Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

After months of asking, members of the group One Pittsburgh finally had an in-person meeting with Republican Senator Pat Toomey. The coalition of community, faith, and labor groups, had been requesting such a meeting since August. The group went so far as to travel to Washington, DC in an effort get a meeting but it was repeatedly told the senator was unavailable.

Resignation of a Top Advisor Confuses Women's Rights Advocates

Jan 20, 2012

The resignation of a top advisor in the state Department of Public Welfare has women's rights advocates wondering why he was hired in the first place.

The Department of Public Welfare says Robert Patterson asked to keep editing the conservative The Family in America journal last fall, shortly after coming to work for the state.

The request was denied and he resigned shortly thereafter.

Chamber of Commerce: Don’t Rush Unemployment Decisions

Jan 20, 2012

Unemployment benefits for about 17,000 Pennsylvanians could be extended for up to 13 weeks under a proposal in the state Senate, but the commonwealth's business leaders don't want lawmakers to vote without first trying to address how to fix a system mired in debt.

Murphy Votes Against Debt Increase

Jan 19, 2012

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA 18) was among the 239 Representatives who voted in favor of a resolution to reject President Obama's request for an additional $1.2 trillion to the debt ceiling. The President formally requested Congress to approve a second increase to the debt ceiling January 12th.

Under the Budget Control Act, the debt limit is automatically raised 15 days after the President notifies Congress unless lawmakers vote to deny the borrowing increase.

As the Pennsylvania General Assembly settles into a new legislative session, lawmakers must tackle a host of issues while dealing with a substantial revenue shortfall.

For House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, the major issue of early 2012 is the state budget, which will probably take heavy cuts in light of a 4% revenue shortfall.

Rematch in Store for East End House District

Jan 18, 2012

In the East End, one Pittsburgh Democrat is making another primary run against a political veteran who's held his state House office for more than 18 years.

Pittsburgh Democratic Committee Chair Ed Gainey will take on incumbent Representative Joseph Preston, Jr. in the April 24 primary election this year. They'll do battle over the 24th District, which comprises East Liberty, Highland Park, Homewood, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar and other neighborhoods.

Report: Break Up Comprehensive Shale Bills

Jan 17, 2012

In a report issued Tuesday, Pennsylvania environmentalists criticized the state legislature for its failure to pass legislation to regulate the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry and assess a fee on each well drilled.

Wagner Steps Down From House Seat

Jan 16, 2012

Two weeks after being sworn into to a new political office, Chelsa Wagner (D-Brookline), who represented the 22nd state legislative district, has stepped down to focus on her role as Allegheny County Controller.

Wagner won the Controller race by a landslide in November and was sworn in on Jan. 1. She also maintained her position in the state House. She was roundly critized for having poor voting attendance in Harrisburg. The mised voters were atributed to her campaigning for controller and the demands of her second pregnancy, for which she is about three weeks from her due date.

Purcell Takes On A Ravenstahl

Jan 16, 2012

Mark Purcell is challenging State Representative Adam Ravenstahl (D-Allegheny County) in the April Democratic Primary for his seat in the Pennsylvania legislature. Purcell is a former Ross Township Commissioner and current chief of staff for State Representative Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny County).

Purcell said he wanted to see Ravenstahl become an effective legislator, but his "inaction" in the House is unacceptable.

Reformers Wary of Attorney General Candidate

Jan 13, 2012

Government reform activists warn that the lone Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney General could hamper the ongoing probe into the Milton Hershey School.

Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed has Governor Corbett's backing to become the commonwealth's top prosecutor. Freed is the son-in-law of Roy Zimmerman, who recently stepped down as chairman of the board that oversees the Milton Hershey School. The school has been under investigation by the state Attorney General for the past year.

As the deadline nears for informal review requests of property assessments, the City of Pittsburgh is offering help to residents. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that starting on Monday, January 9, 14 senior centers and one location in the City County Building will be staffed with at least two people from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

Corbett Freezes Pay and Other Spending

Jan 5, 2012

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is freezing about three percent of the funding for most state agencies. The move comes on the heels of the announcement of a pay freeze for state cabinet and management employees. Corbett's office says that the total spending reduction amounts to almost $160 million, less than one percent of the state's $27.2 billion budget.

Santorum’s Near-Win “Redemption”

Jan 4, 2012

After being tossed out of the U.S. Senate by Pennsylvania's voters in 2006 and then suffering a false start at a presidential campaign in 2008, Rick Santorum's near-win at the Iowa Republican Caucus plays like a story of redemption — at least for the next week, according to Muhlenberg College political science professor Christopher Borick.

Fitzgerald Sworn in as Allegheny County Executive

Jan 3, 2012

Rich Fitzgerald officially became the third Allegheny County Executive when he was sworn into office on Tuesday.

After taking the oath, Fitzgerald said that he realizes the region faces many challenges, including property reassessments and transit. He said that he would be discussing property reassessments soon, and added that improving the region's transit system will be key.

As Corey O'Connor, the son of late Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor, was sworn into the 137th Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday, there was much talk of cooperation among elected officials. However, the talk couldn't put a stop to the political maneuvering common to Pittsburgh's legislative body.

After surviving an attempt to vote her out of the Council presidency, Darlene Harris made a major change to the committee leadership among Council Members.

Corey O'Connor will be the lone newcomer on the Pittsburgh City Council on January 3. The son of late-former Mayor Bob O'Connor will take the same seat his father held when he served on city council. The younger O'Connor said that his main priority will be the people of Pittsburgh.

"We want to look at it as a business, and the people of Pittsburgh are our customers, and we want to provide them with the best product we can so that they want to stay here, they want to live here, they tell more people to come back here," said O'Connor.

New Political Action Commmittee Aims to Give Voice to Pennsylvanians

Dec 30, 2011

A veteran Pennsylvania government reform advocate has launched a new political action committee aimed at driving a unique agenda in Harrisburg. The new Majority PA political action committee (PAC) has cobbled together a modest political agenda:

New County Executive Faces Fiscal Challenges

Dec 29, 2011

Many people tend to 'take it slow' over the holiday season, but Rich Fitzgerald has no such luxury.

"It's been very hectic, as you can imagine, because there's been a lot of issues in transition, to try to put a government together, to put an administration together," said Fitzgerald, who will take the reins as the next Allegheny County Executive in January.

Capital and R-Cap Budgets Get Tighter

Dec 28, 2011

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's budget boss has put the state on warning that he will be tightening oversight of a program long derided for spreading pork-barrel spending throughout the state.

The Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program, or R-Cap, became a rallying point for conservatives in 2010 when then candidate Tom Corbett ran a campaign ad highlighting a 10-million dollar R-Cap grant to build the Arlen Specter Library at Philadelphia University. Many have argued that the grants are driven more by politics than by an effort to create jobs and support communities.

Job Growth is Altmire’s Focus in 2012

Dec 27, 2011

Congressman Jason Altmire (D-PA 4) plans to focus his attention on creating jobs in his district when he returns to Washington D.C. in January.

"Western Pennsylvania is ahead of the game," said Altmire. "That's why we have an unemployment rate that's below the national average. There are still places that are struggling and we have work to do, but I think we are uniquely positioned to take advantages of our resources and grow in a way that the rest of the country will be a little bit jealous of."

Onorato Proud of County Executive Legacy

Dec 25, 2011

Outgoing County Executive Dan Onorato may have failed in his 2010 bid for the governorship, but he said his time in Allegheny County's highest office was a success.

His eight-year record of keeping county property taxes level was besmirched a bit when Allegheny County Council passed a 21% property tax hike this December, a fact about which Onorato seems displeased.

Democrats: Corbett Budget Still Flawed

Dec 21, 2011

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett released his mid-year budget assessment on Tuesday, and Democrats quickly seized the opportunity to criticize the administration. The Governor says that the state is headed toward a $500 million dollar shortfall in the 2011-2012 budget, and he predicted a $750 million dollar hole in the 2012-2013 budget if no changes are made. Democrats countered by saying that Corbett is leading the state in the wrong direction.

Shields Leaves City Council

Dec 20, 2011

Doug Shields has been working in city government since 1992, a time when Nirvana still toured, George H.W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wasn't yet 13 years old.

Shields, who's leaving his post as Councilman after eight years on the job, started as an aide to then-Councilman Bob O'Connor, who would later be elected as mayor.

Ironically, it's O'Connor's son, Corey, who will take Shields' place.

New Pennsylvania Congressional Districts Headed to Governor’s Desk

Dec 20, 2011

A bill that would redraw Pennsylvania's U.S. House Districts has been passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on a 136-61 vote. Supporters say it is a fair way to divvy up the state but opponents say it is gerrymandering at its worst.

"All along Democrats simply asked for participation and inclusion in a process to draw lines, which we hoped would invite inclusion of all constituencies as opposed to lines being drawn in a partisan attempt to consolidate power," said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn.

Democratic Representative Jesse White of Cecil was shocked by the new Pennsylvania House district map passed by the Reapportionment Commission.

"About a half hour before the vote — what's being referred to as the 'stealth plan' — a map that no one had ever seen before on the Democratic side, that came out of nowhere was quickly voted on, on a party line vote," said White.

New Congressional Map Pits Critz and Altmire

Dec 14, 2011

A proposed map of Pennsylvania's 18 new congressional districts drawn by Republican state lawmakers would shift Scranton and Wilkes-Barre into a Democratic-held district in the eastern half of the state, and force Democrats Jason Altmire and Mark Critz to run against each other in the western half.

The map was released on Tuesday. A vote on it is scheduled for Wednesday in the Pennsylvania Senate. Wednesday is the last voting day on the Pennsylvania Senate calendar until 2012.

A Pittsburgh Councilman is urging the city's administration to speak out against state-level bills that would supercede Pittsburgh's ban on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

Councilman Doug Shields said that he plans to introduce a resolution denouncing Senate Bill 1100 and its House companion, and he wants the mayor to do the same.

The two bills are meant to homogenize Marcellus Shale drilling rules across Pennsylvania by preventing municipalities from enacting bans or zoning laws that restrict where industry-related infrastructure can be located.

Community Group Opposes Voter ID Bill

Dec 13, 2011

The Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) is calling on the state Senate to defeat House Bill 934, which would require Pennsylvanians to present a government-issued voter ID before casting their ballots. Current law asks voters to present a form of identification when voting in their polling place for the first time. They include utility bills, fire arms permits, bank statements, and other forms with an address on it.

Panel Okays Remapping of Legislative Districts

Dec 13, 2011

Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate might file a court challenge to the redistricting plan approved on Monday by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The four legislative caucus leaders, Senators Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware County) and Jay Costa (D-Allegheny County), Representatives Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) and Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny County), plus retired State Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen, comprise the committee.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Delay Release of New Congressional Borders

Dec 12, 2011

State and congressional lawmakers were supposed to offer the public its first glimpse at new boundaries for the commonwealth's congressional districts, but it's going to take them a little longer to strike a deal.

The meeting was cancelled less than two hours before its scheduled time.

Discussions over redistricting are ongoing, according to the state Senate GOP spokesman, who said that his caucus is "optimistic" that the proposed maps will be unveiled on Tuesday.