Mary Wilson

Capitol Reporter

Mary Wilson is the state Capitol reporter for Pennsylvania's public
radio stations, including WESA in Pittsburgh, WITF in Harrisburg and WHYY in Philadelphia. Mary came to the post after a year being a catch-all staffer for a Maryland politician.

Before that, she was a part-time show host and cub reporter at WFUV-FMin New York City. She covered the closing of the old Yankee stadium andnarrated the scene of Harlem on the night of the 2008 presidentialelection. Mary graduated from Fordham University in the Bronx withmajors in history and Italian.

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Government & Politics
10:33 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Lame-Duck Sessions Unlikely in PA Legislature, For Now

It doesn’t look like lame ducks will vote in the state Legislature this year.

Of course, that could change. House leaders say they haven’t discussed whether they would hold votes after the November election. Senate leaders have said they may call a lame-duck session for some kind of emergency.

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Education
3:30 am
Mon August 18, 2014

Plan Would Increase Charters' Teacher Certifications

Traditional public schools and charter schools don't have the same rules when it comes to teacher certifications, but one new proposal would bring the two types of schools a little closer together.

State certification is required for 100 percent of professional staff at traditional public schools in Pennsylvania. Contrast that with charter and cyber charter schools, which are only required to have 75 percent of their teachers state-certified.

Forthcoming legislation from state Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery) would hike that level to 80 percent.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon August 18, 2014

State Open Records Chief Says E-mail a Blind Spot in PA Transparency Laws

The head of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records says state transparency laws are out of step with modern communication technology and are long overdue for an update.

The call to action comes after Gov. Tom Corbett shared his own technique for evading certain record requests from the public.

Corbett recently told reporters that he tries to avoid using e-mail, and deletes his e-mails about once a week. Otherwise, he said, reporters would be able to see e-mails requested under the state's Right-to-Know law.

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Government & Politics
4:52 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

Proposed Cigarette Tax Would Funnel Revenue Into Property Tax Relief for Seniors

One state lawmaker is taking Philadelphia’s idea for a cigarette tax and applying it statewide.

Republican Rep. John Lawrence of Chester County is proposing an additional 80-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes. The revenue would go into a property tax relief program for seniors.

The House and Senate have been at odds over a plan to let Philadelphia levy a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to help fund its schools.

Lawrence said if lawmakers can pass that, they should approve a broader effort to help low-income seniors pay for rising school property taxes.

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Government & Politics
8:03 am
Fri August 15, 2014

State Liquor Control Board Not Considering Higher Markup For Wine and Spirits

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is not considering boosting its markup on wine and spirits, an assurance from the board’s chairman which comes after a leaked memo suggested the 30 percent markup get its first increase in roughly 20 years.

The memo shared with The Associated Press was penned by the LCB’s financial department and suggests a 5 percent increase to the agency’s 30 percent markup on wine and liquor.

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Government & Politics
2:26 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

Corbett Adviser Resigns Following Scrutiny of Schedule, Duties

An education adviser to the governor is stepping down from his post, weeks after a newspaper report found little evidence he was working.

Ron Tomalis’ resignation letter includes a list of his accomplishments as a special adviser on higher education. Those accomplishments were called into question by a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report last month that found little in schedule documents, phone logs or interviews to suggest Tomalis had been doing much in his job paying nearly $140,000 a year.

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Government & Politics
8:04 am
Tue August 12, 2014

No Oversight of Seized Assets Under New Trafficking Law

Despite years of criticism of the state’s asset forfeiture laws, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved a new human trafficking law that expands law enforcement’s ability to seize assets of the accused, without any statutory oversight of where seized property and proceeds end up.

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Government & Politics
4:48 pm
Mon August 11, 2014

Lawmakers Buy Time to Help 911 Centers

State lawmakers have given themselves another year to address what counties are calling a funding crisis for the commonwealth’s 911 call centers.

A key revenue source for the county-managed centers was set to expire in June, but lawmakers extended its life by one year. That gives the Legislature until next July to consider more comprehensive changes to the emergency service system.

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Government & Politics
2:13 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Schools' Reserves Raise Ire, But Advocates Defend Savings

Not everyone thinks schools in Pennsylvania are hurting for money.

For years, Republican lawmakers and officials have insisted that school districts have more money than they're letting on — in the form of rainy day funds. According to the state Department of Education, school districts reported having $4.27 billion leftover in their fund balances as of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

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Environment & Energy
11:04 am
Fri August 8, 2014

A New Twist on a PA Drilling Tax

A natural gas extraction tax in Pennsylvania has been regarded at times as a silver bullet, and lawmakers have proposed shooting it every which way to solve financial woes. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone suggested aiming it at the state's pension problems.

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Government & Politics
10:27 am
Thu August 7, 2014

With New Technology, New Reason For Lawmakers to Revisit PA's Game Laws

New technologies that could aid or impede hunting are giving state policymakers reason to revisit the Pennsylvania's game laws.

Measures before the state House and Senate aim to allow things like electronic calls to attract deer, or ban the use of drones by hunters and people suspicious of hunters.

For decades, Pennsylvania hunters — and their regulators — have debated the fine line that separates acceptable hunting aids and being fair to animals being pursued.

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Government & Politics
10:12 am
Thu August 7, 2014

No Sign Lawmakers Will Oblige Corbett's Request That They Return Early

Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday asked state lawmakers to end their vacation early to address legislation concerning a Philadelphia schools funding gap that threatens to delay the school year in the state's largest school district.

"I'm calling for the Legislature though to come to Harrisburg before school starts," Corbett said at a news conference with Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite at his side. "And I expect them to address this issue as their first and number one order of business."

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Government & Politics
10:20 am
Wed August 6, 2014

On the Road, Corbett Continues to Tout Plan for Public Pension Overhaul

Gov. Tom Corbett is entering the fourth week of a town-hopping expedition discussing his plan to overhaul the state’s public pensions.

At a July visit to a coffee shop near Hershey Park in Dauphin County, Corbett repeated his refrain that the state’s pension debacle is a bipartisan issue.

“I do not view this as a Republican-Democrat issue,” he said. “Taxpayers, homeowners, property-owners — we don’t look at the R and the D.”

But the events on the governor’s barnstorming route haven’t been bipartisan.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Attack Ad Keeps Spotlight on Education Funding in Governor's Race

Education funding cuts are front and center once again in a tiff between Pennsylvania’s candidates for governor.

A recent television attack ad highlights the issue, which has dogged Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett in the polls for years.

In the spot, a narrator says Corbett “cut nearly a billion dollars from education, forcing schools districts to fire 20,000 teachers and staff.”

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State Government
3:30 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Alternative Pension Bill Offers More Savings, But Also More Risk

Another proposal to overhaul the state's public pensions is officially in the mix.

The measure, unveiled last fall, received a thorough vetting from the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) last Wednesday, a necessary step before it receives any kind of vote from state lawmakers.

The analysis found the plan could save the commonwealth about $30 billion over 30 years.

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State Government
3:30 am
Sun August 3, 2014

Corbett Says Former Ed Secretary Is 'Not a Ghost Employee'

Gov. Tom Corbett is defending his former Secretary of Education. Ron Tomalis left the cabinet post in May 2013 and was immediately appointed as special adviser to the Secretary of Education at the same annual salary of nearly $140,000.

But there have been calls for everything from a legislative inquiry to a formal ethics investigation into whether Tomalis is actually working to earn his pay.

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School Funding
5:01 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Corbett Upset With House Delay in Vote To Fund Philadelphia Schools With Cigarette Tax

Pennsylvania House Republican leaders today called off a vote planned for next week that would authorize a cigarette tax to fund Philadelphia schools in the coming year.

The bill would impose a two-dollar-a-pack tax on cigarettes to help close a $93 million budget gap that could delay the start of Philadelphia’s school year, leading to larger class sizes and employee layoffs.

Gov. Tom Corbett disagreed with the House decision and plans to talk with GOP leaders about their next move.

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Government & Politics
11:51 am
Thu July 31, 2014

Fee Lowered to Boost Taverns’ Interest in Gambling

The state is cutting back on charging a fee to bars and taverns that offer small-time gambling in an attempt to boost interest in the gaming licenses and bring in more money to state coffers.

The $2,000 license will now cost $500 to bars, restaurants and taverns looking to allow small-time gambling on their premises. State lawmakers authorized the change recently.

“We were happy to lower the licensing fee to encourage more tavern owners to apply for the tavern gaming license,” said Skip Brion, chairman of the Liquor Control Board, which grants the licenses.

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Government & Politics
7:51 am
Tue July 29, 2014

'In Sync' with Wolf, Stack Absolves Himself of Opinions

For candidates vying to be the governor’s number two, denying one’s own policy platform is part of the process.

Mike Stack, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, said Monday he’ll march in lockstep with his de facto running mate, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and York County businessman Tom Wolf.

There isn’t much daylight between the priorities of Mike Stack and Tom Wolf. Even so, Stack is distancing himself from prior votes and campaign stances during his four terms as a state senator representing Philadelphia.

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Revenge Porn
3:27 am
Mon July 28, 2014

PA Revenge Porn Ban Leaves Advocates Skeptical

A national advocacy group is calling Pennsylvania’s new anti-revenge porn law inadequate.

Revenge porn refers to nude or sexual images shared without permission of the person pictured. It has been called “intimate partner harassment” by state lawmakers, but legal experts say it might be more broadly called “non-consensual porn” – something that isn’t restricted to spurned lovers posting photos of ex-girlfriends online.

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Government & Politics
10:02 am
Tue July 22, 2014

Corbett Shrugs Off Possibility Lawmakers Will Sue Over Blocked Earmarks

Gov. Tom Corbett is shrugging off the possibility state lawmakers will sue him for blocking their earmarks earlier this month.

Legislative leaders say the line-item veto of seven-point-two million dollars in projects was unconstitutional.

They could try to override the veto with a two-thirds vote, or sue the administration.

Corbett said he doesn’t think a court battle is likely, though he’s not troubled by the possibility.

"Let them sue me," he said. "Last time I looked, that’s in the constitution, isn’t it?"

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Government & Politics
9:55 am
Tue July 22, 2014

Another Investigation Into Lawmakers Implicated In Corruption Sting

Yet another governmental body appears to be investigating four Philadelphia Democrats for allegedly accepting cash or gifts from an undercover informant.

A letter from the State Ethics Commission indicates an investigation into the four state lawmakers implicated in a corruption sting.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon July 21, 2014

Property Tax Reform Efforts Spring Eternal

State lawmakers have snubbed two different efforts to reduce property taxes buoyed by recent activism on the issue. But for every season, turn, turn, turn.

Recently proposed tax shifts fit into one of two categories: statewide or local. But a nascent effort from Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana) combines both approaches.

"With the increased discussion on property taxes, over the last year or so, I thought maybe it's the right time to try to put together another proposal that kind of meshes some of the different thoughts together," Reed said.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon July 21, 2014

Corbett Not Letting Up On Public Pension Overhaul

Gov. Tom Corbett is not giving up the ghost of a public pension overhaul proposal — saying he may still call a special session of the state Legislature to address the issue.

The measure still does not have enough support in the House and Senate, Corbett said at a roundtable discussion in Hummelstown Friday.

The governor has been making daily statements about the plan, which would reduce retirement benefits of future public workers.

Supporters say the changes would reign in long-term costs of public pensions.

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Government & Politics
4:11 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

Partial Veto of Projects Could Prompt Lawsuit

Lawmakers think the governor overreached when he vetoed not just parts of the state budget, but parts of another related piece of legislation, and House and Senate leaders are weighing their options to retaliate.

The state constitution allows the governor to partially veto “appropriations.” Lawmakers have interpreted that to mean specific sections of a state budget can be struck down by the governor.

Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett did that.

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Government & Politics
7:32 am
Thu July 17, 2014

Right-Sizing Supporters Eye House Reductions After Spring Fiasco

The past several weeks saw much action, but little advancement, on proposals to reduce the number of seats in the state House and Senate.

Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country, with 253 state lawmakers. Efforts to thin the ranks ground to a halt over the past several weeks.

Opponents argue that membership cuts will lump more constituents in each district, leaving them with representation of lesser quality. They say a big shrink would concentrate legislative representation in more populated urban areas.

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Government & Politics
10:14 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

New Law Gives Legal Aid for the Poor a Boost

Legal aid for the poor and disadvantaged is slated to get more funding under a measure approved by the legislature and signed by the governor this month.

Court fees are slated to increase in order to set aside more money to help eligible Pennsylvanians pay their legal bills when settling basic needs regarding things like housing, health and safety. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tara Toohil (R-Luzerne), passed with nearly unanimous support in the House and Senate.

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Government & Politics
7:47 am
Tue July 15, 2014

Charters Dodge Special Education Funding Changes

A recently approved tweak to special education funding won’t apply to charter schools, after all. State lawmakers shied away from the changes after charters argued it would have been unfair.

There will be changes to the way traditional public schools receive any new funding for special education — it’ll be based on the needs of individual students and school districts, instead of being tied to an average special needs cost across the state.

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Government & Politics
7:55 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Pension Overhaul Spiked As Corbett Stalls

State lawmakers unceremoniously sidelined a public pension overhaul bill Tuesday, disarming House Republicans in their efforts to advance a priority topping Gov. Tom Corbett’s legislative wish list.

Midway through floor debate on the measure, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R- Bucks) asked to send the pensions proposal to his committee for further study over the summer.

“There are too many unanswered questions about the proposal and about the amendment that we have before us,” said DiGirolamo.

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Government & Politics
7:51 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Corbett Withholds Signature On Budget For Pension Overhaul

Gov. Tom Corbett is holding off on signing the $29.1 billion commonwealth budget approved by state lawmakers Monday evening.

The announcement came just after the final vote on the spending plan, which includes no new taxes but leans heavily on one-time revenue sources and hopeful revenue forecasts.

In a written statement, the governor took issue not with anything in the spending plan, but with the Legislature’s failure to pass another one of his top priorities: changes to public pension benefits for future state and school employees.

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