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.

A series of hearings in the state House are making one thing clear: medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania is no done deal.

State senators overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana last session. The governor supports its legalization as well. A Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvanians last month showed 88 percent of respondents want medical marijuana legalized.

House members don't appear as quick to pass such a plan.

A venture-capitalist with a penchant for helping minority-owned businesses is Gov. Tom Wolf’s pick to step in as state treasurer.

Tim Reese, a resident of Montgomery County, said Tuesday that he brings more than two decades of experience in finance, most recently as a managing partner at Forge Intellectual Capital and founder of the National Minority Angel Network, which sought to invest in and provide financial literacy for companies owned by minorities, women, and veterans.

Two health care associations and people who receive and provide in-home aid have sued Gov. Tom Wolf over an executive order they say paves the way for unionized caregivers.

The challenges filed in Commonwealth Court this week take issue with a February executive order allowing direct care workers paid through state programs to recognize a representative who will then meet with state officials to discuss things compensation, training and other standards.

Mary Wilson / WITF

The Pennsylvania State Police are taking applications: inquire within if you're calm, ready to work and have four hooves.

Most of the agency's 26 horses were donated. Last week, it took a few potential recruits into its stables in Hershey.

State Police Cpl. Mike Funk said donors have the option of taking their horse back after it is retired, usually around the age of 20.

The legislative task force studying the state's death penalty is once again pushing back its deadline.

The panel was supposed to finish its work in December 2013, but it has repeatedly extended its timeline. Now, the agency putting together a final report says it might need until next year.

Mary Wilson / WITF

For weeks, GOP lawmakers have been braying at Gov. Tom Wolf's budget proposal to reduce property taxes, saying it doesn't go far enough.

Farmers are also cottoning to that idea.

"We wouldn't support the proposal in its current state," said Mark O'Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Gov. Tom Wolf is earning a reputation as a social-media savvy executive.

Wolf took to Facebook to answer questions sent in from around the state and selected by his staff. He answered about a dozen of them during the live, video-taped exchange.

Topics ranged ranging from Wolf’s budget proposal and plans for tax increases and accompanying tax relief, to his desire to raise the state’s minimum wage and sign legislation protecting Pennsylvanians from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

A Democratic state senator says a racist, anonymous letter sent to the Cumberland County home of the acting State Police commissioner raises troubling questions.

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) is denouncing a letter sent to Acting Commissioner Marcus Brown that used a racial slur and referred to his decision to wear the Pennsylvania State Police uniform. The letter was delivered to Brown's mailbox Monday evening.

The state’s Right-to-Know law is growing up.

The seven-year old statute giving citizens greater access to government records is yielding more complex cases as record requests are appealed and challenged in the courts.    

“Despite a decrease in the number of appeals that were filed with our office, we’ve seen an increase in the actual work that we have to do,” said Open Records Acting Director Nathanael Byerly in a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed big increases in higher education funding, and schools are starting to get back to him about whether they'd be able to keep tuition increases low — or nonexistent — in return.

Wolf's budget includes an $81 million bump in state funding for the four state-related schools: Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln University.

In return, the governor asked the schools to keep any tuition increases within the rate of inflation.

A top Republican in the state Senate said Monday that he's prepared for a late budget.

The commonwealth's spending plan is due June 30, and in recent years the GOP caucuses followed the lead of former Gov. Tom Corbett and his priority to meet that deadline.

This year, Senate Republicans have insisted their top priority is passing a public pension overhaul that reaps short-term and long-term savings for the state's deeply indebted retirement systems.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said if pension talks stretch into the fall, so will the budget process.

Mary Wilson / WITF

Col. Marcus Brown is an outsider wearing an insider’s uniform, and it’s threatening to sideline his career with the Wolf administration.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

For weeks, state lawmakers have been asking for more details about how Gov. Tom Wolf's tax proposals will affect their constituents. They recently got an answer from the state House GOP.

Mary Wilson / WITF

A state police uniform and a couple of yard signs are locking state Senate Republicans and the governor’s office in another standoff over the man picked to lead the Pennsylvania State Police.

The state attorney general is asking state lawmakers for a budget boost.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane is asking for $97 million dollars — above and beyond the $95.5 million proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf in his spending plan.

The Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) asked whether he should take it that Kane approves of higher sales and income taxes that figure so prominently in Wolf's budget proposal.

"Are you willing to say you support his revenue package?" said Browne.

Kane didn't bite.

Cities, boroughs and townships facing fiscal burdens they can’t dodge are cutting costs where they can.

For 25 municipalities last year, according to the Pennsylvania State Police, that meant dissolving the local police department. State troopers are left to pick up the slack, without a compensating boost in resources.

“If this trend continues, there will be stresses on the organization,” said State Police Acting Commissioner Marcus Brown, adding that since he took office in late January, four more local police agencies dissolved.

The state's acting treasurer says the amount of money slated to pay the interest on borrowing is going up under Gov. Tom Wolf's budget, showing a growing reliance on short-term financing.        

Pennsylvania's cash flow problem has arguably worsened over the past year.

The Wolf administration got the OK to borrow $500 million from the state treasury to pay its bills. The latest round of borrowing builds on a $1.5 billion line of credit established by the Corbett administration last September.           

A former state lawmaker acquitted of charges stemming from the legislative corruption case known as "Bonusgate" is back on the commonwealth’s payroll.

Sean Ramaley was the first person to go to trial after being charged in the legislative graft case pursued by former Gov. Tom Corbett when he was the state’s attorney general. He is now with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, as was pointed out during a budget hearing Tuesday.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf wants to cut property taxes and keep them low, but not just by shoveling more state aid toward school districts – his proposal would also attach more strings to their taxing power.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The state Commonwealth Court must decide whether to consider a lawsuit filed by schools and advocates that attempts to force the state Legislature to boost education funding.

Mary Wilson / WITF

The dispute over Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to fire the state’s Open Records director is in the hands of a state court.

A Commonwealth Court panel will consider whether Wolf had the power to dismiss Erik Arneson, appointed by former Gov. Tom Corbett.

Wolf’s lawyers say the Open Records director is an at-will employee of the governor’s administration.

But Matt Haverstick, a lawyer for Arneson, says the law creating the office clearly intends to insulate it from the whims of the governor.

The state's acting treasurer has said the commonwealth spent about $100,000 complying with the federal investigation into former Treasurer Rob McCord.

McCord pleaded guilty last month to two federal charges that he tried to shake down potential donors to give to his gubernatorial campaign or risk losing business or perks with the commonwealth.

"No agency chief counsel wants to spend funds on an investigation," said Christopher Craig, executive deputy state treasurer and chief counsel. "However, these matters have to be and demand to be taken extremely seriously."

Mary Wilson / WITF

Attorney General Kathleen Kane was all about the budget when she arrived in front of the state House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and lawmakers fired no questions her way about legal "bumps in the road" involving her office over the past year.

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

The state budget discussions are a week old, and lawmakers are mired in dueling numbers.

Governor Tom Wolf's administration has referred to a $2.3 billion budget deficit, but the state Independent Fiscal Office estimates the deficit to be a bit south of that figure.

"We would revise it down to something closer to $1.5 or $1.6" billion, said IFO Director Matthew Knittel, during his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee. Knittel said his agency's estimate accounts for lapses -- budget funds that were never spent.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

The tax shifts and additional spending proposed in Governor Tom Wolf's first budget are enough to keep state lawmakers arguing for weeks.

But, just days after the unveiling of his proposal, they can't even agree on how much the budget spends.

Wolf calls it a $29.9 billion budget.

But Republicans, including Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne of Lehigh County, say it's more like a $33.7 billion plan, once you account for the billions being put into special funds to pay for pension costs and proposed property tax relief.

As a legal challenge to Governor Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty advances, state lawmakers are planning their own review of the capital sentencing system.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the governor can issue reprieves in each death penalty case, effectively imposing a moratorium on state executions.

Wolf cited concerns over the costs and flaws of the capital sentencing system.

Representative Dave Reed's office

Governor Tom Wolf is set to give his budget address to the General Assembly  Tuesday morning, and lawmakers are expecting proposals for significant tax changes, in addition to the plans already shared by the governor.

Wolf has said he’ll seek a five percent tax on natural gas drillers and rework the state’s corporate tax infrastructure.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Governor Tom Wolf is facing another legal challenge to his gubernatorial authority, less than a month into his term.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s petition to stop Wolf’s effective moratorium on the death penalty comes weeks after state Senate Republicans hauled the new administration to court for firing the Open Records director appointed by Wolf’s predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Each case has brought indignant legal filings accusing Wolf of gubernatorial overreach, but legal experts say the disputes wade into unsettled questions. 

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

By a vote of 114-87, the state House has passed a proposal to take apart the state’s liquor system, though the measure is heading to an unenthusiastic Senate and an opposed governor.  

The measure would phase out most state-owned wine and spirit stores and put the state in charge of selling licenses to private retail and wholesale vendors.

House debate went for hours on the merits of the bill – despite the fact that it’s headed for almost certain changes in the Senate.

Governor Tom Wolf's plans to reduce corporate taxes are getting a cool reception from Republican legislative leaders who are waiting for more details.

On Wednesday, Wolf pulled back the curtain on a few of the "nice surprises" for pro-business groups in his budget proposal. He wants to bring the state's much-maligned 9.99 percent corporate net income tax down to 4.99 percent over two years.

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