Politics & Government

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

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Council approved on Wednesday a proposed mandate to perform blood lead level testing on all children between 9 and 12 months of age and again at age two.

Pennsylvania Budget Talks Drag Into Day 5 Of Fiscal Year

Jul 5, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A top Pennsylvania senator says compromise legislation to expand casino-style gambling is forthcoming as a stalemate enters its fifth day over paying for a $32 billion budget package.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said Wednesday that gambling legislation is a step toward raising $2.2 billion to fill a deficit. The Capitol is quiet this week as top lawmakers talk privately outside the Capitol.

Scarnati and the Legislature's other Republican leaders say they're considering borrowing most of the money.

Jason Redman / AP

The Congressional Budget Office predicts 14 million Americans who currently have insurance would be without it next year if the Senate Republican version of the health care overhaul bill is adopted.

That's leaving officials behind some rural health systems worried.

Pennsylvania Is Not Alone: 11 U.S. States Haven't Passed Their Budgets

Jul 3, 2017
Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The clock is ticking for Pennsylvania lawmakers to find more than $2 billion to balance the state's budget.

No agreements were reported Monday, three days after lawmakers sent the main appropriations bill in a $32 billion budget package to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's desk.

On Friday, Wolf called the spending plan "a start."

"There is still work to do," he said. "We need a sustainable revenue package that gets Pennsylvania on track. For too many years, Pennsylvania has lurched from crisis to crisis."

Matt Rourke / AP

You can tell it’s budget week in Pennsylvania because, on any given day, you’ll find the Capitol packed with lobbyists and advocates from around the commonwealth, pushing for a piece of the pie.

They mill around the rotunda, waiting for news from lawmakers deliberating in chambers upstairs.

This year, there’s been precious little information getting out.

Pennsylvania Picks Medical Marijuana Program Dispensaries

Jun 29, 2017
Haven Daley / AP

Medical marijuana patients will be able to obtain the drug from 52 locations that have just been issued permits by the Pennsylvania government.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

State budgets have two basic parts: one outlines how much government will spend on its programs and expenses, and the other details where lawmakers are getting the money to pay for it.

Last year, the GOP-controlled legislature compromised on a $31.5 billion spending plan, and then took two more weeks to come up with a revenue framework to fit it.

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf let it become law without his signature, declaring at the time that “our budget is balanced this year, and we have greatly reduced the commonwealth’s structural budget deficit.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

While being grilled by the Pittsburgh City Council during a reappointment hearing Wednesday, PWSA board member and City Department of Finance Treasurer Margaret Lanier said dealing with lead needs to be the system’s top priority.

Pennsylvania Budget Work Likely To Drag Into New Fiscal Year

Jun 28, 2017
Screengrab from Senatorcorman.com

A top Republican state senator says it's looking more like Pennsylvania's budget package won't be finished by the start of the new fiscal year in three days as lawmakers grapple with the state's biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Wednesday that the only agreement with House GOP leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is on a spending figure, a number around $31.9 billion. That's about $600 million more than this year's budget figure, including money necessary to balance this year's books.

Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race / Facebook

Officials say the deputy director of Pittsburgh's parks and recreations department has left her job following an investigation into spending of a city trust fund.

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto, says Jamie Beechey has decided to "pursue other opportunities" Friday. It is unclear if she was fired or resigned.

Peduto ordered the Office of Municipal Investigation to look into spending from accounts associated with the annual running event in May.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

During a special Pittsburgh City Council meeting Tuesday, public safety officials called on Gov. Tom Wolf to sign legislation that would allow officers more latitude in using their body cameras.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

State lawmakers have made no secret of the fact that next fiscal year’s state budget, which is due Friday, will be a hard one to enact.

Pennsylvania Department of Health

Gov. Tom Wolf's health secretary is taking a new administrative job with central Pennsylvania health giant Geisinger.

The Danville-based company, which has some 30,000 employees, said Tuesday that Karen Murphy will start in September as executive vice president, chief innovation officer and founding director of an innovation institute.

She's previously been director of an initiative at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and president of Moses Taylor Health Care System in Scranton.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The city of Pittsburgh is dealing with a slight hiccup in its water filter distribution program.

A truck carrying Zero Water filtration pitchers from El Paso, Texas to Pittsburgh broke down, causing a delay in the distribution of the pitchers.

Pitchers will be distributed at fire stations in the north and west regions of the city on Friday, June 30; in the eastern neighborhoods on Wednesday, July 5; and in southern neighborhoods on Thursday, July 6.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare. The long-awaited plan marks a big step toward achieving one of the Republican Party's major goals.

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Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

The state Senate is considering a plan to allow teachers and other school employees with permits to carry guns at work.

Supporters say it’s about keeping kids safe, while opponents are worried the measure would do just the opposite.

Senate Bill 383 is sponsored by GOP Senator Donald White of Armstrong County, who said it would give schools more options in protecting students.

He added, it could be particularly helpful for rural districts that are far from police stations and might not employ their own security guard.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Lawmakers in Washington are still reading through the finer details of the Senate GOP's new healthcare bill, but opponents are already warning it’ll give states an impossible choice—either cut services, or spend billions more on healthcare.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are returning to the Capitol with five days to pass an on-time budget and no firm agreement on how to address state government's biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

Leaders of the House and Senate GOP majorities were expected to brief rank-and-file Republicans on Monday after spending the weekend in closed-door negotiations.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

On a recent Tuesday morning, trucks filled with asphalt fed the black steaming material into a paving machine as it crept along Saline Street in The Run. Klaus Libertus has lived there for two years and said, before the paving crew arrived, driving down the street was "vibrating."

But it had its benefits.

“If you had kids in the back you wanted to get to sleep, it would help," he said. "I mean they used to say 'the patches had patches.'"

Damian Dovarganes / AP, File

Pennsylvania handed out licenses to 12 companies to grow marijuana for medicinal uses last week, and is expected to license producers and dispensaries soon. However, it could be tough for those businesses to get bank accounts.

Although Pennsylvania has legalized medical marijuana, it's still illegal at the federal level. That means all of the proceeds from growing, producing or selling it are illegal as far as the federal government is concerned.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board of directors on Friday approved the appointment of Robert Weimar as interim executive director for one year.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports Weimar, formerly the acting director of engineering, will earn up to $350,000 in the role.

Casey Heads To Pennsylvania To Hammer Senate Health Bill

Jun 23, 2017
Alex Brandon / AP

Pennsylvania's Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is in the state hammering the Republican health care bill in the U.S. Senate.

Casey, speaking after a Friday rally in the Pennsylvania Capitol, warned that the bill would change society radically because the country will stop taking care of people who need it most.

Casey and others say Pennsylvania stands to lose more than many other states. Also against it are Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania's hospitals, the Arc of Pennsylvania, the AARP of Pennsylvania and labor unions.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

As GOP leaders search high and low for more than $2 billion to patch the commonwealth’s budget gaps, one state senator is trying to tempt his colleagues with revenue projections from one of his longtime pet issues—recreational marijuana.

Speranza Animal Rescue

After almost a year of work over two legislative sessions, a comprehensive animal protection bill has passed the legislature, and will soon be signed by the governor.

This time last year, Libre the Boston terrier was near death, suffering from malnutrition and a severe skin infection on the Lancaster farm where he was born and neglected.

Today, he’s enthusiastically sniffing staffers in Adams County Senator Richard Alloway’s office, having become perhaps the best lobbyist Harrisburg has on animal rights.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The Republican majority leaders of Pennsylvania’s House and Senate say they’re determined to put together a budget without raising taxes.

That means making up this year’s $1.5 billion shortfall, plus accounting for a roughly $3 billion structural deficit.

To get it done, the final plan is likely to involve significant borrowing.

One option under consideration would involve using an asset as collateral to get a loan, which would be paid off over 25 years or so.

Carlos Osorio / AP, File

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald reintroduced legislation Tuesday that would make lead tests mandatory for children under 2 years old in Allegheny County.

The legislation was unanimously approved by the Allegheny County Board of Health in May. However, Allegheny County Council members failed to act on it. 

Flickr user Global Panorama

PurePenn and AGRiMED Industries have been awarded licenses to grow and process medical marijuana in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

PurePenn is located in McKeesport; AgriMed is in Carmichaels in Greene County.

Matt Rourke / AP

According to Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, he and other Democrats haven’t so far been party to many of the budget negotiations that are heating up in the Capitol.

Kris Hart

If there's a checklist for starting a political campaign, one item would have to be, "Am I qualified to run?"

Businessman Kris Hart planned to announce his candidacy for governor of Pennsylvania in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Thursday, but quickly changed his plans after he learned — from me, I'm afraid — that he didn't meet the state residency requirement to serve as governor.

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