Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Flickr user Mike Licht

Allegheny County Council on Tuesday voted down a proposal to change the way the results of restaurant health inspections are communicated to the public.

The proposal would have tied existing narrative reports to number and letter grades, ranging from A to C, and posted those letter grades in conspicuous locations at the restaurant or food service site.

Only Councilman John Palmiere, chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services, voted in favor of the legislation.

Airwolfhound / Flickr

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Refueling Wing will now be home to a KC-135 flight simulator.

That is the type of craft flown by pilots at the Moon Township facility. Previously, crew members would have to travel to the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire to use a flight simulator, now they can stay in Pittsburgh and others will likely come into the region as well.

The state’s Independent Fiscal Office is not revising its estimated commonwealth spending gap of $1.6 billion for the current and upcoming fiscal years.

That’s in spite of a spike in revenues observed in the IFO’s latest report.

Tax collections have yielded $594 million more than the agency expected, but the lion’s share of that money is from corporate net income taxes, and it’s still a mystery why the haul is so large.

Are Young Municipal Workers Bearing The Brunt Of Pension Reform?

May 5, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Many Pennsylvania municipalities are already taking steps towards reforming their pension plans. Because municipalities cannot legally break pension obligations already promised, reform usually means changing the pension plans for new employees while older employees' pensions remain intact. So what does that mean? Is the younger generation bearing the brunt of pension reform?

Flickr user Walter Lim

There are currently five bills in the Pennsylvania state Legislature that propose raising the minimum wage, and the most recently introduced is also the most ambitious, calling for the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour to more than double, to $15/hour.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Delaware, Montgomery) last week introduced the “One Fair Wage” bill, for which he is currently seeking co-sponsors. Leach said the bill would do three things.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Standing in a sun-drenched room, Jim Rosipal pointed to a framed assemblage on the wall. In it, a police officer’s uniform shirt, a medal for valor, a gas cap cover from the Harley Davidson he rode, and valve stem covers in the shape of little pigs. “Back in those days we were called pigs every now and then,” Rosipal said. “Didn’t bother us at all.”

Congressman Keith Rothfus (PA-12) is once again trying to crack down on bonuses being handed out to senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“The VA is still failing veterans in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Rothfus said. “VA senior executives need to take responsibility, fix the problems and do their jobs.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb said the city is doing well financially, but it could still improve spending.

Lamb released the 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report which showed Pittsburgh ended the year with a total fund balance of $183 million, an increase of $22.6 million from 2013.

Gov. Tom Wolf is opening his cabinet’s expense books up to the public. Department heads and select top aides have put their fuel costs, car leases, hotel bills and other expenses online.

Spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said this is the first governor’s administration in Pennsylvania to share its expenses.

“The governor is very much committed to restoring the public’s trust in government,” said Sheridan. He said the expenses will probably be updated on a monthly basis.

Backers of a state law struck down by a federal judge who said it would trample on free speech rights say they're hoping for a re-do.

The overturned law would have let victims and their families ask a judge to make offenders stop any behavior that is upsetting. Opponents called it baldly unconstitutional, and a U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner agreed, calling it the "embodiment of content-based regulation of speech."

State Senate Republicans plan to roll out a proposal to overhaul public pensions in early May, the first step toward making good on their promise to address pension debt before negotiating a commonwealth budget.

Caucus leaders have repeatedly suggested switching future hires into a 401(k)-style retirement system. Last month, the Senate majority leader said he might try to scale back unearned pension benefits for current state and public school employees.

AP Photo/Marc Levy

The Independent Fiscal Office was created five years ago to provide number-crunching with no spin, but it isn't getting the last word in the state budget debate.

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has vigorously disputed the IFO finding that the governor's spending plan would stick even the poorest Pennsylvanians with a tax increase.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman introduced a bill Tuesday that he said will save the city between $10,000 and $20,000 a year. He said that’s how much it costs to print and mail residential parking permit stickers and renewal notices.

The legislation would call on the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to provide residents the option to renew parking permits online and do away with the sticker system, instead relying on license plate recognition technology.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane engaged in a cover-up and lied about her role in an alleged unlawful leak of information from a 2009 investigation, according to a report by the grand jury that recommended she face criminal charges.

"The testimony of Attorney General Kane was not an honest account of the events, and she mischaracterized events to cover up activities undertaken at her direction to unlawfully release documents subject to grand jury secrecy," said the report released Monday, three months after its recommendations were made public.

If you have ever paid your property taxes and wondered why you were making the check out to the treasurer’s name rather than to the office, you are not alone.  State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Berks) has introduced a bill that would make such a practice illegal.

“This is a very bad practice, it’s a loophole that is ripe for abuse and fraud,” Mackenzie said. “Individuals collect taxes in their name and instead of depositing it into the tax account it makes its way into their individual account.”

State Senate GOP leaders aren't in Gov. Tom Wolf's inner circle, and they aren't happy about it.

The Senate's top Republican said last week the governor should have consulted his caucus before nominating a state treasurer.

"Who wants to be nominated by the governor that's going to go to the Senate and be voted down because the governor refuses to have a conversation with the Senate?" said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson). "That's a ridiculous position to take to try to recruit, nominate and confirm qualified people for these positions."

State Rep. Peter Daley (D-Washington) believes he has part of the solution for the $41 billion unfunded state pension crisis in Pennsylvania.

Daley says that if the retirement age for teachers and state workers was lowered it would save the state money by phasing out higher paid teachers, and bring in new lower paid teachers with a 25 percent reduction in pensions.  

As of Monday Pennsylvania, will no longer have an asset test for those wanting to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits, which are sometimes referred to as food stamps.

The requirement was put in place by the Corbett administration and Governor Tom Wolf came out against the test early in his campaign. Acting Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said the state spent roughly $3.5 million a year keeping tract of the requirement.

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is disputing an independent report finding his budget proposal would amount to a net tax increase for Pennsylvanians of all income levels.

John Hanger, a top aide, told reporters Friday that the Independent Fiscal Office is relying on shaky data, and overlooking the potential for economic growth under the governor’s proposed reductions in business taxes.

Gov. Tom Wolf has said he just wants to give in-home care workers a voice.

Under a partial injunction issued Thursday, that voice would be somewhat muted.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini has ruled that direct care workers can still elect a representative, who can still meet with state officials about things like standards, training, working conditions. But Pellegrini barred the parties from putting any agreement in writing.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday he would veto a state proposal to eradicate local sick-leave laws in Pennsylvania if it reaches his desk.

The measure, which passed the Republican-controlled state Senate with bipartisan support last week, aims to preempt a Philadelphia law requiring businesses with 10 or more employees to give workers an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

Health Law Brings Growth In Food Stamps In Some States

Apr 22, 2015
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

President Barack Obama's health care law has had a surprising side effect: In some states, it appears to be enticing more Americans to apply for food stamps, even as the economy improves.

New, streamlined application systems built for the health care overhaul are making it easier for people to enroll in government benefit programs, including insurance coverage and food stamps.

The man picked to run the commonwealth's Department of State for the second time is facing criticism from lawmakers who didn't like how he performed the first time on the job.

But Gov. Tom Wolf is defending his nominee, saying the concerns being voiced about Acting Secretary of State Pedro Cortés are baseless.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania legislators are again trying to reduce the size of the state House of Representatives and Senate, with a pair of bills that would be the first steps toward amending the state constitution.

House Bill 153 proposed to reduce the House of Representatives from 203 members to 153, while House Bill 384 would shrink the Senate from 50 to 37 seats.

Acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera began his remarks to the Senate Education Committee as he would before a classroom.

“Good morning,” Rivera said, to muffled greetings in return.

“Wow, can I try that again?” said Rivera. “I feel like I’m in front of my students.”

The back-and-forth improved from there. Before the panel voted unanimously to advance Rivera’s name for consideration, multiple lawmakers praised him for being responsive to their questions over the past few months.

Antoinette Palmieri / Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority

More than four years after the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s water line service protection program was scrapped, Pittsburgh City Council took the first step last week to create a new program.

This time, said Councilman Dan Gilman, homeowners will have to actively opt-in to the program, rather than opting out.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

A Pennsylvania court says a legal challenge to the state's system of funding public schools involves political questions that don't belong in the courts.

Mary Wilson / WITF

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle are speaking in unison on state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is under threat of indictment.

Their message? We're not getting involved.

Spokespeople or leaders from all four legislative caucuses said recently that they're not calling for Kane to step down.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf has asked various groups to start planning on increases in state funding for education, and the move is prompting criticism from Republican state lawmakers who oppose the governor's spending plan.

In 2013, there were 1.1 million firearm-related background checks conducted in Pennsylvania.

Now, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R- Washington/Greene) has introduced legislation that would eliminate that background check.

Currently, firearm customers need to register for the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) and the National Instant Check System (NICS) before they can purchase a gun. If Bartolotta’s bill passes, Pennsylvania will join the 36 states that solely rely on the national system.