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 money problems go beyond its pension debt.

The commonwealth could face a $2 billion spending gap this year, a hole attributed to rising public sector pension costs and an over-reliance on one-time funding sources in the budget. But the state does have a revenue problem – or rather, several problems. Its tax policies aren’t keeping pace with demographic changes and new technologies, leaving the commonwealth with a shrinking tax base.

Would-be reformers are already coming together to try to reform how Pennsylvania's congressional and legislative district boundaries will be drawn seven years from now.

"Believe it or not, for the 2021, we're already starting to get a little bit late," said Barry Kauffman, head of Common Cause Pennsylvania.

New district lines were only recently put into effect for this decade, but it would take so long to reform the process that a bunch of advocacy groups are gearing up now to push for changes.

Whatever he’s doing after moving out of the governor’s residence, Tom Corbett says, he’ll probably be holding a grandson. The governor says he’s looking forward to more family time as he returns to his Pittsburgh-area home – but he’s not closing the door to an encore in public service. 

Lower phone rates for state prison inmates this holiday season are presenting the state Department of Corrections with a classic lesson in economics: what happens when pent-up demand meets low supply.

The agency announced a drop in phone rates right before Thanksgiving. Costs for a 15 minute call (including taxes) went from about six bucks to less than one dollar.

One of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s fiercest critics in the state House is renewing his resolution for her impeachment.

“Despite the passage of time and the evolution of this issue, the core concerns regarding her performance in office remain the same,” writes Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) in a co-sponsorship memo. “The Attorney General has failed to perform the duties of her office on a number of occasions and she has engaged in misbehavior in office.”

The second proposal for Kane’s impeachment comes in the wake of scathing criticism from within her own party.

A new state report puts to bed the notion that merging all of the school districts in York County would save taxpayers' money.

York County state lawmakers asked the Independent Fiscal Office to consider the issue, frequently cited as a possible solution to climbing property tax rates to support schools.

"Generally, every town hall meeting we had people ask, 'Why not consolidate school districts?'" said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York).

A report by the state’s auditor general finds that some counties are losing hundreds of millions of dollars from organizations defined as charities and are therefore exempt from property taxes.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is on a statewide tour of sorts, though not exactly spreading a message of cheer as he lays the groundwork for his budget proposal in about three months.

Wolf’s Thursday stop in Kingston, Luzerne County marked the third news conference he’s held this month to talk to reporters about the state’s looming deficit, projected to be about $1.85 billion. Wolf has held similar Q&A sessions in Philadelphia and York.

Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday that he's pleased charges have been filed against two additional public officials ensnared by a sting operation that began under his tenure as attorney general.

"It's satisfying to see when there appears to be enough evidence to charge somebody and let a jury make the decision as to whether they're innocent or guilty," said Corbett, speaking on Radio Pennsylvania's Ask the Governor program.

It appears the tensions have subsided, at least for the moment, between the state Department of Education and the commonwealth’s fiscal watchdog.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale blasted the agency earlier this month for being uncooperative with a performance review.

But he said more recently that the department has begun sending timely responses – beginning with one that was due last Tuesday.

“For the first time in the history of our audit of the Department of Education they met a deadline of supplying information,” said DePasquale.

You can put another thing to the list of reasons drafting the next state budget won't be a cake walk: the commonwealth's labor costs are likely to go up next year.

In recent years, new governors have had to revisit contracts for most of the state's roughly 73,000 employees within their first year in office. The same is true this time.

Most contracts will be up next July, and renegotiation means pay raises and potentially higher costs for employee health care and leave.

The state’s top fiscal watchdog says job-creation programs need more accountability to ensure taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.

An audit covering 2007 through 2010, before the Corbett administration was in place, found squishy jobs figures among businesses that received nearly $213 million in grants and loans.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said that while nearly 97 percent of promised jobs were delivered by all the state-assisted businesses, the count relies on affidavits from the participating companies, not their actual payroll records.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf plans to publicize some of the private donations that'll cover the costs of his inauguration day and transition team.

On Tuesday, the transition team scheduled two disclosure dates - January 15 and March 30 - when Wolf will share who ponied up to pay for his inauguration day festivities and his transition team's costs.

It's typical for governors to get private sponsors to underwrite inauguration day, but Wolf said he didn't want to burden taxpayers with his transition, either.

If there's anything you need to call your state lawmaker about, try to do it before Thursday.

That's the day marking the start of this year's annual Pennsylvania Society weekend, a four-day-long retreat centered in Manhattan that attracts the commonwealth's political elite.

Reception hosts and the people on their invite lists defend the weekend as a way to see most of the state's movers and shakers in one convenient location.

In a break with recent history, Governor-elect Tom Wolf's transition will be paid for by private donations, not tax dollars.

A spokesman said Wolf will not take the $250,000 estimated by the state budget secretary to cover the costs of setting up offices for the changeover.

Instead, private donations will be accepted and disclosed on the Wolf's transition website by inauguration day, January 20. Late donations will be disclosed 30 days after the fact, said spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

Lottery players have been sitting on the sidelines for games like Mega Millions and Powerball, and state bean-counters can tell.

"We're seeing some weakness in our lottery fund revenues, where sales are not keeping pace to projections," said state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby at his mid-year budget briefing Wednesday. "That's certainly a risk that's out there that we need to be mindful of and potentially plan for."

The announcement came as a bit of a surprise, since lawmakers earlier this year made a technical tweak to maximize game profits.

A mid-year progress report on the state's budget outlook is giving the outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett and incoming Governor-elect Tom Wolf a chance to put each other on notice, becoming the latest chapter in what's becoming a rocky gubernatorial transition.

With his legally mandated mid-year budget report Wednesday, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby confirmed what independent agencies have said for months: Next year's budget situation will be tough, due to rising mandated costs, weak revenues, and the amount of one-time funding sources used to balance this year's spending plan.

State lawmakers are spending the next month getting ready for the new legislative session beginning this month, lining up committee assignments and preparing the proposals they’ll introduce.

A bird’s eye view of the two-year session that just wrapped up in November finds that a total of 369 proposals were enacted.

House lawmakers introduced 3,610 measures (and 1,091 resolutions), and senators introduced 1,981 proposals (and more than 500 resolutions).

A bipartisan duo of state senators is looking to make it a bit more painful for lawmakers to pass a late state budget — by putting top officials’ pay on the line.

Under the measure backed by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin), a budget passed after the end of the fiscal year on June 30 would trigger a suspension of pay for state lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, the governor and his cabinet. A similar measure introduced in the latest legislative session suspended pay for only the governor and state lawmakers.

Advocates for assisted suicide are promoting legislation that allows doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who request it.

The national debate was set off earlier this month with the death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. She publicized her decision to take drugs to end her life after learning she had terminal brain cancer.

Gov. Tom Corbett and Gov.-elect Tom Wolf are doing a bit of interregnum sparring over how to add hundreds of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians to the state's Medicaid rolls.

There's a simple question at the center of their disagreement: should the guy in charge push his policies, or defer to the new guy's preferences?

Wolf favors full Medicaid expansion, authorized by the federal health care overhaul and designed to open up federally-covered health care benefits to Pennsylvanians whose income is 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

A housing advocate says Pennsylvania is falling behind neighboring states in its efforts to combat blight.

Nearly two years ago, the state passed legislation for what's called land banking — a set of new tools for cities and counties to grab up derelict properties and speed their return to productive use. Sometimes that means flipping houses, sometimes it means demolishing a structure to turn the plot into green space or storm water management.

Seven land banks have been established in the commonwealth, but a lack of funding has made the process slow-going.

Medical professionals and public officials are making their annual effort to raise awareness of the best ways to ensure infants' safety while they sleep.

Improper sleeping conditions put babies at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Doctors advise parents and other caregivers to place infants alone, on their backs, in an unadorned crib to avoid suffocation.

As hunters prepare for the start of deer season on Monday, one group is making its annual pitch to remember Pennsylvania's hungry and donate part of their haul.

Hunters Sharing the Harvest collected nearly 100,000 pounds of donated venison last year for food pantries across the commonwealth.

Advocates say the need for venison is greater this year because of the rising cost of high-protein meats.

The Corbett administration has to come up with a plan to reopen state health centers after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled it can’t close any of its 60 public health hubs statewide.

“We are still reviewing the ruling in full to determine the implications to the plan moving forward and will be providing additional communication to the public and to our staff as soon as that review is complete,” said Aimee Tysarczyk, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

Most Pennsylvania counties use voting systems that election experts now say are unreliable and a bit shady, but replacing voting technology would be costly, and not all election directors like the look of alternative devices.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is fleshing out another part of his transition team.

Wolf announced his steering committee Tuesday, a group that includes a former U.S. attorney who worked in Gov. Bob Casey's administration, a diversity consultant, current and former university presidents and the head of the state's largest health care workers union.

A panel created to examine how the state can better serve and protect elder Pennsylvanians has finished its work after 18 months with more than 100 recommendations.

The Elder Law Task Force, made up of lawyers, prosecutors, judges, advocates and program administrators, issued its final report Monday. Suggestions range from requiring legal guardians to receive training on ethics and liability to increasing funding for legal aid to low-income seniors.

The head of the state’s high court says a review hasn’t wrapped up on any inappropriate emails that may have been exchanged by members of the judiciary.

Chief Justice Ron Castille said Monday that the Judicial Conduct Board is still looking for answers in regard to a batch of 4,000 sexually explicit emails identified by the Office of Attorney General as involving some jurists.

When several school districts sued state officials recently over education funding, they re-lit a torch that advocates have been carrying for decades. The lawsuit is a follow-up to a similar legal challenge filed in 1991 and tossed out in 1999, without a resolution.

Judges in the Commonwealth Court and the state Supreme Court said they couldn’t measure whether districts were delivering a sub-par education because of inadequate state funding.

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