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.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The political debate over the state budget has hit a lull within the walls of the state Capitol, but it's very much alive on roadside billboards, radio ads, and in mailboxes.

"We're in a messaging war, but that's on both sides," said Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) this week.

GOP ally Americans for Prosperity has radio ads and billboards blasting the governor for trying to raise taxes.

A measure to expand the state's DNA collection to people arrested but not convicted for certain crimes has passed the state Senate for the third time since 2013. The plan now faces a skeptical House and considerable uncertainty about its costs.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), would make Pennsylvania one of nearly 30 states that can take DNA samples from people arrested for serious crimes and some lesser offenses -- without needing a conviction first.

A state House Republican with a reputation for bucking party leaders is trying to loosen up the deadlock that has gripped budget negotiations for weeks.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) is offering his own attempt at a compromise state spending plan. It includes a new tax on natural gas drillers and a higher personal income tax — more than the GOP supported in new spending, but less than Gov. Tom Wolf proposed.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf isn't ruling out a switch to 401(k)-style retirement plans for future state and school employees.

"I think we can actually come up with a pension plan that's fair to employees and that meets the concerns that have been expressed by taxpayers," said Wolf when asked if he could sign such a proposal.

AP Photo/Chris Knight

Some see the state Capitol deadlock over a state budget as political dysfunction or theatre. But it's also a social experiment: this is the year Pennsylvanians will see how a court decision ending "payless paydays" affects the budget negotiations.

Administrative staff, certain volunteers and university employees are no longer required by state law to be fingerprinted and submit to criminal history and child abuse background checks.

The tweaks to the child protection law were signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on July 1.

Lawmakers had beefed up background check requirements last legislative session in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. But some groups thought the changes went too far – like university professors who balked at having to be fingerprinted in order to teach their 17-year-old students.

One week after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a GOP budget curtailing the state’s authority to spend money, negotiations over a new plan are at a standstill.

A Tuesday meeting between Republicans and the governor appeared to yield no progress toward the middle on a mix of tax proposals offered by Wolf and opposed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

William Del Toro is a natural lobbyist. He doesn't like noise or distractions, but in a loud, busy part of the Capitol one morning, he enthusiastically answered questions about job opportunities for people with disabilities.

"I'm going to tell you the truth," said Del Toro, pushing his glasses up. "I don't believe in the word, a disability. I think it's just we're all unique. We think a different way."

Gov. Tom Wolf has let fly another veto of a major Republican priority – the privatization of the state-run liquor system.

In a written statement Thursday, Wolf said he doesn’t want to sell a state asset before it reaches its full money-making potential: “This legislation falls short of a responsible means to reform our state liquor system and to maximize revenues to benefit our citizen.”

Steve Miskin, House GOP spokesman, called the move disappointing.

Late budgets aren’t the statewide shock they used to be.

Sure, the commonwealth loses the authority to make certain payments. Standoffs in the '70s, '80s and '90s meant thousands of state workers went unpaid. But recent court rulings say the state has to pay its employees’ salaries. Other critical services will have to be funded as well.

“I don’t think people should be terribly panicked or concerned,” said Christopher Craig, chief counsel to the state Treasurer. “It will take quite some for any real impact to be noticeable.”

AP Photo/Chris Knight

Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed the entire GOP-crafted budget package sent to him Tuesday.

The governor announced his plans shortly after the bill passed the Republican-controlled Legislature Friday night. He has pointed out that the spending blueprint lacks his top priorities — a new tax on the natural gas industry, for starters. On Tuesday, Wolf said the budget also lacks basic fiscal integrity.

Counties, school districts and other groups that rely on state funding are preparing themselves for a late commonwealth budget, as Gov. Tom Wolf has all but promised to veto a GOP-crafted spending plan expected to land on his desk Tuesday.

A budget deal between the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic Wolf administration could be elusive. That would not stop commonwealth employees from being paid, due to a 2009 court ruling. The commonwealth would also have authority to pay for critical functions, like state prison meals and human services.

The state Senate has approved a measure to make sure Pennsylvanians’ emergency 911 calls are answered. By a unanimous vote, the chamber sent the plan to Gov. Tom Wolf, who supports the legislation.

Backers of the plan say county emergency dispatch centers are underfunded and disorganized. Their proposal would hike monthly fees on phones to shore up the system.

Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

The centerpiece of Gov. Tom Wolf's state budget died its umpteenth death around a negotiating table this week.

Republican legislative leaders emerged from closed-door negotiations with the Democratic Wolf administration to announce that the governor's proposed severance tax on natural gas drillers is a non-negotiable no-go.

Some republican state lawmakers are grumbling about the launch of Gov. Tom Wolf's political action group just as budget negotiations heat up.

The stated mission of Rebuild Pennsylvania is to promote Wolf’s agenda and support candidates allied with him. Several House republicans blanched at the idea of another political group putting unwelcome pressure on them at an already tense time.

“I’ve never seen such politicking during budget negotiations,” said Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks).

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A proposal to end civil asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania has bipartisan backing among state lawmakers.

House and Senate plans would halt a practice that allows law enforcement to seize property from someone accused, but not convicted, of certain crimes.

Church groups seeking a radical solution to the large funding disparities among school districts are taking their message to the Capitol, even as other advocates continued to support an incremental approach to restoring education funding.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The tentative optimism about a timely state budget is giving way to partisan backbiting as lawmakers enter the last week before their deadline to approve a state spending plan.

Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-controlled Legislature appear to be stuck, both sides unwilling to compromise major priorities tied up with the state’s spending plan due June 30.

Mary Wilson / WITF

A Republican state senator has officially announced his bid to take the state’s Office of Attorney General from the embattled Kathleen Kane, the first Democrat to win the seat.

Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) made his announcement flanked by fellow GOP state senators, police and fire fighters union leaders, and other representatives of law enforcement.

The state House formally expressed its disapproval of Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on Pennsylvania’s death penalty.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted largely along party lines to condemn Wolf for issuing reprieves to two death row inmates who had exhausted their appeals and were scheduled for execution.

“I didn’t set this process up. Gov. Wolf didn’t set this process up,” said Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery). “But the bottom line is, it is the law of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

In the quest for online gambling, and additional gaming revenue, Republican senators are asking casinos to keep one foot firmly in the corporeal world.

A Senate GOP proposal would legalize online gambling, but players would have to register first with the casino — by showing up in person.

Gov. Tom Wolf is vowing to appeal a court ruling reversing his dismissal of the director of the state’s Office of Open Records, the latest counter-punch in a months-long legal dispute over the independence of the agency and the powers of the governor.

The Commonwealth Court ruling reinstates Erik Arneson to his post as executive director of the agency. It also awards him back-pay.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A month after Republican lawmakers advanced a plan to end the traditional pension for new state workers, they’ve set their sights on doing the same for future municipal employees in Pennsylvania.

The cited reason for the change has been repeated in most debates over public pensions: People are living longer, and the annual pension payouts for city retirees are getting harder for municipal governments to afford.

A state Senate proposal would prevent child victims from being prosecuted for participation in sex trades and related charges as part of last year’s crusade against human trafficking.

“We have to concentrate on the victim and make sure that the victim is treated as a victim,” said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), a sponsor of the measure.

A House GOP spokesman says the majority's lawmakers aren't giving up on a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

A plan to let doctors and nurse practitioners recommend different forms of marijuana for various ailments passed in the state Senate by a huge margin last month.

In the House, the bill's fate was always less certain. One problem popped up as soon as it was referred to the Health Committee: the panel's chairman, Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tiog), said he wouldn't put the measure to a vote.

State Senate Republicans want to tweak casino rules and legalize online gambling this year to help ease the commonwealth's fiscal woes.

A forthcoming proposal would allow round-the-clock alcohol sales in casinos and let certain casinos put slot machines miles away from their main premises. The big change, however, would be letting existing casinos offer online gambling. A report last year found the state could generate more than $100 million in tax and fee revenue from Internet gambling alone.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A state budget deadline looms at the end of the month, but Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican lawmakers remain divided on a spending plan.

Entities that rely on the state for funding have cautioned about the headaches caused by lengthy budget standoffs. But Wolf says he’s not resigned to a late state budget.

Proposed changes to the state’s retirement systems would save the commonwealth $18 billion over 30 years, according to a fiscal analysis of the plan being fast-tracked in the state Senate.

Pennsylvania's in-house pension adviser said the immediate and long-term savings come largely from cutting benefits for current and future state and school employees.

“That’s how you save money in pensions,” said Jim McAneny, director of the Public Employee Retirement Commission. “You don’t pay out as much.”

State House lawmakers are expected to take a final vote Wednesday approving a property tax relief plan similar to what Governor Tom Wolf proposed.

Like the governor’s plan, it would seek higher sales and personal income taxes in order to give Pennsylvanians a break on property taxes. The plan would not target extra relief to cities and poor school districts – something Wolf wants to do.   

The measure attracted Democratic leaders, like caucus whip, Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton), and divided the chamber’s Republican majority.

The primary election for the state Supreme Court is next week, giving voters a chance to pick their party’s nominees to vie for three open seats on the seven-justice bench.

The number of vacancies is unprecedented in the court’s modern history, and the results of the general election this fall will determine the political balance of the state’s high court for the near future.

Sound like a recipe for a closely-watched election? Not quite.

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