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.

Pennsylvania’s top fiscal watchdog isn’t sure an offer from state House Republicans to hike his agency’s funding could prevent some of the layoffs planned for mid-June.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the proposed $2.6 million increase wouldn’t be enough to bring back all 67 people throughout the state who are slated to lose their positions.

Gov. Tom Corbett is in call-to-action mode, urging passage of a transportation funding proposal for the second time in a week.

A $2.5 billion plan is expected to be passed by the full Senate within the next two weeks.

But the real question is whether House Republicans will vote for a bill that does things like hike driver’s license fees and uncap a tax paid by gas stations.

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said he’s been going to each House lawmaker to explain what’s at stake.

State Senate lawmakers are beginning the public vetting of a three-part proposal from the governor's office to deal with the state's multi-billion dollar pension debt.

Months of debate leading up to the hearing have only made the groups on either side of the issue seem as entrenched as ever.

Gerry Oleksiak, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, reiterated the unions' position that the governor's plan to reduce the future benefits of current employees is an unconstitutional breach of contract.

If the governor's budget address is the overture to budget negotiations, a proposal from the House Majority leadership is Act One.

State House Republicans are putting a bill in place for legislative action as spending negotiations get underway. The $28.3 billion dollar outline comes in at about $110 million less than the governor's budget.

A series of hearings on liquor privatization in Pennsylvania will soon come to an end in the state Senate.

Lawmakers next week plan to finish up a trio of gatherings spurred by the House’s passage of a plan in March to phase out the state’s wine and spirits stores.

Gov. Tom Corbett has blasted state senators for dragging their feet on the issue. But Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who helped draft the administration’s privatization plan, has said the Senate has always been “deliberative.”

A new panel in charge of coming up with a different funding formula for special education in Pennsylvania is in place.

The commission of state lawmakers and a few members of the governor’s cabinet will attempt to find a replacement for the current formula, which doles out money based on a set percentage of each school district’s enrollment.

State Republican Representative Bernie O’Neill of Bucks County pushed for the panel for years.

Rumblings of horse trading, linking issues and leverage have the Senate's minority leader up in arms. Democrat Jay Costa said recently he's worried the Pennsylvania House will hold transportation funding hostage.

It's not the first time Senate Democrats have voiced such a concern. But Costa was especially emphatic discussing it during a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg last week.

One key question at the heart of a push for more transparency at Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities may keep legislative proposals in park for some time.

Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln are all largely exempt from the state’s open records law, while Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities are held to the standard.

Proposals to get rid of the exemption have been proposed in the House and Senate. The universities have raised concerns or outright opposition to the plans.

A state House proposal aims to make the state attach a simple letter grade to each school and school district in the commonwealth.

The A through F grades would be based on data that’s already being collected.

National education reform organization StudentsFirst supports the proposal.

State director Ashley DeMauro said the report cards would be based on student and teacher performance, relative progress and things like attendance and graduation rates.

Gov. Tom Corbett is asking for help pushing through the major items on his legislative agenda: liquor privatization, transportation funding and an overhaul of the state's pension systems.

During his Thursday morning address to the capital area chamber of commerce, he banged on the podium as he issued his first call to action on the plan before the state Senate to phase out state wine and spirits stores.

Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. senator is taking another whack at knocking down the unemployment rate among military veterans with a proposed tax credit.

Sen. Bob Casey said Wednesday the tax credit would help veterans or their spouses purchase franchises. They would be able to write off 25 percent of the franchise fee, or up to $100,000.

In a conference call with reporters, Casey likened the tax credit to the GI bill funding veterans' college education, saying it's another way to help veterans establish themselves as civilians.

Gov. Tom Corbett has ordered a delay in the adoption of new high stakes standardized tests for public schools in Pennsylvania.

The new Pennsylvania Common Core standards were supposed to be implemented in July. The class of 2017 would need to pass the subject-specific tests before graduating.

But Education Department spokesman Tim Eller says the postponement won’t result in any major changes.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission Tuesday affixed special tracking bands to the legs of peregrine falcons that have hatched atop a state office building in Harrisburg.

The agency has been monitoring the offspring of falcons nesting on the building ledge since 2000 as part of an effort to help the recovery of a bird that is on the state’s endangered species list.

Game Commission biologist Art McMorris said the falcon population may improve enough to come off that list in the next decade.

Members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee will put their questions to the IRS acting commissioner Tuesday, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey says he wants to know who first authorized extra scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The ranking Republican and Democrat on the committee sent a letter last week to acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller asking 41 questions.

The letter refers to an inspector general's report that found improper screening of groups began in 2010, stopped in 2011, and then began again early in 2012.

Government reform activists say they’re getting a head start on their campaign against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille.

The group Rock the Capital is listing 10 problems with Castille’s tenure, blasting the judge for what they  describe as unethical behavior and incompetence in running the state’s court system.

Report author and longtime activist Tim Potts said he wants to hold debate-like forums with the Chief Justice on judicial administration and ethics, and why he thinks Castille should not get to stay on the bench.

Gov. Tom Corbett won’t be budged by public opinion polls when it comes to marijuana.

Support is high for legalizing the drug when obtained with a doctor’s prescription.

But Corbett has said making medical marijuana legal will not rule out abuse of the drug, because prescription drugs are abused now.  

"This is a gateway to many other drugs," he said. "I believe we have a drug problem in this country. We have a drug problem in the state of Pennsylvania."

Corbett made his remarks on the Radio Pennsylvania “Ask the Governor” program.

State Senate Democrats are trying to compel the state to participate in a Medicaid expansion by using what's called a discharge resolution.

Senate staffers on both sides of the aisle are at a loss to remember the last time this kind of maneuver was successful. It doesn't preclude the majority party from sidestepping a vote on the measure in question.

But that's not stopping Sen. Vincent Hughes.

The head of the state's Office of Open Records is pointing a finger at public charter schools for being the "cancer" of the state's Right-to-Know law.

The testimony comes as lawmakers are in the midst of an effort to tweak the state's five-year-old law, which lets citizens request government records starting with the presumption that all such documents are public, putting the burden of proof on agencies, not citizens.

Family, friends and fixtures of state politics are remembering former Pennsylvania Gov. George Leader for being a tireless tinkerer — a man inspired by new ideas and always ready to go on to the next thing.

Leader died at age 95 last week. At a memorial service Thursday in Hershey, Dauphin County, his children recounted stories of their father and poked fun at his memory, at turns resisting and then contributing to a growing legend about one of the state’s most beloved governors.

The chairman of a key Senate panel all but called a time of death for liquor privatization — at least, the effort to pass a measure before July.

State judges in Pennsylvania are one step closer to being allowed to serve until age 75 before they must retire.

A state House panel has approved a measure to increase the mandatory retirement age by five years.

Supporters say it strikes the right balance – updating the age limit for the first time since 1968, without increasing it to the point it would severely limit turnover in the courts.

Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery County) notes changing the mandatory retirement age would require amending the state constitution.

The same senator who sponsored legislation creating the 5-year-old Office of Open Records has drafted revisions to the state's Right-to-Know law - the "most critical" proposed change being one that would keep commercial users from exploiting the law on the cheap.

Local government officials have said for years the passage of the Right-to-Know law has resulted in a tidal wave of records requests.

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle in the state Senate are noting the time is fast approaching to make a final decision about a potential expansion of Medicaid.

For months, the Corbett administration has insisted that the door is not closed to such a move.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi - not exactly a public cheerleader for the move - said last week the governor needs to decide soon whether he'll allow hundreds of thousands more Pennsylvanians to enroll in the program.

Gov. Tom Corbett is reluctant to pull any legislative issue from the very top of his crowded agenda.

But other legislative leaders appear more than happy to do it for him.

The governor has said he wants four things done before lawmakers leave for their summer recess: a budget, liquor privatization, a transportation funding package and an approved overhaul of the state’s two pension plans and the debt that comes with them.  

One state lawmaker is raising the controversial idea of borrowing money to help put a dent in the state's $47 billion unfunded pension liability.

Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland), who's been working on pension overhaul proposals, has suggested one way to pay down some of the state's pension debt would be to issue a pension obligation bond - not as a way to cover required state contributions to the two pension plans, but as a way to borrow money at a better rate and produce some savings.

Public support may be waning for a plan to sell off the state's wine and liquor stores.

It's the issue on the governor's to-do list that is furthest along in the Legislature, but a new Franklin & Marshall College poll notes support for it has dropped by six points among surveyed voters since February - from 53 percent in a February poll to 47 percent in a May poll.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Still, more respondents support privatization than oppose it.

After more than a year of legal challenges, the state has new district lines for the House and Senate. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has unanimously ruled to uphold the state Legislature’s second stab at drawing new districts.

The maps were challenged by several groups – among them, a piano teacher and self-styled redistricting savant who drew her own maps to show there was a better way.

State House and Senate lawmakers have stepped up to sponsor legislation to advance the governor’s plan to overhaul the state’s two pension systems.

A $2.5 billion transportation funding bill that would increase vehicle fees, moving violation fines, and lift the cap on a tax that could lead to higher gas prices has gained a key state Senate committee’s approval.

Money raised from the measure would be used to repair Pennsylvania’s aging roads and bridges, as well as mass transit, ports, and bicycle lane planning.

A bill to close the so-called Delaware loophole while lowering other taxes on corporations has passed the state House by a vote of 129 to 65.

The measure aims to capture revenue from companies that have transferred money from commonwealth subsidiaries to corporations in Delaware – a state without corporate taxes.

House Democratic leaders criticized the proposal for using an approach they say wouldn’t actually close the loophole.

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