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.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The head of the Pennsylvania State Police has confirmed an ongoing investigation into “suspected cheating” at the agency’s training academy.

State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker said in a written statement Thursday that the review began last December into suspected cheating among cadets training to be state troopers.

Pledging to “leave no stone unturned,” Blocker said the investigation has included “dozens” of interviews and evidence collection.

“I will make sure that each and every person involved is held accountable,” said the commissioner.

Governor Tom Wolf is expected to sign legislation to allow people with low-level criminal convictions to have their records sealed from public view.

The plan, approved nearly unanimously by the Legislature, would let people petition the court to wipe minor, nonviolent crimes from their public criminal records. Charges like vandalism and trespassing could be erased from view of potential employers, landlords, and lenders, removing the handcuffs people live with long after they’ve served their time or paid the fines for low-level criminal convictions.

David Amsler / Flickr

The holidays didn’t do much to ease Pennsylvania angst about state government, according to a new Franklin & Marshall College survey, showing most respondents take a dim view of the state’s future.

The poll found that 67 percent of registered voters surveyed said Pennsylvania is headed “off on the wrong track” – a record figure in the past five years of polling.

And 38 percent said the state’s “most important problem” is government and politicians.

Matt Rourke / AP

A state Senate panel tasked with exploring the unprecedented removal of a sitting state attorney general included some major hedges in its final recommendations Wednesday.

The commonwealth will devote more resources to treatment and housing for criminal defendants who have mental illness, under the terms of a deal approved by a federal judge Wednesday.

Matt Rourke / flickr

A state House panel is starting down a road that could end in the impeachment of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday sent to the full House a resolution that would empower a subcommittee to do a preliminary investigation into whether Kane “liable to impeachment for misbehavior in office.” The panel’s vote was unanimous.

Stark / Flickr

After the weekend storm blanked parts of the state with as much as three feet of snow, commonwealth authorities must balance competing priorities: keeping state-owned roads clear while extending help to municipalities still digging out.

“This storm ... it’s historic,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards on Monday. “A lot of these cities and municipal public works departments are really trying to get on top of it... there are some very small roads, and it’s very hard with cars parked on the side.”

Mark Hillary / Flickr

It is no consolation to Steve Gildea that he is part of a growing club.

The CEO of Tyrone Hospital in Blair County is just one of many people forced to deal with funding losses due to the state budget mess in Harrisburg.

“We are going to probably have to curtail some of the programs that we provide and some of the hours that people are working,” said Gildea. “I think that’s a given.”

Governor Tom Wolf vetoed supplemental Medicaid payments for the state’s 14 rural hospitals, six burn units, and dozens of urban and rural childbirth centers in late December.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania’s next redistricting effort is five years away, but one state lawmaker is already thinking about changing how it’s done.

Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria) plans to propose an overhaul that would take politicians out of the process of redrawing district lines to accommodate population changes.

Wozniak echoes the observations of pollsters and political science professors when he talks about partisan redistricting, and how Republican control of the process for the past two cycles has yielded GOP pickups and, Wozniak believes, more ideologically extreme candidates.

Matt Rourke / AP

Alan Benyak has some advice for anyone who hasn’t shared his experience of spending a week as a political football.

“I actually would tell anybody,” said Benyak, “that if someone asks you to volunteer for some governor’s ad, not to do it.”

ajmexico / Flickr

The Wolf administration says the state’s food stamps program is making fewer mistakes, marking its lowest error rate in 29 years of keeping records.

“We’re not giving anything to the wrong people and we’re doing this the right way,” said Governor Tom Wolf on Wednesday. The lower error rate is estimated to save as much as $35 million in federal money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

SCI Albion / cor.pa.gov

The state Senate is lining up a plan to restore state prison funding vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf late last year, in an attempt to clean up some of the fallout from the state’s messy budget impasse, now in its seventh month.

The bill would bring back more than $900 million to the state corrections system. Wolf’s partial veto eliminated those funds, as well as billions more for healthcare, agriculture and other items, in a bid to compel lawmakers to strike a budget deal.

Matt Rourke / AP

The state Senate is in a bit of a pickle as it advances its analysis of whether or not to boot Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office due to the suspension of her law license last year pending her trial on perjury and other criminal charges.

Legislation is waiting in the wings to update the state’s Right-to-Know law, overhauled in 2008 to make government records more accessible.

The eight-year-old re-write corrected laws once considered among the worst in the nation and flung open the filing cabinets of some state and local government and let the public in – to sometimes overwhelming effect.

What’s the single largest category of people filing record requests?

Matt Rourke / AP

One legacy of Pennsylvania’s 2015 budget gridlock may prove to be the wave of retirement announcements from longtime state lawmakers.

More than a dozen House and Senate members are calling it quits, most of them with more than a decade of service under their belts.

Their reasons vary.

“Let me put it this way: the impasse didn’t convince me to stay,” said Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery), elected in 2006.

“The art of compromise needs to be revisited in the Capitol,” Vereb said, “and I think the art of the deal – someone should read up on it.”

Ken Marshall / Flickr

State lawmakers are bracing for a dizzying prospect: planning the next fiscal year’s spending before the current year’s budget has been finalized.

Dates are set for Governor Tom Wolf’s February budget address and the legislative hearings that follow.

“I will say it will be a little bit different if we don’t have a budget concluded,” said Republican House Majority Leader Dave Reed.

Matt Rourke / AP

Ed Rendell blew into Harrisburg Tuesday, late to a hearing and wearing running shoes with his suit, to tell the state Senate they’ve got it all wrong when it comes to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

The former Democratic governor was a last-minute testifier at a hearing meant to give Kane a chance to defend herself from suggestions that she be removed. Kane did not attend, though she sent her chief of staff.

Daniel Morrison / Flickr

Pennsylvania’s top elections official says the commonwealth is heading into a big election year with outdated voting machines.

Most of the state’s voting systems were purchased around 10 years ago. They weren’t made to last a decade, creating the possibility of faulty vote tallies and long lines on Election Day.

Matt Rourke / AP

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane might be a no-show at the special hearing scheduled next Tuesday by the Senate committee considering her ouster.

Spokesman Chuck Ardo said Wednesday that the embattled official is still considering how she will respond to the panel, but it is “unlikely that she will appear personally.”

“I haven’t heard anything that would indicate that she intends to have lawyers representing her at the committee,” Ardo said. “But... this is all a work in progress.” He expects her to issue a response to the panel on the morning of the hearing.

Matt Rourke / AP

The warm, fuzzy feelings didn’t last long.

As the state expedited billions of dollars in overdue payments to schools, counties, and social services, charter schools condemned the Wolf administration’s decision to reroute some of their money in the absence of a Legislature-approved funding formula.

When lawmakers passed a budget right before the New Year, they neglected to approve other related items that act as a roadmap for spending decisions. A “school code” bill setting an education funding formula never passed.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf looked determined to start the New Year off on the right foot.  

His first Monday of 2016 was packed with public events – the inauguration of Philadelphia’s new mayor, followed by two business tours nearby.    

But Wolf couldn’t outrun the unfinished business of yesteryear.  

After touring a cold storage and processing facility in Chester County, he was peppered with questions about the state budget.  

“Yeah, we need one,” Wolf said in response. “We still need one.”

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

 

Governor Tom Wolf warned House Republicans on Monday not to bother with a short-term budget, saying such a measure would receive his veto.  

The House GOP is charging ahead anyway, positioning an 11-month interim budget for a final vote this week before the Christmas holiday.  

The Senate is signaling it won’t approve the plan, and Governor Wolf removed any shadow of a doubt about his intentions when he wrote to House members and told them a partial budget plan would be swiftly rejected if it landed on his desk.  

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The governor’s office says it has the votes in the state House to pass a tax package that could be the key to ending the state’s five-and-a-half-month budget impasse.

“We are confident that we have the votes to pass a final budget,” said spokesman Jeff Sheridan, “and we are hopeful that this is over soon.”

The announcement signals a major development for budget talks in the Republican-controlled House, where anti-tax sentiment threatened to take negotiations back to square one earlier this month.

Matt Rourke / flickr

The Philadelphia district attorney’s office is accusing state Attorney General Kathleen Kane of being part of the same inappropriate email chain her office uncovered.  

The statement came as a bombshell in an ongoing vendetta between the state’s top law enforcement official and her critics in the office of Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams.  

Kane is facing criminal charges she says have been trumped up to stop her from releasing pornographic and offensive emails exchanged by judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and others.

Matt Rourke / AP

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane is expected to appear in a Dauphin County court Wednesday, but not for the criminal case against her. 

She’s being called to testify at the pre-trial hearing in the corruption case against state Rep. Louise Bishop (D-Philadelphia). The Office of Attorney General filed a motion to quash the subpoena issued to Kane, requesting that she not be asked about “confidential deliberations of law or policymaking.” 

Jim Bowen / Flickr

State House and Senate Republicans are at odds over what the commonwealth should pay into its retirement systems.

Tight finances compelled the Senate to approve a plan last week that would cut roughly $170 million from scheduled state payments to its pension funds.

House Republicans have always said they would fight such a move, since the commonwealth’s pension systems are already so underfunded. On Tuesday morning, a House committee reversed the Senate’s proposed payment reductions (or “collars,” in pension-speak).

Senate Republicans were irked by the change.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf and conservative House Republicans are clashing over a state budget now five and a half months late.

The House’s speaker, Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) is demanding changes to a budget proposal passed by the Senate a week ago. His caucus says the $30.8 billion plan spends far too much money.

But Wolf said he won’t stray from the Senate’s proposal, the result of a tentative deal reached before Thanksgiving.

“It’s time to stop negotiating,” Wolf said. “Let’s get a budget. I want a budget.”

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

Something changed in the past week for Democrats watching the state’s budget impasse drag on.

They found a villain in House Speaker Mike Turzai.

It began last Saturday, when House Republicans said they would withdraw their support for the tentative budget agreement reached with Governor Tom Wolf and the Senate. And it intensified in the days that followed, as Turzai repeated his concerns about the 6 percent spending increase included in the spending plan approved by the Senate with the governor’s blessing on Monday.

The state budget impasse is giving lawmakers a reason to rescind their RSVPs to the annual out-of-state political bash this weekend known as PA Society.

The days-long string of parties and receptions held every December at Waldorf Astoria, a luxury hotel in Manhattan, takes its name from the Pennsylvania Society dinner held in New York every year since 1899. The constellation of events around the Saturday banquet gives political heavies time to mix and mingle with business executives, lobbyists, campaign masterminds and potential donors.

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

Republicans in the state House and Senate remain at odds over how to resolve the state’s five-month-long budget impasse. 

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