aside to fund the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A portion of the state Senate’s latest, tax-heavy plan to balance the commonwealth's budget is likely to prompt some legal entanglement.

Senators’ proposal to expand how the commonwealth’s sales tax is applied to online transactions is modeled on similar attempts by other states.

Those states are already facing lawsuits.

If the measure passes the House and governor, it would require online marketplaces—like Amazon—to charge sales tax on items they sell via third-party vendors.

The move is expected to net more than $40 million annually.

Susan Walsh / AP

Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, a crusader against illegal immigration, is telling GOP officials and activists that he's decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Bob Casey.

A person familiar with the discussions tells The Associated Press that Barletta began telling party officials of his decision last week.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because Barletta has not yet made his plans public.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey easily leads the pack in fundraising as he runs for a third term in next year's election.

Casey reported $5.6 million in his campaign account as of June 30, the latest date for which Senate candidates must disclose campaign finances. That's almost twice what Casey had at the same point while running for his current term.

Matt Rourke / AP

The state Senate has taken a step toward finishing Pennsylvania’s unbalanced budget, which was supposed to be done nearly a month ago.

The revenue proposal the chamber passed Thursday relies on a hodgepodge of new taxes, plus borrowing to fill a $2.2 billion funding gap.

However, it’s likely setting up a battle between the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. With the ball now back in the House’s court, it’s unclear what it'll do with it.

Senators turned the new proposal around quickly.

Matt Rourke / AP

The Pennsylvania Senate passed a revenue package to patch a more than $2 billion hole in the state's $32 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. It could face opposition in the House of Representatives before it reaches the desk of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who supported it. Here are details:

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Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

In hopes of finally finishing the budget that was due at the end of June, the GOP-led state Senate is pushing a revenue package that departs significantly from previous tax-averse attempts.

Republicans have repeatedly clashed with Governor Tom Wolf over the amount of recurring dollars necessary to fill a $2 billion hole in the $32 billion budget.

This new proposal boosts revenue to a level a Wolf spokesman calls “responsible,” and it does so, in part, by raising taxes.

Matt Rourke / AP, file

Federal authorities say Philadelphia Congressman Bob Brady agreed to pay $90,000 from his campaign fund to get a rival out of the 2012 Democratic primary.

Brady hasn't been charged, but prosecutors say in a court filing that he authorized a $90,000 money transfer to retire the campaign debt of his opponent Jimmie Moore, who dropped out of the race months before the primary.

Matt Rourke / AP

State Senators are scheduled to return to session Wednesday for a two-day stint, in an effort to iron out differences in a budget that’s nearly a month overdue.

The chamber plans to pick up where it left negotiations two weeks ago, and appears to be largely disregarding last week’s House session.

The major options being considered to fill a $2 billion gap in the $32 billion budget have been borrowing against a state fund to plug last year’s significant shortfall, select fund transfers, and a gambling expansion.

Leaders have also floated some form of tax increase.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

A few dozen protesters gathered outside of Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai’s McCandless office Tuesday, calling on the Republican representative to balance the budget by taxing natural gas and corporations.

Pine Township resident Linda Bishop led a small group of constituents into the office with a list of concerns. Others representing SEIU unions, the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network and Fight for $15, stayed outside chanting for more funding for education and fewer tax cuts to corporations.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

As U.S. Senators passed a bill that would allow them to continue debating over a replacement for the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and other top Pennsylvania officials warned that the bill would leave hundreds of thousands in the state uninsured.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania union leaders are attempting to chart a new course after decades of declining membership.

As members have dwindled, unions' once-strong political sway toward the Democratic party has also shifted.

The change was especially apparent last year, when an overwhelming number of white, union or former union members voted for Donald Trump.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania's one of only four states that still hasn't passed a budget for the fiscal year that ended in June.

Wolf Not Alarmed By Lack Of Budget Progress

Jul 24, 2017
Peter Crimmins / WHYY

While touring a cancer immunotherapy developer at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf insisted budget negotiations in Harrisburg are progressing well, even though House members came in on Saturday and then failed to strike a deal.  Wolf visited Adaptimmune, which received state money to build a new, LEED-certified medical manufacturing facility in the Navy Yard, two days after Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai called an emergency weekend session to hash out a way to fund the newly-approved state budget plan.

Alex Brandon / AP

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, told lawmakers in a statement on Monday that he "did not collude... with any foreign government."

Kushner is meeting behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. Both panels are investigating Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and whether any members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

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