Katie Meyer

Matt Rourke / AP

Agencies are raising alarms over a GOP-backed House plan to redirect billions of dollars to fill gaps in the state’s badly unbalanced budget.

The proposal comes from a conservative faction of the House.

Supporters say it wouldn’t impact state departments, because the money to be transferred is all surplus that has increased over the last few years without being spent.

But a number of agencies say they’d be profoundly affected.

PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said the funds identified as “surplus” are virtually all committed for future projects.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP, file

One of Congress’s most vocal moderates has announced he’s stepping down.

Pennsylvania’s 15th District representative, Republican Charlie Dent, announced late on Thursday that he won’t seek reelection next year—a decision he said he came to in mid-summer.

Dent has cut a distinct path over the course of his seven terms in Congress.

Recently, he opposed a GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act—a move that reportedly led President Donald Trump to tell Dent he was “destroying the Republican Party.”

Marc Levy / AP

Pennsylvania is in its third month with no balanced budget.

Governor Tom Wolf, Senate Democrats and Republicans, and House Democrats are pushing House Republicans to agree to a compromise plan that would raise some taxes and borrow money to fill a $2.2 billion shortfall.

The caucus is still holding out—and even its own members appear conflicted on what to do.

About 20 of the House’s more conservative members released a plan this week to balance the budget on transfers from the special state funds that help pay for things like transportation and parks.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

About 100 protesters gathered outside the Mt. Lebanon office of Rep. Tim Murphy Wednesday afternoon to protest President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Children's Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A group of House Republicans has unveiled a plan to balance the more than $2 billion budget deficit by, primarily, raiding dozens of state funds.

Eighteen rank and file House Republicans said they spent most of the summer working on the plan, which they named “The Taxpayers’ Budget.”

It would transfer cash from the so-called “special” funds that help pay for a number of state programs and services. Supporters of the plan said they limited the transfers to funds with “inordinately high” balances.

Matt Rourke / AP

Election officials across the country are trying to make sure voting infrastructure is up to date, after concerns over potential hacking in the 2016 election.

Pennsylvania is no exception.

In 2002, the federal government handed down almost $4 billion for states to update their voting machines and other election equipment. Most states—including Pennsylvania—have long since drained their share.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

For several months, the state Health Department has been refusing to disclose who is on the panels that scored applications for medical marijuana licenses.

But now, the Department of Open Records is ordering the agency to release the information. 

The Open Records decision comes after protracted back-and-forth between the DOH and PennLive.

After releasing permits to grow, process and sell medical marijuana to select applicants, the department wouldn’t name the panelists who had made those decisions.

casey.senate.gov

Statewide political party leaders are starting to hone their messaging for—and against—candidates, more than a year before the midterm elections

Particular attention is already being paid to Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, between incumbent Democrat Bob Casey and one of several Republican challengers.

The emails have been coming steadily for a few months now.

Salvos from the state Republican Party criticize Casey’s votes against cutting funds to sanctuary cities, or his shifts to the left on abortion and gun control.

Messages from the Democrats are similar.

Tony Talbot / AP

One of the root causes of opioid addiction is over-prescription of addictive drugs.

A major reason it occurs is the practice of doctor shopping — when people visit five or more prescribers in hopes of getting drugs. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

A Department of Health report out this week has shown that only 28 percent of Pennsylvania children undergo recommended lead testing.

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

More than eight months after a fight over funding for the state’s jobless program, the Wolf administration says the program is still working inadequately, and needs more money soon.

At a House committee meeting Tuesday, lawmakers attempted to hammer out how to make a long-term fix. But many left saying they still didn’t have enough information.

In April, the legislature authorized a short-term, $15 million funding solution, which was designed to tide over the Unemployment Compensation Program and kick-start upgrades to its decades-old computer system.

Matt Rourke / AP

Prices are on the rise for some of the most popular wines and liquors sold in state stores.

It’s the first hike more than two decades, thanks to a new law passed last year that gave the LCB the ability to flexibly price its products.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The state Department of Environmental Protection is working to speed up the training of several new water inspectors, in an effort to bring water safety measures across the state up to snuff.

The move comes after the federal Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter saying the commonwealth is failing to enforce water safety standards, and urging DEP officials to seek emergency funding to fix the situation.

The DEP recently hired two staff members, and officials said they’re expediting training on four more.

Kalim Bhatti / AP

A new law going into effect Friday aims to cut down on drunk driving.

It requires first-time offenders to have breathalyzers installed in their cars—something 48 other states already do.

Car breathalyzers—officially called Ignition Interlock Systems—require drivers to blow into a device to start their vehicle. If the device detects any alcohol, the car won’t start, and it’ll also register the attempt.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

With talk swirling of possible spending freezes over the unbalanced state budget, counties are trying to figure out how they may be impacted.

County commissioners are beginning to put together contingency plans in case any of their state funds get cut off.

Governor Tom Wolf has already stopped some spending to put it into budgetary reserves, and indicated this week that more could be coming.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Lt. Governor Mike Stack, a Democrat, has been facing scrutiny for several months—ever since he was stripped of his police detail and personal staff for verbally abusing them.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

If Pennsylvania’s $2.2 billion budget gap isn’t filled soon, Governor Tom Wolf is indicating the commonwealth could be heading for major spending freezes.

Wolf said Tuesday that the situation could be resolved if House Republicans would just agree to a Senate revenue plan that includes several new taxes.

Caucus leaders are, for the most part, staying mum on how their negotiations are progressing.

By Sept. 15, the governor said he either has to put spending for certain state programs on hold, or borrow more money from the Treasury.

Matt Rourke / AP

A state Senate proposal that would essentially charge protesters for being arrested is causing some backlash at the Capitol.

The GOP sponsor says it would protect taxpayers from bearing the cost of violent or destructive protests.

But opponents say it will infringe on free speech.

First-term Republican Senator Scott Martin of Lancaster County said he was inspired to write the bill after hearing of the damage Dakota Access Pipeline protesters did last year.  

But he noted, it could actually apply much more widely.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

It’s been nearly a month since the state Senate voted through a revenue plan that would fund the state budget—if the House agrees to it.

 

But Harrisburg watchdogs are still poring over it to figure out where money is going.

 

The right-leaning Commonwealth Foundation has released a report detailing instances where senators slipped spending into a bill meant to fund the budget.

 

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania has had an unbalanced budget for nearly a month, and advocacy groups around the commonwealth say they have real concerns Governor Tom Wolf will soon have to start freezing spending as a result.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Monday is state Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller's first day leading the commonwealth's sprawling Department of Human Services.

Chris Knight / AP

Pennsylvania's general fund is on track to be $1.6 billion dollars underwater by the middle of next month.

In the past, the state Treasury has extended lines of credit to help the state keep paying immediate expenses when funds bottom out.

But Treasurer Joe Torsella says that may no longer be fiscally prudent.

The cash balance would have already hit zero this month, if not for a short term, $750 million credit line from the Treasury. The state has to pay that back with interest next week. But the fund is expected to run dry yet again before the end of August.

Matt Rourke / AP

 Retail and manufacturing jobs are on the decline--both in Pennsylvania, and around the country.

So a state lawmaker is looking for ways to pinpoint exactly where those jobs are going--and how to stop the bleeding.

Pennsylvania Senate / state.pa.gov

A longtime Republican state lawmaker is seriously exploring a bid for Lieutenant Governor.

Senator David Argall of, Schuylkill County, said controversies surrounding current Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack’s behavior strongly influenced his decision to run.

In Pennsylvania, candidates for Lieutenant Governor and Governor run separately in party primaries, and together in the general election.

Argall has previously criticized Stack and Wolf’s partnership—which has, at times, been troubled.

Regina Garcia Cano / AP

After a painstaking exhumation in Cumberland County, the remains of two Native American boys who died in the 1880s have been returned to their next-of kin in Wyoming.  

But all did not go as planned.

Remains of a third boy were also supposed to make the journey back west, but couldn’t be uncovered due to a mismarked grave. 

Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume arrived together at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School aged fourteen, eleven, and nine.

Evan Vucci / AP

Over the last week, President Donald Trump has vacillated about how to handle the opioid epidemic that has wracked much of the U.S., including Pennsylvania.

Matt Rourke / AP

Two lawmakers are looking to introduce legislation that would force Pennsylvania to reevaluate its constitution.

The process is known as a constitutional convention.

Such initiatives crop up every few years in the legislature—typically after some form of public outcry. This effort was largely prompted by the commonwealth’s stalled budget.

Senator John Eichelberger of Blair County and Representative Stephen Bloom of Cumberland County—both Republicans—submitted proposals for the convention in their respective chambers.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The Auditor General’s office has released a report detailing how Pennsylvania’s pension system for state employees can cut costs.

The system, known as SERS, is grappling with roughly $20 billion in unfunded liabilities, and has been making concerted efforts to streamline spending.

Since 2007, the fund has reduced the fees it pays to investment managers by more than half.

But in his report, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said there’s room to cut even more of those expenses, noting he doesn’t think SERS’s returns justify its expenditures.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state House has no official plans to resume negotiations on balancing the state budget.

In a rare update, House Majority Leader Dave Reed said while members continue to discuss a proposal passed by the Senate last month, they’re not ready to introduce a counter-offer of their own.

Key components of the Senate plan include a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling, sales tax expansions, and consumer taxes on natural gas, electricity, and phone service.

Reed said the consumer gas tax—known as a gross receipts tax—is particularly hard to swallow.

Carlisle Historical Society

A team of Army officials and anthropologists is working in Cumberland County to exhume the remains of three Native American boys from the Northern Arapaho Native American Tribe.

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