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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Transportation
3:30 pm
Tue April 16, 2013

$2.5 Billion Transportation Plan Gets Support from State Senate GOP

The chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee is introducing a plan that would hike motorist fees and some traffic ticket surcharges as a way of coming up with $2.5 billion for transportation infrastructure.

The measure marks the first legislative follow-up to the governor’s $1.8 billion funding plan, which many in industry and the legislature deemed to be too small.

But Republican Sen. John Rafferty of Montgomery County is giving Gov. Tom Corbett credit for taking the first step to roll out a funding proposal in the first place.   

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Transportation
6:01 am
Tue April 16, 2013

Transportation Bill's Author Severs Ties with Senate Dems on Liquor

The long-awaited legislative follow-up to the governor’s own transportation funding plan is expected to be announced Tuesday.

Transportation Committee Republican Chair John Rafferty has been working on the issue for months, insisting that it won’t be a victim of what legislators refer to as linkage – trading votes on one issue for support on another.

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Liquor Privatization
5:29 pm
Mon April 15, 2013

Some GOP Lawmakers Want Liquor Money for Transportation, Not Schools

A small group of state House Republicans say if a plan to sell off the state’s wine and spirits stores lands on the governor’s desk, they want money from the sales to go toward fixing roads and bridges.

The measure clashes with the Corbett administration’s own proposal to put liquor privatization revenue into a grant fund for schools.

But Republican Rep. Jerry Knowles of Berks County said he’s not trying to make waves.

"The governor has a good idea," Knowles said. "It’s just that I have a better idea. OK?"

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PennDOT
9:59 am
Mon April 15, 2013

PennDOT Plays Musical Cars, and Takes Some Away

PennDOT is touting the savings resulting from smarter management of its vehicle fleet. The agency expects to save $4 million a year by changes that include reducing its fleet of state-assigned cars by 30 percent.

It's not a huge amount in an annual budget of more than $6 billion, but it's better than nothing.

"The bottom line is, is money is tight," said department spokesman Steve Chizmar. "So we have to look at every possible angle for additional efficiencies."

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Tax Reform
4:05 pm
Fri April 12, 2013

Corbett Tax Plan Full of Promises, But Opponents Have Doubts

Gov. Tom Corbett's tax reform plan is getting a closer look from state lawmakers.

The proposals would lower the state’s corporate net income tax and complete the elimination of another tax on businesses.  

Department of Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said the net effect will be more than $1 billion in new tax revenue over the next 17 years.  

"That comes from personal income growth, that comes from employment, and that comes from sales tax revenues that are derived from those who are now working that weren’t before," he said.

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Abortion
6:43 am
Fri April 12, 2013

Bill Restricting Abortion Coverage No Long Shot, Says Senate GOP

A state Senate committee has passed a proposal to restrict abortion coverage in health insurance plans provided through Pennsylvania's federally mandated exchange.

Last session, similar measures passed the House and Senate independently, but neither one made it through the entire legislative gauntlet.

But with the 2014 operational date for health care exchanges right around the corner, Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson said this measure may go to the finish line.

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Veterans Affairs
4:44 pm
Thu April 11, 2013

Sen. Casey Urges Feds to Speed Up Efforts to Fix VA Backlog

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is calling on the federal government to get regional offices that assist military veterans into shape.

The Democrat says the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been too slow in responding to the concerns of the VA’s own inspector general, as well as veterans who have had to wait for months to receive disability benefits.  

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Gun Laws
3:40 pm
Wed April 10, 2013

Sen. Toomey Part of Effort to Expand Gun Background Checks

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is part of a bipartisan effort to apply existing background checks to more kinds of firearm purchases.

The legislation was hammered out by Toomey, Pennsylvania's junior U.S. senator, and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, both of whom have strong ties with the National Rifle Association.

"Common ground is found I think based on the proposition that criminals and mentally ill people shouldn’t have guns," he said. "And I don’t think that should be a controversial idea."

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Community Colleges
9:23 am
Wed April 10, 2013

Weary of Level Funding, Community Colleges Ask for More

Community colleges across the state are asking lawmakers for a budget bump.

Students, teachers and trustees packed the state Capitol rotunda Tuesday to ask for a break from the state’s years-long streak of mostly flat-funding its 14 community colleges.

“The dwindling support over the past years from both local sponsors and the state is having a toll on our institutions and risking the student experience,” said Alex Johnson, president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges.

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Child Safety
3:39 pm
Tue April 9, 2013

State Lawmakers in Dueling Efforts to Fix Child Protection Infrastructure

A state Senate Republican is making a concerted push for the cautious approach when it comes to child protection legislation.

House lawmakers are poised to advance a number of proposals intended to make children safer in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky abuse case.

But at a joint committee hearing this week, GOP state Sen. Bob Mensch of Montgomery County said he’s taking to heart advice from others not to rush anything that could add to the burden of local child welfare offices.  

"This is the first step, not the last step," he said.

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Child Safety
9:26 am
Tue April 9, 2013

At County Admins' Meeting, Child Protection Bills Loom Large

As measures to strengthen child protection efforts gather steam in the state House and Senate, the head of the state's Department of Public Welfare is urging caution.

The General Assembly's immediate response to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case was to create a task force to look into what's needed to make children in the commonwealth safer. More than four months later, proposals modeled on those suggestions are coming up for votes.

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Medicaid Expansion
2:53 pm
Mon April 8, 2013

State DPW Head Sounds Optimistic Note on Possible Medicaid Expansion

The head of the state Department of Public Welfare is sounding an optimistic note about a possible Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.

Acting DPW secretary Bev Mackereth said she’s following up with federal officials about the topic of adding hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to the government-run health insurance program.

She said federal officials have been forthcoming with information to the best of their ability.

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Agriculture
6:33 am
Mon April 8, 2013

Bill Would Prohibit Recording PA Farms Without Owner Consent

Animal rights and environmental activists are not happy about a state House proposal that would make it a felony to record or take pictures of an agricultural operation without the owner’s consent.

Democratic Rep. Gary Haluska of Cambria County says family farmers in his district suggested he introduce legislation to protect them from surreptitious documentarians.

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Government & Politics
7:37 pm
Fri April 5, 2013

Corbett to Embark on South American Trade Mission

Gov. Tom Corbett is headed on his second trade mission to connect Pennsylvania businesses, commerce groups and a university with potential customers in Chile and Brazil.

Nineteen companies are going on the trip, including a small business aiming to help blind musicians read music, a global manufacturer of plastics that just bought part of the old Sunoco Marcus Hook refinery and Walmart.

Also attending are 19 representatives of the commonwealth, including the heads of a few state agencies and First Lady Susan Corbett, who plans to promote Pennsylvania tourism.

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State Government
6:27 am
Fri April 5, 2013

Lower Interest Rate Extended for State Loan Programs

The Corbett administration is sweetening the pot for a bit longer for businesses applying to participate in certain state loan initiatives.

A three-month pilot program offering a lower interest rate is being extended for applications submitted through June. The lower rate was inspired by a recommendation from a governor-appointed commission tasked with finding ways to spur investment in the manufacturing sector and support efforts to retain and create jobs.

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Economic Growth Initiative
5:29 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Corbett Administration Hewing to New Rules for Grant Program

The Corbett administration says it’s trying to make an executive branch grant program leaner without having to wait for legislation.

Scroll through a list of projects that have gotten money since 1986 from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which is controlled by the governor’s office, and you see some big numbers: $35 million. $85 million. $185 million dollars.

Sometimes the grants went to train stations and business parks. Sometimes they went to convention centers and stadiums.

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Liquor Privatization
6:58 am
Thu April 4, 2013

Corbett Warns Senate: Finish Liquor by July

The liquor privatization bill that passed the state House is complex.

It has been years in the making. Its bouquet contains elements of many differing retail interests.

But unlike a fine wine, Gov. Tom Corbett isn’t asking the state Senate to let it breathe or drink it in slowly.

The governor’s message here is: Get it down quickly.

At a press conference near Reading on Wednesday, he turned to the lone state senator in the room with a warning:

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Medicaid Expansion
3:13 pm
Mon April 1, 2013

Capitol's Health Care Hawks Waiting for Corbett-Sebelius Meeting

All eyes will be on the governor in the days following his April 2 tete-a-tete with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Ever since Gov. Corbett said he would go straight to the source to answer some of his remaining questions about a Medicaid expansion, the pressure mounting over the issue has subsided.

Even state Senate Democrats, the Legislature’s loudest champions of expanding Medicaid, are easing off their criticism of the governor’s reluctance to add hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to the government-run health insurance program.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon April 1, 2013

Observers Split on How Appellate Court Judges Are Selected

Legal observers are split on the idea of changing the way state appellate court judges are chosen. Reformers are calling for scrapping partisan elections in favor of an appointment process, but others aren’t so sure.

Some state lawmakers and four former governors have lined up to support the so-called “merit selection” process – a proposal to start appointing judges with the help of a nominating commission, the sitting governor and the state Senate.

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Sequestration
3:17 pm
Thu March 28, 2013

Sequestration Cuts to Reduce Unemployment Benefits for Thousands in PA

Federal sequestration cuts will reduce the unemployment compensation checks of thousands of Pennsylvanians starting in April.

The roughly 10 percent dip amounts to between $7 and $61, depending on the size of each benefit check.

Sara Goulet, with the state Department of Labor and Industry, says people who have been on unemployment for more than 26 weeks will have to absorb a reduction.

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Pennsylvania National Guard
6:33 am
Thu March 28, 2013

State Senators Urge Action in DC to Stop Military Tech Furloughs

State lawmakers are prodding members of Congress to keep the Pennsylvania National Guard from having to furlough its technicians.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness is on a letter-writing campaign to fix what she sees as an oversight in the design of automatic federal spending cuts.

Republican Lisa Baker said while the sequester won't hit military personnel, it will mean once-a-week furloughs for military technicians.

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State Pensions
3:42 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Corbett Administration Expects State Pension Proposals to Withstand Court Challenge

The Corbett administration says proposed changes to state pensions will ultimately withstand a court challenge because they can be proven to serve the public good.

One piece of the governor’s plan would reduce future unearned benefits of current state and school district employees.

Public sector unions have promised a court battle if the change is signed into law, saying it would be struck down for breaching the state’s contract with workers.

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Pennsylvania
6:00 pm
Tue March 26, 2013

Duquesne Prof: PA Supreme Court All Talk, No Action on Vacancy Pick

One legal observer says the state Supreme Court is all talk, no action when it comes to making its own pick to replace the suspended justice who plans to resign in May.

The interim judge will fill the seat of suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who’s resigning in May as she awaits sentencing for campaign corruption.

The high court’s chief justice suggests his colleagues might make their own choice for a replacement, preempting an appointment by the governor to fill the vacancy.

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State Supreme Court
8:36 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

Castille Says 7th Justice Key to Major Rulings in PA High Court

The state Supreme Court’s chief justice is emphasizing how much the high court needs a seventh member – and soon.  

Ron Castille says now that suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin plans to resign in May, the slot should be filled.

Gov. Tom Corbett says he plans to nominate someone for the seat.

But Castille says the court might be able to appoint an interim justice more quickly since it wouldn’t need the state Senate to confirm its selection with a two-thirds majority vote.  

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Jerry Sandusky Scandal
3:16 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

Penn State: Sandusky Interview Continues to Open Wounds

Penn State says Jerry Sandusky's assertion that a key witness misinterpreted his showering with a young boy continues to "open wounds" for his victims.

Excerpts of Sandusky's interview with a documentary filmmaker were broadcast Monday on NBC's "Today" show. The former Penn State assistant football coach says he doesn't understand how Mike McQueary concluded "sex was going on" when he witnessed the shower incident in 2001.

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Environment & Energy
11:29 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Krancer Steps Down as Pennsylvania DEP Director

Gov. Tom Corbett has announced Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Krancer is stepping down April 15. He plans to return home to Montgomery County to practice law.

Corbett appointed Krancer in 2011, and since then the DEP has had to oversee the booming Marcellus Shale industry.  

“Serving Governor Corbett and DEP has been the greatest honor of my career,” Krancer said. “I am grateful to the governor for giving me this role is assuring that natural gas and energy development happen in an environmentally sound and responsible manner.”

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Liquor Privatization
6:41 am
Fri March 22, 2013

House's Liquor Plan Due for Lukewarm Reception in Senate

State House lawmakers have finally passed a liquor privatization proposal, building on more than two years of discussions and a concerted push from the governor’s office.

The measure was shepherded through the wilds of the 203-member House, where Republicans with a variety of reservations about increasing access to alcohol and hurting beer sellers had to be won over.

Now the measure is headed to the Senate, and once again there will be challenges.

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Liquor Privatization
6:29 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Liquor Privatization Passes State House

A plan to privatize the sale of wine and spirits and gradually phase out state stores passed the state House Thursday evening by a vote of 105 to 90.

Under the bill, grocery stores could sell wine, beer distributors could sell wine and liquor and other private entities could buy licenses to sell wine and liquor after the first year of implementation. The plan allows for the phasing out of state wine and spirits stores as private retailers obtain licenses.

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Liquor Privatization
6:42 am
Thu March 21, 2013

Liquor Privatization Plan Headed for Final Vote in House

A state House plan to privatize Pennsylvania’s wine and liquor system is on its way toward a final vote in the full chamber.

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Department of Public Welfare
3:14 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

DPW Name Change Advances Amid Cost Concerns

A measure to change the name of the state Department of Public Welfare has passed a state House committee amid concerns of the potential costs of a switch.

Earlier this week, the acting secretary of DPW said renaming the agency the Department of Human Services would cost $8 million, most of which would be spent on changes to computer programs.

But Republican state Rep. Thomas Murt of Montgomery County said he’s surprised by the estimate, given that three years ago, a fiscal analysis of such a move pegged the cost at half a million dollars.

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