Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Wildlife Conservation Officers and Waterways Conservation Officers (WCOs) in Pennsylvania now have the option to wear body cameras in the line of duty, says state Representative Dan Moul (R-Adams).

“I will argue every day of the week that a WCO is the same as any police officer,” Moul said, referring to a newly enacted state law that allows municipal police officers to wear body cameras. “Their duties are just a little different. The training is virtually the same.”

For as long as property taxes have been used to locally funded schools, there has been a debate over fairness and it might come to head this year in Pennsylvania.

State Senator Matt Smith (D – Allegheny) is hopeful the 2015-16 budget will incorporate a funding formula for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.

He is a member of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which is tasked with crafting the formula.  Created in June, the 15-member commission has about six months to go until it must submit a proposal to the legislature.

This is the first in a three-part series looking ahead to the 2015 priorities with members of Pittsburgh City Council.

Whatever he’s doing after moving out of the governor’s residence, Tom Corbett says, he’ll probably be holding a grandson. The governor says he’s looking forward to more family time as he returns to his Pittsburgh-area home – but he’s not closing the door to an encore in public service. 

A potential revenue stream for the city of Pittsburgh could become tied up in litigation if City Council does not act quickly.

Council on Monday discussed a bill to approve the installation of distributed antenna systems, or DAS, in 19 light poles across the city.

According to Mike Salem, an engineering technician in the Department of Public Works, the antennae are meant to improve cell service in “dead spots,” areas where reception is bad or calls are dropped regularly.

Lower phone rates for state prison inmates this holiday season are presenting the state Department of Corrections with a classic lesson in economics: what happens when pent-up demand meets low supply.

The agency announced a drop in phone rates right before Thanksgiving. Costs for a 15 minute call (including taxes) went from about six bucks to less than one dollar.

Cities Learn to be Strategic When Demolishing Blighted Buildings

Dec 23, 2014
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Urban revitalization often brings to mind preservation and rehabilitation—people like the idea of saving old buildings. But the reality is, in Pennsylvania's post-industrial cities, there are many, many buildings that will never be rehabbed.

Sometimes, before you rebuild, you have to tear down—and it helps do to it strategically.

Technology upgrades in the new Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections – formerly the Bureau of Building Inspection – are set to continue, as Pittsburgh City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would set the stage for putting permitting online.

One of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s fiercest critics in the state House is renewing his resolution for her impeachment.

“Despite the passage of time and the evolution of this issue, the core concerns regarding her performance in office remain the same,” writes Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) in a co-sponsorship memo. “The Attorney General has failed to perform the duties of her office on a number of occasions and she has engaged in misbehavior in office.”

The second proposal for Kane’s impeachment comes in the wake of scathing criticism from within her own party.

A new state report puts to bed the notion that merging all of the school districts in York County would save taxpayers' money.

York County state lawmakers asked the Independent Fiscal Office to consider the issue, frequently cited as a possible solution to climbing property tax rates to support schools.

"Generally, every town hall meeting we had people ask, 'Why not consolidate school districts?'" said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York).

Pittsburgh’s Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for Cities of the Second Class met on Friday to address the resubmission of Pittsburgh’s proposed 2015 budgets and corresponding five-year plan.

They unanimously approved the $516.6 million operating budget and $76.6 million capital plan.

A report by the state’s auditor general finds that some counties are losing hundreds of millions of dollars from organizations defined as charities and are therefore exempt from property taxes.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is on a statewide tour of sorts, though not exactly spreading a message of cheer as he lays the groundwork for his budget proposal in about three months.

Wolf’s Thursday stop in Kingston, Luzerne County marked the third news conference he’s held this month to talk to reporters about the state’s looming deficit, projected to be about $1.85 billion. Wolf has held similar Q&A sessions in Philadelphia and York.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle is one step closer to delivering on a promise to constituents that affordable housing would be a key part of the revitalization of the Hill District.

The Planning Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a proposed change to city code governing specially planned districts, or SP districts.

“Specially Planned Districts are those districts like Southside Works, Station Square … the Pittsburgh Technology Center, and Washington’s Landing,” said zoning administrator Corey Layman.

Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday that he's pleased charges have been filed against two additional public officials ensnared by a sting operation that began under his tenure as attorney general.

"It's satisfying to see when there appears to be enough evidence to charge somebody and let a jury make the decision as to whether they're innocent or guilty," said Corbett, speaking on Radio Pennsylvania's Ask the Governor program.

It’s being called the biggest piece of legislation to affect disabled Americans since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was passed by the Senate Tuesday by a vote of 404-17.  It allows Americans with disabilities or their families to set up a tax-free savings account in order to prepare for long-term care.

US House of Representatives

Four days ago, Congress put final approval on a long term one-trillion dollar funding bill, the main item on the year's agenda. The measure provides money for nearly the entire government through September 30, 2015.

But the spending bill has plenty of critics, including Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who called it "the worst of government for the rich and powerful.”

Pittsburgh Congressman Mike Doyle voted against the bill and explains that he did so because it contains “egregious provisions,” including a rider that allows banks to make risky investments that are FDIC insured, thus putting taxpayers at risk for private investment. Citigroup actually wrote the terms of the provision, Doyle emphasizes.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Leigh Halverson is the deputy chief of staff for economic development in the Peduto administration, and on one wall of her office is a row of pink post it notes, with different dollar amounts written on them.

“$440,000 from the foundations this year to support our Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment,” she says. “$200,000 from the National League of Cities for our Healthy Together campaign … $75,000 for our green and healthy homes initiative.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Former Allegheny County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty has announced his candidacy for the post currently held by Democrat Chelsa Wagner. Flaherty, who held the post from 2004 to 2011, will seek the Democratic nomination.

“I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to getting back and helping people and meeting a lot of people out there on the campaign trail and seeing what ideas and what suggestions they might have to improve efficiencies of county and all governments in Allegheny County,” said Flaherty.

It appears the tensions have subsided, at least for the moment, between the state Department of Education and the commonwealth’s fiscal watchdog.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale blasted the agency earlier this month for being uncooperative with a performance review.

But he said more recently that the department has begun sending timely responses – beginning with one that was due last Tuesday.

“For the first time in the history of our audit of the Department of Education they met a deadline of supplying information,” said DePasquale.

After approving a few last minute amendments, Pittsburgh City Council on Monday approved a $507.8 million operating budget, up from $487.1 million in 2014, as well as a $76.6 million capital budget and a five-year capital plan.

“This is a banner day for Pittsburgh,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “With the help of City Council and our financial overseers — and especially our residents and employees — this budget clears a path to fix our financial problems for good over the next five years.”

You can put another thing to the list of reasons drafting the next state budget won't be a cake walk: the commonwealth's labor costs are likely to go up next year.

In recent years, new governors have had to revisit contracts for most of the state's roughly 73,000 employees within their first year in office. The same is true this time.

Most contracts will be up next July, and renegotiation means pay raises and potentially higher costs for employee health care and leave.

After voting in favor of a 2015 budget amendment that would speed up the timeline for deployment of body-worn cameras for police officers, Councilman Dan Gilman on Wednesday held a post-agenda meeting on surveillance and privacy.

Tom Wolf / Flickr

Carnegie Mellon University Health Law professor Gary Kaplan joins us to talk about how Pennsylvania’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act could change under the Wolf administration.

Professor Kaplan represents private employers in advising them on health care plan options. So what do employers need to know about the UPMC and Highmark contract in 2015?

Kaplan explains that Wolf is interested in going with a different plan for the implementation of the Medicaid expansion than what Tom Corbett had planned. 

"It's hard to make predictions around here and be accurate," says U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) about the fate of the $1.1 trillion budget.

It's now up to the Senate to pass the huge  spending bill to keep the government running through the end of the current fiscal year — Sept. 30.  

The state’s top fiscal watchdog says job-creation programs need more accountability to ensure taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.

An audit covering 2007 through 2010, before the Corbett administration was in place, found squishy jobs figures among businesses that received nearly $213 million in grants and loans.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said that while nearly 97 percent of promised jobs were delivered by all the state-assisted businesses, the count relies on affidavits from the participating companies, not their actual payroll records.

With three weeks left before Pittsburgh City Council must approve the 2015 operating and capital budgets, the nine-member body considered four additional budget amendments Wednesday.

One amendment would create the position of government and community affairs coordinator in the new Department of Permits, Licenses, & Inspections.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would raise property taxes by one-half mill, which works out to about $40 a year for a home worth $100,000.

City Finance Director Paul Leger says the city is currently operating at “bare bones” and that failure to pass the millage increase would put the city in violation of Act 47.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf plans to publicize some of the private donations that'll cover the costs of his inauguration day and transition team.

On Tuesday, the transition team scheduled two disclosure dates - January 15 and March 30 - when Wolf will share who ponied up to pay for his inauguration day festivities and his transition team's costs.

It's typical for governors to get private sponsors to underwrite inauguration day, but Wolf said he didn't want to burden taxpayers with his transition, either.

The rental car company Hertz owes Allegheny County nearly three quarters of a million dollars, according to County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

Wagner found the error while auditing three years worth of activities at Pittsburgh International Airport. Car rental companies are to collect and send to the county a $2 per vehicle per day tax. Due to a computer glitch, Hertz Corporation had not been submitting the receipts to the county.

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