Katie Meyer

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.

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.”

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Some lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf took a break from budget negotiations Wednesday to sign a high-profile package of bills into law.

They significantly overhauled the commonwealth’s animal rights legislation, and included a measure that has brought a lot of attention to the issue in the past year: Libre’s Law.

The bill signing saw more fanfare—and barking—than most.

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.

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.

Daveynin / Flickr

The office of the state auditor general has released a report reviewing Penn State’s rising tuition costs, background check practices and transparency in the wake of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse conviction.

Penn State is an important asset to Pennsylvania, and in his presentation of the report, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale repeatedly stressed the necessity of keeping its reputation intact.

In order to do that, he said PSU still has to improve its background checks in the post-Sandusky era—particularly for employees who have contact with kids.

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.

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.

Zeevveez / Flickr

A contentious bill to prohibit municipalities from taxing or banning plastic bags has passed the legislature, and now faces a potential veto at the hands of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Several manufacturers of the plastic used for disposable shopping bags are based around Pennsylvania, and employ over a thousand people. The Republican sponsors of the bill say that’s the main reason they’re supporting it.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

With a little over two weeks until the state budget is due, House and Senate Republicans have been holding closed meetings to hash out details.

Few concrete plans are available, but GOP leaders say they’re on roughly the same page on spending.

A few months ago House Republicans released their budget proposal, which would spend about $800 million less than Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s blueprint and not raise taxes.

The Senate’s GOP majority hasn’t released its own plan yet, and it’s unclear if they will.

Matt Rourke / AP

A group of legislative Democrats are pushing no fewer than twelve bills on voter registration in the House and Senate. They would model expanded voting and voter registration in Pennsylvania after reforms already done in other states.

However, Democrats haven’t even been able to get the measures past the first stage of consideration in the GOP-controlled chambers—the House and Senate State Government Committees.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

Legislation’s being introduced in the Senate this week to change how Pennsylvania elects its lieutenant governor.

It was prompted by a scandal that hit Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack recently, which called attention to an apparent rift between himself and Governor Tom Wolf.

In its elections, Pennsylvania uses the relatively uncommon method of having the governor and lieutenant for either party run separately in the primary, and then together in the general election.

Matt Rourke / AP

The state House of Representatives quickly introduced and passed a sweeping new gambling bill Wednesday evening, which would significantly expand the industry.

Matt Rourke / AP

An impassioned group of advocates and lawmakers are pushing for two controversial pieces of legislation that would make it harder for women to access abortion services in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After a recent audit found significant accounting, technology, and funding issues in the commonwealth’s unemployment compensation system, the Wolf administration is attempting to correct its course.

But it’s not going to be an easy—or quick—process.

Lawmakers are already expressing frustration with the amount of information they’re getting about the UC system’s financial decisions.

Katie Meyer / WITF

State senators gathered in the Capitol on Sunday evening to move a bill that's been dogging the legislature for the last four years, in various forms.

It would rework the structure of the state's two heavily indebted public pension systems, a change the bill's supporters say mitigates risk to taxpayers.

However, the proposal does little to reduce the state's massive pension debt.

Like several previous GOP pension proposals, it would shift the state's retirement plan to a three-tiered 401-k-style system--effectively reducing benefits for new hires.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After years of back and forth, Pennsylvania has passed a law to bring its state IDs up to federal standards.

But compliance doesn’t end there.

It’ll still be a multi-year process to phase in the new IDs, and a lot of the timelines and costs are unknown.

The state says it tentatively plans to make the new federal “Real ID” compliant cards available around March 2019.

Elaine Thompson / AP

A Pennsylvania psychiatrist and his colleagues are noticing some troubling mental health trends related to joblessness among their white, working-class patients. And those trends seem inextricably tied with the current political climate.

Dr. Kenneth Thompson is the president of the American Association for Social Psychiatry. He’s based in Pittsburgh, and said many of his patients fall into a very specific category—they’re white, male, high school-educated former Democrat-voters who supported Donald Trump for president.

Matt Rourke / AP

Activists across the commonwealth are urging state lawmakers to take an uncommon step in order to move a bill that would place limits on the gifts elected officials can accept.

They’re putting together discharge petition—a measure that’s not often used, and even less often used successfully.

Such a petition can force a bill to move out of a committee to a floor vote if the committee refuses to act on it.

AP

Harrisburg lawmakers accepted over $145 thousand in hospitality, gifts, and other travel in 2016, according to recently-filed financial interest disclosure forms.

The commonwealth has one of the loosest laws for reporting those gifts in the country.

The filings are coming as advocates across the state make a renewed push to get lawmakers to impose regulations on the amount of money they can take.

Republican Representative Rick Saccone, of Allegheny County, said regulations governing what needs to be reported--like dinners--are also loose.

Mike Groll / AP

A bill to expand gambling and raise sorely-needed revenue is moving on to the House, after passing swiftly through the Senate last week.

Gaming has been a sticky issue for the legislature for several sessions, and the latest bill is expected to face pushback from several factions of House lawmakers.

The Senate-passed bill would chiefly legalize and regulate internet gambling. It would also let Pennsylvanians buy lottery tickets and bet on fantasy sports online, and fix a law that dictates how casinos pay out fees to their local communities.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A bipartisan group of legislative leaders has been working on a major proposal to change how state employee pensions are structured.

The commonwealth’s roughly $70 billion unfunded pension liability has been dogging lawmakers for years. But the plan most likely to move forward won’t attempt to reduce that debt significantly.

Instead, leaders say the measure will look similar to one they attempted to pass last session, which disintegrated without a vote because Democrats refused to support it.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

At the behest of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and top Republicans, the state Auditor General is launching a formal review of how the Democratic National Convention’s host committee spent state money.

The state gave the DNC committee a $10 million grant last summer to help fund its event, which was held in Philadelphia.

Ultimately, the committee—which is chaired by former Gov. Ed Rendell—ended up with a $4 million surplus. Among other things, that money was used to give bonuses to staff members.  

Lawmakers argue any extra money should have gone back to the state.

Katie Meyer / WITF

The first wave of employees has been called back to work in the state’s unemployment compensation call centers, with more follow next week.

The move comes a week after the legislature passed a measure to temporarily restore the UC system’s funding. But many of the roughly 500 employees laid off last year over funding disputes are still out of a job.

Google Maps

Around the state, advocates and frustrated Pennsylvanians are pushing lawmakers to change the rules governing how district lines are redrawn every 10 years.

The current process lets politicians the skew districts in their political favor—a process known as gerrymandering.

Mike Groll / AP

A state House panel is considering a plan to help fill significant budget gaps that have been left open for gambling revenue.

The Gaming Committee held a public hearing Monday on a longstanding proposal to legalize video gambling terminals in bars and other businesses.

The bill being discussed is House Bill 1010, which would allow up to 35,000 terminals in bars, social clubs, and other such businesses.

Proponents say it could earn $100 million in its first year, and $500 million annually once it’s fully implemented.

Rick Bowmer / AP

A bill that could potentially eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood facilities in Pennsylvania has passed a state Senate committee. 

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