Katie Meyer

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.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A group of state lawmakers are introducing a bill they say would give students in Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing schools more options for their education.

The plan would create school savings accounts, which would allow parents to take control of the money that would be spent on their kids in the public school system, and enable them to use it for alternative education options.

Republican Senator John DiSanto of Dauphin County described the savings accounts as being about giving kids and their parents more agency.

Heather Ainsworth / AP

As lawmakers try to negotiate a budget that’ll pass the House, Senate, and Governor, plus fill a $2 billion funding gap, they’re also grappling with another issue.

Nearly a year ago, the State Supreme Court declared that a law governing how casinos pay fees to their host municipalities was unconstitutional, and gave lawmakers an ultimatum: fix the law, or it’ll be invalidated.

Today, it’s still not fixed. And that’s losing some towns money.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

One of the state’s two largest pension funds has released its financial report for 2016.

The State Employees Retirement System—or SERS—continued a longstanding pattern last year of coming up short of projected long-term earnings.

It brought in $1.6 billion in 2016. That constitutes a 6.5 percent return, and spokeswoman Pamela Hile said that “when talking about an underfunded pension system, that is very good news.”

Kevin McCorry / WHYY

State Treasurer Joe Torsella has extended a temporary, $750 million line of credit to keep Pennsylvania’s general fund balance from running dry this month.

He’s calling the situation “extraordinary and without precedent.”

That doesn’t quite square with the way Governor Tom Wolf has appeared to downplay the impact of the state budget still being unbalanced, over a month into the fiscal year.

Tom Downing / WITF

A month past the due date, negotiations on how to fund Pennsylvania's $32 billion spending plan are effectively stalled.

With the state House in indefinite recess as lawmakers consider how to respond to a revenue proposal from the Senate, Governor Tom Wolf is seeking to allay fears about what an unbalanced budget means for the commonwealth.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The revenue component of the state budget still isn’t done, more than a month past its due date.

But that doesn’t mean Pennsylvania has stopped doing business. It’s still spending and taking in money, and it’s still releasing monthly reports on how state collections are stacking up against projections.

The only problem? Because there’s no revenue plan, analysts can’t estimate exactly how much the state should be taking in.

Katie Meyer / WITF

Protesters around Pennsylvania spent Wednesday urging the commonwealth’s Republican US senators and congressional representatives not to support a budget bill that routes significant dollars toward enforcing immigration laws—including $1.6 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border.

One group braved torrential rain to bring the message to Congressman Lou Barletta’s office in Harrisburg—and they even brought props.

Matt Rourke / AP

A fund transfer lawmakers are proposing to help balance the state budget is causing some legal headaches.

The Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association—a group created in 1976 to insure healthcare providers—is saying the state is not authorized to take $200 million from its account.

It’s a conflict that first cropped up last year, when the cash-strapped legislature decided to move $200 million dollars from the JUA's surplus to the general fund.

The group said it was inappropriate, and filed suit.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A portion of the state Senate’s latest, tax-heavy plan to balance the commonwealth's budget is likely to prompt some legal entanglement.

Senators’ proposal to expand how the commonwealth’s sales tax is applied to online transactions is modeled on similar attempts by other states.

Those states are already facing lawsuits.

If the measure passes the House and governor, it would require online marketplaces—like Amazon—to charge sales tax on items they sell via third-party vendors.

The move is expected to net more than $40 million annually.

Matt Rourke / AP

The state Senate has taken a step toward finishing Pennsylvania’s unbalanced budget, which was supposed to be done nearly a month ago.

The revenue proposal the chamber passed Thursday relies on a hodgepodge of new taxes, plus borrowing to fill a $2.2 billion funding gap.

However, it’s likely setting up a battle between the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. With the ball now back in the House’s court, it’s unclear what it'll do with it.

Senators turned the new proposal around quickly.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

In hopes of finally finishing the budget that was due at the end of June, the GOP-led state Senate is pushing a revenue package that departs significantly from previous tax-averse attempts.

Republicans have repeatedly clashed with Governor Tom Wolf over the amount of recurring dollars necessary to fill a $2 billion hole in the $32 billion budget.

This new proposal boosts revenue to a level a Wolf spokesman calls “responsible,” and it does so, in part, by raising taxes.

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