News

Wolf Seeks Billions in Higher Taxes for Schools, Tax Revamp

Mar 3, 2015
Matt Rourke / Associated Press

In an ambitious first budget plan, Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday proposed more than $4 billion in higher taxes on income, sales and natural gas drilling to support new spending on schools and to cut property taxes as part of an effort to overhaul the way public education is funded.

Wolf, a Democrat, is also asking the Republican-controlled Legislature to cut corporate taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars, borrow more than $4 billion to refinance pension debt and inject new money into business loans, clean energy subsidies and water and sewer system projects.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA) monthly bills for January and February confused many with an “estimate bill” as a result of a new system that cannot read the old meters.

About 3,500 customers’ meters are now outdated, and as a result the meter could not be read electronically as newer models are.  So instead of a regular bill, the PWSA sent out estimates based on past bills.  

FracTracker

A new report shows that about 4 million Pennsylvanians live within a half mile evacuation zone in case of a train derailment.

The report comes from PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, an environmental advocacy group, and FracTracker Alliance, which makes maps and analyzes data from the oil and gas industries.

Ian Turton/ Flickr

  More Pennsylvanians under 21 consume alcohol than the national average, according to a report released by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on underage and dangerous drinking habits.

1.5 Million at Risk in PA for Crude Oil Derailment

Mar 2, 2015
Photo by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In Pennsylvania, nearly 1.5 million people are in potential danger if a train carrying crude oil derails and catches fire, according to a PublicSource analysis. That is about one in every nine Pennsylvanians.

Representative Dave Reed's office

Governor Tom Wolf is set to give his budget address to the General Assembly  Tuesday morning, and lawmakers are expecting proposals for significant tax changes, in addition to the plans already shared by the governor.

Wolf has said he’ll seek a five percent tax on natural gas drillers and rework the state’s corporate tax infrastructure.

More than two dozen former Pennsylvania Department of Health nurses were offered reinstatement by Gov. Tom Wolf last week after their positions were eliminated by the Corbett administration.

In November, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, which sued Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013 over his plan to close 26 community health centers and eliminate 26 nursing positions to save an estimated $3.4 million a year.

http://www.senatorschwank.com/

Pennsylvania’s multi-billion dollar public and municipal pension issues have long been cited by lawmakers as an obstacle to economic growth. To address pensions, Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) has introduced a bill that would create the Public Pensions Review Commission.

“To examine the current systems, and to recommend statutory or regulatory changes needed to achieve and maintain a sound, stable public pension structure for both the state and for local governments,” said Schwank.

The 25-member group would be authorized to conduct hearings and receive appropriate information and analysis. Some of the questions to be addressed, said Schwank, are what does Pennsylvania’s future workforce like? How can the state attract and retain talent, and how can the state achieve retirement security?

Powerfund / flickr

It could be a big year for energy decisions; state and federal policies could affect everything from conservation to energy costs:

  • The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is set to unveil the next phase of its Energy Efficiency program, which requires electricity distribution companies to implement energy conservation plans, later this month.
  • Later this year, courts will decide whether conservation programs should be run by the utilities who sell energy or the owners of the grid who distribute it.
  • And, the Environmental Protection Agency will finalize new carbon emissions standards this summer.

Motorists who use the I-376 Carnegie Interchange Ramps will soon have to kiss that exit goodbye until December. Starting Monday at 10 p.m. PennDOT will close the exit to begin work on three structurally deficient bridges.

“Overnight when they do the closure there will be …impacts on traffic, but after the interchange is completely closed and all lanes of traffic are restored we’ll actually improve traffic flow in that area,” said PennDOT District Executive Dan Cessna.  

Flickr user Mary Helen Cochran Library

The Pittsburgh Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections has a nice little chunk of change—a bit more than $300,000—set aside for storage of records.

But the catch is the work must be done on microfilm.

The Microfilm Permit Plans Trust Fund was set up in 1986 with strict parameters about how the money could be spent, and nearly thirty years later, the city has finally decided it’s time to broaden those parameters.

USDA Photo by Ken Hammond

 On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case. It’s the latest attack on the Affordable Care Act.  

King petitioners allege the IRS overstepped its authority by issuing regulations authorizing residents of states with federally run exchanges, such as Pennsylvania, to access premium tax credits. They say Congress limited access to tax credits to residents of state-based exchanges to encourage states to set up their own exchanges.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Governor Tom Wolf is facing another legal challenge to his gubernatorial authority, less than a month into his term.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s petition to stop Wolf’s effective moratorium on the death penalty comes weeks after state Senate Republicans hauled the new administration to court for firing the Open Records director appointed by Wolf’s predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Each case has brought indignant legal filings accusing Wolf of gubernatorial overreach, but legal experts say the disputes wade into unsettled questions. 

Devon Christopher Adams / Flickr

Remembering Mr. Spock (41:00)

Actor Leonard Nimoy, best known as Mr. Spock on the classic television series Star Trek died last week at the age of 83. He made his Shakespearean acting debut at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 1975. Pop culture contributor Joe Wos explains more about Nimoy's connection to the Steel City.   

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Gov. Tom Wolf, who ran last year with the backing of environmental groups, will soon be giving a first glimpse at how his administration will approach the powerful Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.

Next week, Wolf's Department of Environmental Protection is preparing to release its plans to update various rules over the drilling industry, including how it must prevent methane leaks and how it must handle toxic wastewater.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Parents, educators, students and political representatives met for two hours Saturday to discuss reducing suspensions in school and create a climate that doesn’t push students out of school.  

The Education Law Center of Pittsburgh and Great Public Schools led a workshop-style conversation at the Kingsley Center in East Liberty titled, “educate don’t incarcerate,” a nod to the notion that disciplining students by pushing them out of school creates a pipeline to future incarceration.

Samm Hodges

The city of Pittsburgh’s Office of Municipal Investigations is looking into the use of force against an African American man wanted on two warrants after a police chase on Wednesday.

Devon Davis, 23, of the North Side was apprehended by police, who said he “sustained injuries to both legs as a result of the vehicle crash” after a car he was driving collided with another vehicle at the intersection of Wood St. and Ft. Pitt Blvd.

But at least one witness to the subsequent foot chase and arrest said Davis did not appear to be injured when he was running from police.

Associated Press

If you think it's been a cold February in Pittsburgh, you're right — near-record cold, in fact.

The National Weather Service says the city is on track for the second-coldest February since record-keeping began in 1871.

Meteorologist Rihaan Gangat said Saturday that the temperature averaged about 18.6 degrees for the first 27 days of February.

That is just over the 18-degree average recorded in 1979, the coldest February in recorded Pittsburgh history.

The next coldest February occurred in 1963, with an average temperature of 19.3 degrees.

Better Energy Storage Gives Renewables a Boost

Feb 27, 2015
Tara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Ted Wiley doesn’t look like your typical company vice president. He’s young, and wearing a casual blue sweater. At Aquion Energy’s small warehouse near the river in Pittsburgh, Wiley puts on clear safety glasses, and leads me down a ramp and into a room that houses the rotary dial press.

"It’s a 10-ton press and we use it to press the powders that we make one of the electrodes in our battery with," Wiley explains.

The machine isn’t really high tech. Similar models press powder into aspirin. This one spits out  black pellets which Wiley describes as, "kind of like one of the sides of an Oreo cookie."

Ty Wright / Associated Press

A+ Schools, a non-profit that advocates for accountability in Pittsburgh Public Schools had a research firm conduct a poll in late January in which residents were asked targeted questions about what changes they would like to see to schools.

405 individuals were surveyed. 79 percent of them agreed with a statement that its possible for Pittsburgh to be known as a city whose public schools have high standards, great teaching and give all students, regardless of race or background, an opportunity for a great education.

PennDOT

Some Pennsylvanians will be receiving new driver’s licenses after PennDOT officials learned Wednesday a vendor error led to security flaws in more than 100,000 cards.

According to PennDOT, the laminate supplied by Morpho Trust USA and its subcontractor OpSec, did not include the correct hidden security image. Viewed under an ultraviolet black light, proper licenses show a row of keystones with the letters “PA.” The defective cards read “AP” instead.

The Canadian National Railway Co. is hoping to finish cleaning up and repairing a line nearly in Butler County two days after 27 cars carrying iron ore derailed.

The cars, which were part of a 71-car freight train, derailed about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in Center Township, Pennsylvania. The accident scene, near Route 308, is about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Railroad spokesman Patrick Waldron said the railroad hoped to reopen the tracks Friday afternoon, provided the cars and spilled cargo could be removed and the tracks repaired by that time.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

With Pittsburgh being plunged into arctic temperatures for much of February, the rivers have seen more ice than usual. Pittsburgh’s ports and waterways are among the largest inland ports in the country – so the slowdowns caused by the ice are causing some ripple effects. Locks on the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers are still operating – though the ice is slowing traffic.

Mark Abramowitz / Opera Theater of Pittsburgh

In an attempt to both re-brand what opera can offer and what it can teach, the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh is developing an opera it has dubbed an, Eco-Opera.

“This whole notion that opera, sometimes is branded as an elitist art form, and very often the subject matter, and the medium, look back into old European works and there’s a strong sense of visiting a sort of musical theatrical museum when you go to the opera. That’s not the way we want it to be,” said the company’s artistic and general director, Jonathan Eaton.

    

Fish fries abound in Pittsburgh this time of year, and this week's Social Club is dripping with tasty fried batter. (What's the plural for "fish fry" anyway?  "Frys" or "fries"? We'll defer to The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper and go with "fries.") 

Church basements are the place to be on a Friday night for the next six weeks, but the Pub Chip Shop of Pipers Pub serves up the good stuff all year long.

Josh Staiger / Flickr

In a recent opinion piece for the Tribune Review, pop culture correspondent Joe Wos questions whether we’re seeing the death of the art museumRobin Nicholson, Director of The Frick, Jo Ellen Parker, President of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and Joe Wos talk about the future of art museums.

“You know they just had museum selfie day, you know where people came in and used art as backdrops to selfies and I think that’s the risk you run. Yes you want to embrace the technology but you don’t want to devalue the experience completely,” says Wos.

Robin rebuts by saying, “I love museum selfie day. I think that it is an amazing opportunity for an individual to engage in an individual work of art that they might never look at in the same detail again.”

Jo Ellen offers a final insight, “I don’t think technology threatens the extinction of our museums. I think it will support their evolution.”  

A new Pittsburgh start-up is trying to position itself as Netflix for art. CEO Ashwin Muthiah says the  concept behind their company Easely is to make art accessible. Muthiah said the idea for Easely was inspired by an art crawl in Philadelphia last year. He stopped by the station to talk about the new company.

 

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As you drive from Oakland to Downtown via Fifth Avenue, you still see many older buildings, but adding to the landscape now are two newly-constructed apartment buildings offering low-cost housing. One of the Uptown buildings is solely for people who have aged out of the foster care system.

“We have 24 young adults who will be moving into those units, and on the other side of the street we have 23 units that will available for working people with modest incomes,” said Larry Swanson, executive director of Action Housing.

alamosbasement/ Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf releases his state budget proposal Tuesday, and the Campaign for Fair Education Funding has a few suggestions.

Several Education watchdog groups unveiled the plan Thursday.  

“The mission of the campaign is really to focus on this need for an equitable system of funding in Pennsylvania that has enough resources in it to be sure every child has an equal chance to meet our standards,” Joan Benso, PA Partnerships for Children president and CEO, said. Benso's group is just one of several organizations working on the campaign.


When she stepped out of the Waterworks Theater Thursday afternoon, Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center 8th grader Denay Clemons called the movie Selma “an awesome portrayal.”

Denay was among approximately five hundred students from several Pittsburgh schools who were taken to see the movie about the marches in Alabama that preceded the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“I only knew a little bit from school work and history but I learned a lot more about what happened actually like with conversation with the people who actually led the movement,” Denay said.

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