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.

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.

Dank Depot / flickr

The debate over medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania has long transcended political parties -- instead, it’s dividing people into groups that see marijuana’s medicinal possibilities and those waiting for more definitive research.  

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Governor Tom Wolf says he could’ve picked his words better when he said that Pennsylvania’s biggest problem is “low self-esteem.”

At a recent meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., C-SPAN recorded Wolf’s response to the question: what is the biggest economic issue facing Pennsylvania?

“This is going to sound strange, I mean I agree with everybody – education, we gotta build out the infrastructure, we have to make investments to make sure the economy can function,” said Wolf. “But I think the biggest problem in Pennsylvania is low self-esteem.”

Harvey Barrison / flickr

Pennsylvania may be staring down a $2 billion chasm in next fiscal year's state budget, but the Legislature is doing just fine for cash.

The legislative surplus stood at $161 million as of last June, according to an annual audit report released Monday after a couple of delays.

The report was prepared by private firm Mitchell & Titus. The Legislature isn't subject to the state auditor general's oversight. For years, private auditors have used these reports to urge lawmakers to put a maximum on how much can be kept in reserve.

This year was no different.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

A bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania is getting a second look Wednesday in the state Senate. It’s been about a year since the matter had its first hearing in the Legislature, and since then, it’s gone from a fringe issue to a center-stage policy debate.

Most people have attributed that progress to a group of mothers known as “mama bears,” who want medical marijuana to treat their very ill children.

Among them is Latrisha Bentch.  There was a time when her oldest daughter Anna was not sick but she was still just a little different.

Duquesne University

The withdrawal of one state Supreme Court nominee might have sunken both picks made by the governor’s office in consultation with the state Senate.  The move potentially will leave two vacancies on the high court for the rest of the year.

Centre County President Judge Thomas Kistler said Monday morning he is dropping out of the confirmation process.

 “[S]everal circumstances have developed here, at home, in Centre County, which have dramatically altered the legal system, and require my full attention,” said Kistler in a written statement. “I cannot with a clear conscience abandon my responsibilities to Centre County in this time of uncertainty.”

His withdrawal comes days after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported criticism of a 2013 e-mail he sent, which features a photo of a black man and woman, apparently during a prison visit, below text that reads: “Merry Christmas from the Johnsons.” Kistler is white.

At first, the senator thought she had made a mistake.

Legislation to expand Pennsylvania's prescription drug monitoring system had been signed by the governor last fall. Powerful painkillers and other drugs would be tracked by the new and improved system. Doctors and law enforcement would be able to check the database for suspicious prescription activity.

The changes were slated to cost $1 million. But the full sum hadn't been incorporated into the state budget.

At least 19 state senators are supporting a proposal to tighten the strings of the Legislature's money purse. The plan would make lawmakers submit itemized receipts before being reimbursed for work-related expenses.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Governor Tom Wolf has announced a moratorium on the death penalty, calling the state’s capital sentencing system “riddled with flaws.”

“The only certainty in the current system is that the process will be drawn out, expensive, and painful for all involved,” said Wolf in a written statement released Friday.

The moratorium will remain in effect until Wolf has reviewed the forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment.

The country’s second-largest insurer says customers whose information may have been compromised in a recent massive data breach will be offered credit monitoring and other services beginning this Friday.

Anthem says it plans to send individual letters “in the coming weeks” to customers whose information may have been accessed in a cybersecurity attack discovered late last month.

A slightly higher age limit for Pennsylvania judges is two steps away from becoming a reality. The state House has passed a proposed constitutional amendment to bump the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 years.

“For a judge, the older you are, the more experience you have – life experience, courtroom experience, case law experience – the more experience you have, the better you’re going to be as a judge,” said sponsoring Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery).

State House and Senate supporters of a bill aiming to curb drunk driving in Pennsylvania say they’re hoping this is the year the measure goes all the way to the governor’s desk.

“There’s an old saying, the third time’s the charm,” said Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), sponsor of a bill to let some first-time impaired-driving offenders keep their licenses as long as their cars are equipped with an ignition interlock. The restriction requires drivers to pass a Breathalyzer-type test before starting their vehicles.

The governor’s nominees selected to fill two vacancies on the state Supreme Court appear poised for easy approval by the state Senate.

On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf selected Democrat Ken Gormley, dean of Duquesne Law School, and Republican Thomas Kistler, Centre County President Judge.

A proposed constitutional amendment to change the way tax-exempt entities are defined won’t make it onto the spring ballot.

State Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) said lawmakers have run out of time to pass the amendment and send it to a voter referendum.

“I think we’ve already missed that deadline,” said Eichelberger, “so it’ll be in the fall.”

He added that it’s also possible lawmakers will study the matter further, and even revise the proposed amendment, restarting the three-part process of changing the state constitution.