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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Government & Politics
8:10 am
Tue September 9, 2014

State Police Say Proposal To Change PA Liquor Laws Misses The Point

Pennsylvania State Police tasked with enforcing the commonwealth's liquor code say a new proposal to make it OK to buy booze across the state border misses the point.

A new state House plan would allow Pennsylvanians to buy alcohol across state lines and bring it back for personal consumption — or to be reimbursed for the now-contraband beverages they buy for friends and family.

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Election 2014
8:03 am
Tue September 9, 2014

Wolf Contends He Can Gain Support From GOP-Dominated Legislature

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf speaks at a campaign stop in Dauphin County Monday.
Credit Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

At a campaign stop in Dauphin County, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf said he’s not concerned about the prospect of working with a Republican-dominated Legislature.

“It’s leadership. It’s bringing people together,” he said. “It’s actually getting up out of your chair, getting out from behind your desk, walking down, bringing people together, giving people a compelling vision about what we need to do to make Pennsylvania better, and working with them to come up with solutions – not just sitting back at your desk.”

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 8, 2014

LGBT Group Looks to 2015 for Ban on Discrimination

The General Assembly's fall session doesn't begin until Sept. 15, but the state's leading advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians is already closing the book on an anti-discrimination measure that picked up unprecedented, bipartisan support.

"At the current moment, with nine days left in the session, I don't hold out a lot of hope that the bill will pass this year," said Ted Martin, head of Equality PA.

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Pension
10:41 am
Fri September 5, 2014

Report: State Worker Pensions Set 'Arbitrarily'

It seems that every few months Pennsylvania’s famously underfunded public pension systems receive some new low ranking or grade. The latest reproach takes issue with the way pension payouts are determined – based on age and years worked.

A report by the nonpartisan Urban Institute calls the rules setting state retirement benefits arbitrary. It restricted its analysis to employees hired in 2013 who will receive pension benefits through the State Employee Retirement System, or SERS:

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Health
7:55 am
Fri September 5, 2014

Doctors Eye Prescription Tracking Bills

For about a year, state lawmakers have considered how to make it easier to track prescription drug abuse in Pennsylvania. Supporters say a plan to expand a patient database may be close to final passage.

The commonwealth already has a database to track the drugs most prone to abuse. Pending legislation would expand the tool to include prescriptions that treat migraines, seizures, and anxiety, as well as some cough medicines. Once in the database, those prescriptions would be subject to a dragnet by doctors, pharmacists, and (to an as yet unknown degree) law enforcement.

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Health Care
8:10 am
Wed September 3, 2014

PA’s Medicaid Enrollees Could See Benefit Cuts

Policy analysts are staying tuned for additional changes to Medicaid benefits for current enrollees in Pennsylvania.

Federal officials set aside Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to curb Medicaid benefits when they considered his overall plan to expand health care coverage for the working poor by using private insurance plans. But the changes still under negotiation could limit things like wheelchairs, homecare visits and physical therapy for Medicaid enrollees.

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Environment & Energy
7:50 am
Tue September 2, 2014

State Senate Candidate Calls For Drilling Extraction Tax

Another Republican, this time a candidate for state Senate, is voicing support for a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers, largely a pet issue of Democrats.

Tom McGarrigle, running for a Delaware County seat, joins several sitting GOP senators who also support an extraction tax  to raise money for schools, infrastructure or pension obligations.

But it doesn’t mean an extraction tax is imminent.

Slapping natural gas drillers with a new tax is something more frequently proposed by Democrats.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 1, 2014

PA Lawmaker Says State's DUI Penalties Are 'Too Slight'

A tragic car accident that claimed the life of a teenage girl in Lancaster County has moved Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) to call on his colleagues to help toughen up Pennsylvania's laws against drunk driving.

"The consequences for offenders still seem far too slight in contrast to the pain of the families who lose loved ones, or who must deal with those whose lives are forever changed and limited by the kind of serious injuries that have been sustained," Smucker said.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 1, 2014

How the Rate of Return Affects State Public Pension Debt

The state owes about $50 billion to its two public pension funds, which pay out retirement benefits to state and public school employees.
               
But the debt would be larger if one little figure were adjusted: the rate of return.

It’s what the pension funds assume they’ll make on investments. The higher it is, the less the commonwealth must pay up front for retirement benefits.

The current rate is seven-and-a-half percent, and some economists say it would be more realistic if it were lowered.

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Health Care
4:13 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Feds Approve Corbett’s Alternative to Medicaid Expansion

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett
Credit Matt Rourke / The Associated Press

The federal government has approved Gov. Tom Corbett’s alternative to Medicaid expansion, the culmination of a roughly year-long negotiation to use federal money to subsidize private insurance plans for low-income Pennsylvanians.

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Education
8:02 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Teachers Union Says Less Money Equals Lower Test Scores

A report compiled by the state’s largest teachers union is linking education funding cuts to lower student achievement.
 
The Pennsylvania State Education Association says standardized test scores dropped in reading and math for third through sixth graders from the 2010-11 through 2012-13 school years, according to state data.
 
The examined period includes the year before Gov. Tom Corbett took office and the first two years of his term.
 

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Government & Politics
7:58 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Poll Shows Summer Stasis, With Wolf Still Ahead Of Corbett

The Pennsylvania gubernatorial race hasn’t tightened, despite a summer of campaigning and a steady stream of television ads for both candidates.
 
A new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett trailing his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by 25 points.
 
Forty-nine percent of registered voters surveyed said they’d vote for the York County businessman, with 24 percent favoring Corbett. Responses among likely voters, said Poll Director Terry Madonna, showed no difference. Nor has the needle moved much since F&M’s June poll.

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Education
7:58 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Study Finds 'De Facto' Segregation Among PA Charter Schools

Charter schools in Pennsylvania are defined by their flexibility and freedom from many state regulations.

A new study shows they’re also marked by their lack of diversity.  

Penn State researchers found “de facto patterns of school segregation along racial and ethnic lines” in a study of brick-and-mortar charter schools.

“They’re sorting themselves into homogenous schools,” said Erica Frankenberg, a member of the research team and an assistant professor at Penn State’s College of Education.

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Higher Education
5:18 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

PSU President Mum on Board Reforms

The new president of Penn State is staying mum on proposed reforms to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Legislation to whittle down the current board from 30 to 23 voting members cleared a state Senate committee in June, but Eric Barron, named president in February, refused to offer his own opinion of such a move.

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Government & Politics
10:33 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Lame-Duck Sessions Unlikely in PA Legislature, For Now

It doesn’t look like lame ducks will vote in the state Legislature this year.

Of course, that could change. House leaders say they haven’t discussed whether they would hold votes after the November election. Senate leaders have said they may call a lame-duck session for some kind of emergency.

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Education
3:30 am
Mon August 18, 2014

Plan Would Increase Charters' Teacher Certifications

Traditional public schools and charter schools don't have the same rules when it comes to teacher certifications, but one new proposal would bring the two types of schools a little closer together.

State certification is required for 100 percent of professional staff at traditional public schools in Pennsylvania. Contrast that with charter and cyber charter schools, which are only required to have 75 percent of their teachers state-certified.

Forthcoming legislation from state Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery) would hike that level to 80 percent.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon August 18, 2014

State Open Records Chief Says E-mail a Blind Spot in PA Transparency Laws

The head of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records says state transparency laws are out of step with modern communication technology and are long overdue for an update.

The call to action comes after Gov. Tom Corbett shared his own technique for evading certain record requests from the public.

Corbett recently told reporters that he tries to avoid using e-mail, and deletes his e-mails about once a week. Otherwise, he said, reporters would be able to see e-mails requested under the state's Right-to-Know law.

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Government & Politics
4:52 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

Proposed Cigarette Tax Would Funnel Revenue Into Property Tax Relief for Seniors

One state lawmaker is taking Philadelphia’s idea for a cigarette tax and applying it statewide.

Republican Rep. John Lawrence of Chester County is proposing an additional 80-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes. The revenue would go into a property tax relief program for seniors.

The House and Senate have been at odds over a plan to let Philadelphia levy a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to help fund its schools.

Lawrence said if lawmakers can pass that, they should approve a broader effort to help low-income seniors pay for rising school property taxes.

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Government & Politics
8:03 am
Fri August 15, 2014

State Liquor Control Board Not Considering Higher Markup For Wine and Spirits

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is not considering boosting its markup on wine and spirits, an assurance from the board’s chairman which comes after a leaked memo suggested the 30 percent markup get its first increase in roughly 20 years.

The memo shared with The Associated Press was penned by the LCB’s financial department and suggests a 5 percent increase to the agency’s 30 percent markup on wine and liquor.

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Government & Politics
2:26 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

Corbett Adviser Resigns Following Scrutiny of Schedule, Duties

An education adviser to the governor is stepping down from his post, weeks after a newspaper report found little evidence he was working.

Ron Tomalis’ resignation letter includes a list of his accomplishments as a special adviser on higher education. Those accomplishments were called into question by a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report last month that found little in schedule documents, phone logs or interviews to suggest Tomalis had been doing much in his job paying nearly $140,000 a year.

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Government & Politics
8:04 am
Tue August 12, 2014

No Oversight of Seized Assets Under New Trafficking Law

Despite years of criticism of the state’s asset forfeiture laws, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved a new human trafficking law that expands law enforcement’s ability to seize assets of the accused, without any statutory oversight of where seized property and proceeds end up.

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Government & Politics
4:48 pm
Mon August 11, 2014

Lawmakers Buy Time to Help 911 Centers

State lawmakers have given themselves another year to address what counties are calling a funding crisis for the commonwealth’s 911 call centers.

A key revenue source for the county-managed centers was set to expire in June, but lawmakers extended its life by one year. That gives the Legislature until next July to consider more comprehensive changes to the emergency service system.

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Government & Politics
2:13 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Schools' Reserves Raise Ire, But Advocates Defend Savings

Not everyone thinks schools in Pennsylvania are hurting for money.

For years, Republican lawmakers and officials have insisted that school districts have more money than they're letting on — in the form of rainy day funds. According to the state Department of Education, school districts reported having $4.27 billion leftover in their fund balances as of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

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Environment & Energy
11:04 am
Fri August 8, 2014

A New Twist on a PA Drilling Tax

A natural gas extraction tax in Pennsylvania has been regarded at times as a silver bullet, and lawmakers have proposed shooting it every which way to solve financial woes. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone suggested aiming it at the state's pension problems.

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Government & Politics
10:27 am
Thu August 7, 2014

With New Technology, New Reason For Lawmakers to Revisit PA's Game Laws

New technologies that could aid or impede hunting are giving state policymakers reason to revisit the Pennsylvania's game laws.

Measures before the state House and Senate aim to allow things like electronic calls to attract deer, or ban the use of drones by hunters and people suspicious of hunters.

For decades, Pennsylvania hunters — and their regulators — have debated the fine line that separates acceptable hunting aids and being fair to animals being pursued.

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Government & Politics
10:12 am
Thu August 7, 2014

No Sign Lawmakers Will Oblige Corbett's Request That They Return Early

Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday asked state lawmakers to end their vacation early to address legislation concerning a Philadelphia schools funding gap that threatens to delay the school year in the state's largest school district.

"I'm calling for the Legislature though to come to Harrisburg before school starts," Corbett said at a news conference with Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite at his side. "And I expect them to address this issue as their first and number one order of business."

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Government & Politics
10:20 am
Wed August 6, 2014

On the Road, Corbett Continues to Tout Plan for Public Pension Overhaul

Gov. Tom Corbett is entering the fourth week of a town-hopping expedition discussing his plan to overhaul the state’s public pensions.

At a July visit to a coffee shop near Hershey Park in Dauphin County, Corbett repeated his refrain that the state’s pension debacle is a bipartisan issue.

“I do not view this as a Republican-Democrat issue,” he said. “Taxpayers, homeowners, property-owners — we don’t look at the R and the D.”

But the events on the governor’s barnstorming route haven’t been bipartisan.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Attack Ad Keeps Spotlight on Education Funding in Governor's Race

Education funding cuts are front and center once again in a tiff between Pennsylvania’s candidates for governor.

A recent television attack ad highlights the issue, which has dogged Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett in the polls for years.

In the spot, a narrator says Corbett “cut nearly a billion dollars from education, forcing schools districts to fire 20,000 teachers and staff.”

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State Government
3:30 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Alternative Pension Bill Offers More Savings, But Also More Risk

Another proposal to overhaul the state's public pensions is officially in the mix.

The measure, unveiled last fall, received a thorough vetting from the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) last Wednesday, a necessary step before it receives any kind of vote from state lawmakers.

The analysis found the plan could save the commonwealth about $30 billion over 30 years.

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State Government
3:30 am
Sun August 3, 2014

Corbett Says Former Ed Secretary Is 'Not a Ghost Employee'

Gov. Tom Corbett is defending his former Secretary of Education. Ron Tomalis left the cabinet post in May 2013 and was immediately appointed as special adviser to the Secretary of Education at the same annual salary of nearly $140,000.

But there have been calls for everything from a legislative inquiry to a formal ethics investigation into whether Tomalis is actually working to earn his pay.

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