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.

ICTY Photos / Flickr

A funny thing happened on the way to the referendum.

A year and a half ago, it seemed that getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot would be the hard part. This week, the state Senate cast the final vote in the years-long process to put the question to voters: should the age limit for state judges be changed from 70 to 75 years?

Matt Rourke / AP

The state Senate will begin a process next month that could topple the commonwealth’s embattled attorney general, Kathleen Kane.

A special Senate panel voted 5-2 to recommend that the full chamber take up the question of whether or not Kane can do her job with a suspended law license. The procedure would begin only with approval from the full Senate. Following that, there would be a public hearing to let Kane defend herself. Then, the Senate could ask the governor to remove Kane with a two-thirds majority vote.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The acting commissioner for the State Police is poised for a full state Senate vote after receiving unanimous approval from a key committee on Tuesday.  

Colonel Tyree Blocker is returning to the agency 10 years after he retired. 

Marc Levy / AP

A tentative outline for a state budget looks like it could crumble this week, dealing a bitter reality check to Governor Tom Wolf and the top lawmakers who said they could deliver a spending plan by Thanksgiving.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

At the Survivors Inc. domestic violence shelter off the main drag in Gettysburg, the hardship of the state budget impasse is quantified with two numbers: 70 and 111.

That’s how many adults and children, respectively, had been turned away by the shelter since the standstill began in July, through September. 

“Normally we don’t have any turn-aways,” said Survivors CEO Terri Hamrick as tears came to her eyes. “A lot of them ended up staying where they are. And some of them, we don’t know where they went.” 

Matt Rourke / AP

A state court has ruled that pornographic e-mails exchanged among work e-mail accounts by employees of the Office of Attorney General are not public records. 

But the decision does not stop Attorney General Kathleen Kane from releasing the e-mails first requested by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Commonwealth Court judges said in their 12-page majority opinion.

Matt Rourke / AP

Cases are being dragged out due to legal challenges in the Office of the Attorney General without Kathleen Kane’s personal involvement.

It’s not clear who should sign off on the state’s next bond and top lawyers of the office aren’t sure who has ultimate control over hiring and firing decisions.

Daveynin / Flickr

The state House has passed a measure supporters say would provide more protection to police officers who use their gun or any act of force while on the job.  

Matt Rourke / AP

Perhaps what Attorney General Kathleen Kane needs is an asterisk – a footnote, or some other kind of small explanation of her current situation.

That’s what one legal ethicist advised in testimony Tuesday to the state Senate committee considering Kane’s removal in light of her law license suspension last month.

Mary Wilson / WHYY

Tiny preschoolers and K-12 school students took Monday off to join school board members and exasperated parents calling for an end to the state budget impasse, as Gov. Tom Wolf signaled a budget deal wouldn’t be ready before December. 

Members of the advocacy coalition known as Campaign for Fair Education Funding fanned out throughout the Capitol building to meet individually with their lawmakers and ask for a finalized state budget.

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

Legislative aides are beginning to hammer out the details of a state budget, now that top lawmakers and the governor have agreed on the general shape of the plan.  

The sprawling, tentative package includes a 1.25 percent hike in the state sales tax, a reduction in state retirement benefits for future hires and some kind of change to the state liquor stores.

The deal promises to be unwieldy.

Marc Levy / AP

Champions of Cheyney University filled the state Capitol rotunda Tuesday, bringing a decades-long fight for more funding to lawmakers’ doorsteps.

The historically black state-owned university has been plagued by an enrollment slump, administrative turnover and what one federal judge called “historic neglect” by the state.

Matt Rourke / AP

Legislative leaders and the Wolf administration said Monday they have a rough map to reach a final budget deal by Thanksgiving.

“This is the first time I think that we’ve seen a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf.

Matt Rourke / AP

Things were off to a rocky start between state Attorney General Kathleen Kane and the unusual Senate committee formed to consider whether she can do her job. Kane disputed the panel’s legal authority in a lengthy letter Friday.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

  This year’s race for three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just broken a national record.

Total campaign spending has reached $15.8 million, according to advocacy groups. That figure breaks the record held by Illinois for its two-way Supreme Court race in 2004.

For its new title, Pennsylvania can thank an unprecedented number of open Supreme Court seats as well as several groups that care about how the high court handles cases involving them.

Daniel Shanken / AP File Photo

  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is deferring action on whether one of its justices violated conduct rules by sending and receiving explicit emails.

The court issued a statement Monday that left judgment to the Judicial Conduct Board based on the recommendation of a law firm it hired to review the email scandal surrounding Justice Michael Eakin.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

  Every time Pennsylvania voters are asked to make their picks in a race for the Supreme Court, they have to indulge in a polite fiction – one that party leaders and candidates both seem to dislike.

The candidates for justice have a party next to their names, but they must disavow party politics if they make it to the bench. Voters just have to pretend there’s no contradiction.

At a recent forum, three candidates for Supreme Court described how they navigate that process.

An annual commonwealth tradition may take a backseat to state budget negotiations.

Every December, the state’s top politicians head to New York City to see and be seen at a long weekend of fundraisers, parties and one swanky gala collectively referred to as Pennsylvania Society. But some are already talking about skipping the trip if the state doesn’t have a budget by the date of the main event on December 12.

Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

Pennsylvania schools have borrowed at least $431 million since the state’s budget impasse began in July.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office has now heard from more than half of the state’s school districts in an effort to track the fiscal effects of the state’s budget stalemate.

“It’s bad now, but we go from bad to borderline disastrous if something isn’t done by Thanksgiving,” DePasquale said.

The state Senate has named the members of a special committee tasked with investigating how the attorney general’s suspended law license affects her ability to do her job.

The chairman says the panel will report its findings in 30 days -- a first step toward considering Kathleen Kane’s removal from office.

Top Senate GOP aide Drew Crompton says leaders decided to create the special committee once the suspension of Kane’s law license went into effect last week.

Bradley C. Bower / AP Photo

An activist is trying to enlist Pennsylvania’s high court in his effort to drive besieged state Attorney General Kathleen Kane out of office.

Gene Stilp of Dauphin County plans to sue the state Senate and the governor in an effort to prompt them to oust Kane by way of a vaguely defined process in the state Constitution known as “direct removal.” For more than a month, legislative aides have pondered the move, though it’s not clear how it would work.

Raunchy e-mails flagged by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane have prompted firings, reprimands, court-requested reviews and now, a planned internal audit by the Office of Attorney General. 

Kane’s spokesman Chuck Ardo said the agency plans to do a post-mortem on its efforts to let the state Supreme Court and the Judicial Conduct Board review inappropriate e-mails exchanged between judges and OAG employees.

The examination, Ardo said, is intended to settle a dispute about the e-mails: “who looked at them and when.”

The possibility of legalizing new forms of gambling in Pennsylvania has been a low-priority debate among state legislators for at least a year.

The effort is getting more attention now as Republican state lawmakers search for ways to fill a budget gap without ceding to the kind of tax increases supported by Governor Tom Wolf.

Wolf has said he would consider a gambling expansion.

The state Supreme Court is conducting its second review in as many years of potentially inappropriate e-mails exchanged by one of its sitting justices, Michael Eakin.

In a written statement released Monday, the state’s high court said the follow-up investigation is necessary because Attorney General Kathleen Kane didn’t fork over all pertinent messages during a review last year.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

  Gov. Tom Wolf’s revised tax package failed a vote in the state House on Wednesday as nine members of his own party voted against it. 

Republicans and Democrats disagreed about what the vote proved, and shared no specific plans for finalizing a state budget that is now 100 days late. 

Gov. Tom Wolf is scaling back his tax wish-list ahead of an expected vote in the House on Wednesday.

The revised proposal, released Tuesday afternoon, includes a smaller personal income tax increase and a natural gas drilling tax, but no sales tax hike or increases to cigarette and business taxes.

A new audit from the state's auditor general gives the Pennsylvania Department of Education poor marks for how it deals with academically struggling schools and special employees.

The report, covering mid-2010 to mid-2015, finds that the agency failed to provide special help to most poor-performing schools unless it was expressly required by federal law.

The new scores were adopted in 2012 to assess and compare schools. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said during a press conference Tuesday that merely labeling sub-par schools is of little service.

Jim Bowen / flickr

Governor Tom Wolf is attempting to reframe the state budget debate ahead of a tax vote planned for Wednesday in the House.

Calling it a “once in a generation vote,” Wolf said he continues to try to cobble together support for broad-based tax increases.

George (Patti) Larcher / flickr

The deadline to register to vote in the November election is October 5.

Stragglers can still sign up by going online. This marks the first year that eligible voters can register via the web, as long as PennDOT has a record of the applicant's signature.

"But if you don't have a signature on file with PennDOT, please keep in mind that your signature has to be postmarked by Monday," said Marian Schneider, deputy secretary for elections and administration at the Pennsylvania Department of State.

For more than a dozen school districts in Pennsylvania, the state budget impasse already has a cost: $11 million in interest payments just to stay open.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale trumpeted the debtors’ names Tuesday as part of his mission to deliver regular updates on how schools are faring as Harrisburg’s gridlock stretches on. DePasquale said his office has already heard from more than half of the state’s 500 school districts.