Dec 22, 2017
Groups put pressure on Wolf to halt Mariner East 2 construction
HARRISBURG >> Six community members and two elected officials met face-to-face with Gov. Tom Wolf Wednesday as they ratcheted up the pressure to halt construction of the Sunoco Mariner East 2 Pipeline until a new safety assessment can be performed on the controversial project.
The residents from Delaware and Chester counties asked the governor to use his executive authority under Title 35 to immediately halt pipeline construction and operations, and to assess the risk the project poses to the safety of communities along the route.
“The residents, all members of the bicounty, bipartisan coalition Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, additionally demanded that the commonwealth mitigate that risk to vulnerable populations impacted by the hazardous, highly volatile liquid export pipeline,” reads a coalition release.
State Reps. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161 of Swarthmore, and Carolyn Comitta, D-156 of West Chester, joined the residents.
The governor was presented with letters from a bipartisan group of elected officials. Urging action were U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-7 of Chadds Ford, state Sens. Andrew Dinniman, D-19, and John Rafferty, R-44, and state Reps. Becky Corbin, R-155, Duane Milne, R-167, and Comitta.
“During the meeting, residents repeatedly stressed the urgent need to address the threat to densely populated communities, and once again handed Gov. Wolf a petition containing over 6,000 signatures asking him to protect the safety of schools,” reads the release.
J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s press secretary, released the following statement Thursday afternoon: “Gov. Wolf has met with elected officials from this area and wanted to also hear from residents. He appreciated the meeting. As we have said previously, any safety assessment would have to be conducted by the PUC and Gov. Wolf would support such an assessment being done. As the PUC is the relevant authority with safety oversight over this project, if they were to perform this evaluation we would coordinate with them on how to proceed to safely and adequately assess safety concerns with this project.”
The now-under-construction Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline will carry highly volatile liquids and snake 350 miles across from Marcellus Shale deposits in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the former Sunoco Refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
Jeff Shields, Sunoco Pipeline communications manager, again repeated the company’s stance that construction is being done to the highest safety standards of the industry.
“We understand there are varying opinions on infrastructure projects such as ours, however, pipelines are the safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport the oil and gas products we use every day,” Shields said. “The mainline construction of ME2 is approximately 91 percent complete and our HDDs (Horizontal Directional Drilling) are approximately 62 percent complete. We look forward to completing our project in a timely manner. The safety of all pipelines is built into the strict federal regulations for the construction, operation and maintenance of transmission pipelines. Those include not just the Mariner East 2 system but the many natural gas and natural gas liquids pipelines that have operated safely for decades throughout the commonwealth. It is well documented that we exceed those federal safety regulations in many areas, including pipe thickness, depth, weld testing and pipeline inspection.”
The company picked up a legal victory Thursday when the state Public Utility Commission lifted an injunction against that had halted construction in West Goshen Township.
Work had been stalled since July in a dispute between the township and company over the installation and location of a valve station.
Bibianna Dussling is a Middletown resident and co-president of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety.
“We’ve seen a rapidly growing bipartisan consensus to halt the construction and properly assess the risk of the Mariner East project,” Dussling said. “We hope the governor will take these concerns seriously and take immediate action to protect our safety.”
Caroline Hughes of East Goshen also attended the meeting.
“We expect the governor to take swift action, to use his authority to protect us, as mandated by his oath and his office,” Hughes said as leader of Goshen United for Public Safety. “Citizens are prepared to escalate our voices and demand representative action.
“We’re getting the attention of people in office that have an ability to make a change and we’re taking every opportunity to communicate the urgency of the situation.”
Comitta called on the governor to halt construction.
“I have been talking and meeting with constituents, state agency heads, township officials and Sunoco representatives regarding the Mariner East 2 project since I took office,” Comitta said. “Unfortunately, this project has experienced a record number of incidents and that is completely unacceptable.
“It’s past time to assess the safety risks so that our first responders and residents have the information they need to be safe, and it’s regrettable that this wasn’t done prior to the start of the project.”
Rebecca Britton of the Uwchlan Safety Coalition said Wolf seemed eager to learn about the group’s presentation.
She talked about Wolf’s role, and the need for him to halt construction under Title 35.
“The governor has the ability and primary responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Pennsylvania,,” Britton said.
Melissa DiBernardino said she will pull her kids form SS. Peter and Paul Elementary School if the new pipeline goes through. The planned pipeline runs less than 100 feet from several schools and a senior care center.
“While Gov. Wolf wouldn’t give an answer today, he assures us we’ll get one soon,” she said. ”I hope he sees the urgency in this. Every day he lets this continue, my children are at risk while Mariner 1 runs. Our children (and people of all ages) need a hero right now. Let’s hope he comes through within two weeks.” Source
Dec 21, 2017
Gov. Wolf calls for ban on taxpayer-funded settlements in harassment cases
HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf has asked a state agency to prohibit taxpayer money from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials following news that the House paid nearly a quarter-million dollars to settle a complaint against State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone.
“I’ve put into place reforms that we make sure that we don’t do that anymore — that I don’t care who starts it — that the state doesn’t pay taxpayer money for settlements,” Wolf said Thursday morning.
The governor’s office said he “was not aware of this settlement or payment” until Tuesday, when the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke news of the secret payout. In 2015, checks totaling $248,000 were cut to a longtime employee in Caltagirone’s district office and her attorneys, arising from claims of verbal and physical harassment over several years. Caltagirone, 75, a Democrat from Reading, Berks County, has denied the claims and said his attorneys encouraged a settlement to avoid the high costs of fighting a case in court.
The money passed through the Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program, which pays for claims where the state is liable, often covering things like damage to private vehicles. Each legislative caucus and the executive branch pay into the fund based on the number of employees they have, past complaints and other factors that might impact their risk level.
The state’s Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of General Services, processes the payments but does not get involved in negotiating or approving settlement terms. In this case, that would have been done by the House Democratic caucus, led by Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County. Dermody has declined interview requests, saying that he was prohibited from discussing cases with confidentiality agreements.
J.J. Abbott, spokesman for Wolf, said the bureau director that oversees the insurance program determined in October 2014 that the settlement could be paid through the state fund. He said that decision was made “solely by” the bureau director.
Wolf, a Democrat, took office late in January of 2015, and the checks were cut the following month.
Former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who preceded Wolf in office, said Thursday, “I have no recollection of this kind of stuff happening.”
He said, “As far as I know, that wouldn’t have come to me. If that was a settlement that [the] caucus agreed to with whoever, that would have been, as far as I know, pro forma.”
Abbott said Wolf directed DGS to immediately stop approving settlement payments from the liability fund in cases of sexual harassment and abuse by elected officials.
Wolf, and some Democratic representatives, have called for Caltagirone to resign. Caltagirone has said he plans to stay in office. Source
Dec 18, 2017
All state inspector general reports should be public, not just the one about the Lt. Gov.
One of the biggest stories out of the state Capitol last week was Gov. Tom Wolf’s refusal to release the findings of a state probe into whether Lt. Gov. Mike Stack and his wife mistreated the state police assigned to protect them and the workers at their taxpayer-funded residence.
Wolf said releasing the report by the state inspector general was unnecessary because the investigation he requested had accomplished his goal of making sure the employees were protected. That answer wasn’t good enough for one lawmaker, Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, who urged Wolf to make the document public.
While it’s important to challenge Wolf’s decision to keep the report secret, it’s more important to challenge the fact that he even has the authority to make that choice.
The inspector general is a publicly funded office charged with investigating allegations of fraud, waste, abuse and corruption in other public offices in the executive branch of state government. The public deserves to know what that office finds, or doesn’t find.
Inspector generals in the federal government routinely release their reports. But that doesn’t happen in Pennsylvania government.
Taxpayers — the voters — deserve to know how investigations were done and how conclusions were reached. If nothing bad was found, then just say so.
I’ve probably read more federal inspector general reports than anyone in the Lehigh Valley. I’ve seen plenty that determined allegations of misconduct were not substantiated. The Pennsylvania inspector general easily could do the same. Final investigative reports should be published, except those that would threaten public safety.
The names of the employees under investigation aren’t always the most important information, so I’d be OK leaving them out. Federal inspector generals often don’t name names. I recognize in this case, of course, there is only one lieutenant governor and one lieutenant governor’s wife, so leaving names out still could make them identifiable. But that’s life. Stack was elected to an important, highly paid position. He and his wife, Tonya, are in the public spotlight, for better or worse.
Wolf ordered the inspector general to investigate earlier this year after hearing from state workers who dealt with the couple. Multiple published reports indicate there were complaints about verbal abuse. Stack publicly apologized, without offering much detail about what he felt he did wrong, and attributed reported outbursts to a stress-related “Stack moment.” Wolf then yanked the couple’s police protection and estate staff.
Wolf said in a statement last week that his concern was to make sure the lieutenant governor’s police detail and staff at the residence “were safe and were not in a bad job situation.” He said he took care of that.
When the inspector general’s office finishes an investigation, it sends a report to the head of the agency involved and to the governor’s Office of General Counsel. Reports may recommend that employees be sanctioned or that policies be improved. Cases also may be referred to criminal authorities or the State Ethics Commission.
The public, though, rarely sees the full report of a probe. The inspector general’s website says “actual investigative reports and evidence obtained during investigations are confidential and cannot be released to the public.”
Yet it did publish one full report earlier this year, about a cheating scandal at the state police academy.
That report is marked “privileged and confidential” and says it “may not be disseminated outside of your agency without the permission of the Governor’s Office of General Counsel.”
Since it was published, the governor’s office must have approved it. Yet it wouldn’t release a report that hit close to home involving Stack. All that does is create speculation. It’s no secret that Stack could be facing a tough re-election campaign next year against several challengers.
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott told me the governor stands by his stated reasons for not releasing the report. He said Wolf has made the inspector general’s work more available to the public than ever by having it publish summaries of reports. No documentation about investigations had been released under any previous governor since the inspector general was made a statewide agency by Gov. Bob Casey in 1987, Abbott said.
Summaries haven’t been published for every case.
The inspector general’s office did 76 investigations into possible fraud, waste, abuse and misconduct in fiscal year 2015-16, according to its annual report. In addition to the full state police report, the website contains only seven summaries from investigations.
The office understands there is public interest in its work and is moving toward publishing reports “when appropriate,” chief-of-staff Clarke Madden told me. He said many investigations involve labor and employment issues that are prohibited from public disclosure.
It’s also worth mentioning that the inspector general’s office investigates welfare fraud. It routinely issues press releases that name those accused. How fair is that? The average Joe gets his name publicly tarnished, but those who work in state government are shielded from potential embarrassment?
If Wolf won’t release the inspector general’s report on Stack and his wife, maybe he can be forced to. On Thursday, I requested the report from the inspector general and the governor under the state Right-to-Know Law. I’ll let you know if I get it. Source
December 15, 2017
Why I will veto the anti-choice Senate Bill 3 | Gov. Tom Wolf
These past few months have brought a watershed moment in America. Women from all walks of life have been speaking up about sexual assault and harassment, abuse, and the absolutely unacceptable challenges that they have faced as they try to build their lives, careers, and families. At the same time, Republicans in Washington and state Capitols across the country, including Harrisburg, insist on continuing to legislate women’s very personal medical decisions, rather than let women do what is best for themselves and their families.
We have a president who wants us to turn our backs on the very values, traditions, and ideals that make our country great and a Republican legislature in Pennsylvania that is pushing policies that make it harder to be a woman in Pennsylvania.
These politicians are sending the message that women are less than full partners in our civil society and that they should not have the right to make their own health decisions.
This was proven earlier this when the legislature sent Senate Bill 3, the most restrictive anti-choice bill in the country, to my desk without holding a single public hearing on it. Senate Bill 3 is an assault on the doctor-patient relationship by politicians without medical or health expertise. Unbelievably, this cruel legislation bans abortion after 20 weeks and provides no exceptions for rape or incest. This bill criminalizes a medical procedure that doctors use to protect the life of the mother when tragedy strikes during a pregnancy.
I have volunteered at Planned Parenthood with my wife Frances and I have met with women and doctors who have shared their stories about their difficult decisions and how this bill violates a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.
We’ve heard from women just like Karen from Bucks County, who made the incredibly difficult decision to end her pregnancy at 21 weeks following the devastating news that her daughter was diagnosed with a lethal genetic abnormality.
And women like Erica from Lower Moreland, who discovered at a routine ultrasound that her baby boy never developed an airway or trachea and was dying. She made the decision to end her pregnancy decision at five months.
These women deserve our support, and should not be maligned by politicians in Harrisburg.
These women, not politicians in Harrisburg, should be making their own health decisions in consultation with their doctors and families.
I will not stand for these repeated attacks on women’s reproductive decisions.
I will veto SB 3 because I stand with every woman in Pennsylvania who deserves to make her own health decisions. And I will veto any bill that puts a check on women’s rights in Pennsylvania. Source
Dec 11, 2017
The Daily Item
Standardized test changes get an A
Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration improved the standardized testing system in Pennsylvania last week by announcing further reductions in the amount of time devoted to the tests.
During an event at a middle school in Montgomery County, the governor announced that starting in the next school year, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) will be condensed from three weeks to two weeks and shifted to later in the school year, moves designed to ease the stress on students and giving them up to two additional weeks of classroom time before taking the assessment.
The state previously reduced the number of test days by two, a change in effect this year.
“We are continuing to respond to the concerns of students, parents and teachers about the amount of classroom time spent on standardized tests,” Wolf said. “After reducing the classroom time devoted to the PSSA and moving the test window to later in the school year, students and teachers will have more classroom time to focus on learning before taking the tests.”
Experienced teachers are among the best people to speak on this issue.
“The changes Governor Wolf and the Department of Education continue to make to the PSSA are a step in the right direction,” said Sally Matthews, a seventh-grade math teacher at the Colonial Middle School, where Wolf made the announcements.
“Moving the assessments later in the year will allow students more time to master grade level curriculum. I appreciate that the feedback provided from educators across the state has been heard, valued and acted upon.”
In a commentary published in Education Week, Greg Joules, a teacher for 29 years at a high school in San Mateo, Calif., wrote that standardized tests are unnecessary because “they rarely show what we don’t already know.”
Teachers know how well their students are progressing and express that through letter grades or evaluations that break down progress on skills.
“So trust the teacher,” Joules writes.
David Volkman, executive deputy secretary for the state Department of Education, said that parents and teachers have been urging schools for years to refocus on learning. The new schedule allows more classroom time while maintaining the accuracy of the assessment, he said.
Cathy Peduzzi, a parent and member of the Colonial School Board, said the schedule changes are a “great compromise between listening to the many parents concerned about the amount of time our children spend taking tests and the need to assess how students and schools are performing.”
The changes will “allow our children to have more time to learn in their classrooms as well as in collaborative labs and marker spaces that reflect the realities of today’s world.” Source
Dec 10, 2017
New Medicaid feature to reduce future nursing home enrollees
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Years in the making, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is rolling out a new Medicaid feature that’s designed to reduce the future number of enrollees in nursing homes and, along with it, a fast-growing expense in a state where the elderly population is exploding.
The program takes effect Jan. 1 in 14 southwestern counties. A launch is planned in 2019 for Philadelphia and its four collar suburban counties and in 2020 for the remaining 48 counties across central and northern Pennsylvania.
It is perhaps the biggest change in Pennsylvania’s $30 billion Medicaid program since 2015, when income eligibility guidelines expanded at the close of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration to include hundreds of thousands of low-income adults.
This shift means insurers will be paid to manage Medicaid’s long-term care services, with a financial incentive to get enrollees the nursing care and services they need in a home, where it is half as expensive as a nursing home.
“Long term, you are expecting to see savings because you are going to be seeing more people getting services in a less expensive environment, which also happens to be where people want to get their services, at their home,” said Teresa Miller, Wolf’s acting human services secretary.
The cost difference is significant, as it’s roughly $62,000 per year for nursing home care and half that for skilled nursing care at home, state officials say. State officials expect this to slow the growth of the state’s Medicaid-covered daily nursing home population of more than 50,000.
Few people may actually move out of nursing homes as a result of this shift. Often, just finding a place to live for someone who has made a nursing home their home is a complicated task.
What is more likely is that the system will help someone stay in their home longer when they have a health complication that requires more attention, said Richard Edley, executive director of the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association, which represents agencies that work with the disabled.
The drive to save money on care for the elderly comes as the number of adults 65 and older in Pennsylvania is expected to grow by a third over the next decade while the number of working-age residents shrinks.
Medicaid currently covers home nursing help, but insurance companies are expected to simplify the bureaucracy and respond quickly to needs in a system that, some say, encourages a move to a nursing home, is difficult to understand and can be slow to respond.
“There’s a financial incentive for them to make it as smooth as possible and clear the bureaucratic hurdles that are there right now that prevent people from getting those services under Medicaid as quickly as they may want to right now,” said Ray Landis, of the AARP’s Pennsylvania chapter.
Much of Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program is already administered by insurers. By adding long-term care to the insurers’ portfolio, Pennsylvania will join about half the states, with many more considering it, state officials say.
Wendy Fox-Grage, a policy adviser to AARP, said it is difficult to say whether insurers have improved the delivery of long-term care services overall, in part because their data on costs and outcomes is confidential.
Providers, from home health groups to nursing home operators, worry about glitches in a new payment system, and some say that many details of how they are supposed to coordinate with insurers are a mystery.
Hiring insurance companies to manage Medicaid’s long-term care provision in Pennsylvania has been discussed for well over a decade.
The idea ran into opposition from nursing homes, suspicion of for-profit insurance companies, territorial battles and – after Wolf’s administration began pushing for it in 2015 – delays in scrounging the money necessary to get the program on its feet.
Meanwhile, other states forged ahead and provided a road map.
“Everybody just came to the realization that we can do this better with this kind of system than we’ve been doing it up to this point,” Landis said. Source
Dec 4, 2017
Pa.’s political map rigged for GOP, says lawyer in gerrymandering case
An attorney for the group challenging Pennsylvania’s congressional boundaries told a panel of federal judges Monday he would seek to show that they were unfairly drawn to favor Republicans through the use of sophisticated software and detailed datasets.
Lawyers for Republican state lawmakers countered that statewide election results shed no light on the individual districts, since voters elect members of Congress in their own districts and not statewide, and that politics has always been an accepted part of the redistricting process.
“We’re in a new technical world here,” said Thomas H. Geoghegan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
He spoke during opening statements in the first of two trials this month scrutinizing the fairness of Pennsylvania’s congressional map. A similar challenge starts in state court next week. Both come as courts and communities nationwide have been wrestling with the issue of political gerrymandering, and how it can give one party an outsize influence in government.
Going through the results of several elections, Geoghegan told the panel of three federal judges in Philadelphia that votes across the state have been roughly split between Democrats and Republicans.
But since since the 2011 map went into effect, Republicans have consistently won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts.
Jason B. Torchinsky, a lawyer for House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, responded in his opening statement that elections are held in districts for individual candidates. He also argued that “political considerations are part and parcel of the redistricting process.”
The voters bringing the suit, led by Louis Agre, a Democratic Ward leader who represents most of Roxborough and Manayunk, are invoking the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which they say gives states the power to run elections and make voting-related decisions, but not to insert partisanship when they do so.
So where other suits, including a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, seek to argue that a map goes too far as a gerrymander, this one seeks to say that any degree of gerrymandering is unlawful.
“We all know the uniqueness of this particular claim,” said one of the judges on the panel, Michael J. Baylson. The judges have thrown out other, more traditional gerrymandering claims that the plaintiffs had hoped to make.
The judges heard from two witnesses Monday: Daniel McGlone, an analyst at Philadelphia-based mapping and geographic data analysis firm Azavea, and Anne Hanna, a doctoral student at Georgia Tech.
McGlone described the results of his analyses of the congressional map and election results, going through districts to show ways that they appeared to favor Republicans. Hanna ran through maps she had created using data, provided by Turzai, that was used during the redistricting process, to similarly show how they appeared to favor Republicans.
If the challenge is successful, it could force a redrawing of Pennsylvania’s map before next year’s midterm elections. In that case, a lawyer for Gov. Wolf and other state officials said, the state would work to accommodate that process, including adjusting primary dates and schedules.
More likely, the defendants would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Michael Li, a gerrymandering expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said in an interview Monday. And its resolution probably would be stayed pending the Supreme Court decision in a gerrymandering challenge brought in Wisconsin.
The lawsuit most likely to affect the Pennsylvania map before 2018, Li said, begins next week, when the state trial begins in League of Women Voters v. Pennsylvania.
One of the biggest obstacles for the plaintiffs in federal court will be that their case could invalidate many maps, Li said. Even maps drawn with politically neutral principles could happen to favor one party or another, even without intent.
“There’s not really a question to whether Pennsylvania has a good map or a bad map. It clearly has a bad map,” Li said. “The question is whether the legal theory opens the door to too many lawsuits.” Source
Nov 21, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf looks to get guns away from abusers
Gov. Tom Wolf is trying to generate support for legislation to get firearms out of the hands of those convicted of domestic violence.
Last week, the Democratic governor called for lawmakers to support a measure sponsored by state Sen. Tom Killion, a Delaware County Republican. Earlier this year, Killion introduced a bill that would require someone convicted of domestic abuse or subject to a final Protection from Abuse order to turn in firearms to authorities or a licensed gun dealer within 24 hours.
Under current law, those convicted of abuse have as much as 60 days to turn in their firearms.
Wolf said studies show mass shootings are often committed by individuals with a history of domestic violence.
“We must protect victims – spouses and children – of domestic violence and attempt to prevent domestic abusers from escalating their violence in everyday places that result in mass murder,” Wolf said in a statement.
Killion has said the measure would provide additional protection for family members of abusers. In language accompanying the bill, he said he consulted the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the state police, district attorneys and local police chiefs.
But the bill hasn’t gained traction since Killion introduced it in March. The bill has a number of co-sponsors in both parties, including state Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat.
Wolf is hoping to give it a push.
The governor also backs a number of other bills aimed to reduce domestic violence, such as: giving district judges more latitude in determining bail based on a threat to the victim; a bill to allow judges to extend the terms of a PFA or create a new one if the order is set to expire while a defendant is in jail; and a measure to allow residents of a county housing authority to request relocation if they have suffered physical or sexual abuse.
Nov 21, 2017
Don’t fall for Wagner’s ‘bullying’
State Sen. Scott Wagner’s recent claim that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is losing money really does beg the question if his “private sector business experience” translates into smart public policy.
The PLCB contributed more than $765 million last fiscal year to help fund our state services, with a record cash transfer of $217 million deposited directly into our state’s treasury. The PLCB was able to meet this request from Gov. Wolf due to the PLCB having hundreds of millions of dollars in cash reserves because of their business success year after year.
In fact, in the last five years, the PLCB has averaged almost $109 million per year in net profits, which does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars the PLCB has poured into state police enforcement, alcohol education grants and funding for drug and alcohol programs over that time period. Just last year, the PLCB posted a 5.2 percent profit margin, which some of Sen. Wagner’s corporate donors could only dream of achieving.
Yet, his unwillingness to understand the issue results in rambling letters such as the one he submitted attacking the governor.
And since obstructionists like Scott Wagner have failed to meet their constitutional requirement to fund our human services and public schools, Gov. Wolf actually made the responsible business decision of utilizing a strong state public asset like the PLCB to help with our state’s finances.
But Sen. Scott Wagner is more worried about seeing the governor fail for his own political gain rather than what is sound public policy. Why else would Sen. Wagner be on record as telling House Republican leaders to oppose a fair and reasonable tax on natural gas drillers, by stating “if that happens the governor is going to get re-elected”? The answer is easy, and it’s political, rather than what is right for our schools, our children and our fellow Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvanians shouldn’t fall for Sen. Wagner’s bullying mentality and they should reject his inaccurate claims about the governor and the PLCB. A simple review of the PLCB’s finances shows Gov. Wolf has a firm grasp on how to manage a revenue-producing asset to benefit all Pennsylvanians.
You don’t need Sen. Wagner’s “credentials” to figure that out.
Wendell W. Young is president of the Retail Clerks Union.
Nov 3, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf allows school bill to become law that alters decades-old teacher furlough law
Gov. Tom Wolf is allowing a multi-faceted education bill to become law that contains a controversial teacher furlough reform, a ban on “lunch shaming,” and provides $10 million more for tax credits for companies that donate to private school scholarship funds.
Wolf announced his decision on Friday afternoon that he will neither sign nor veto this bill and instead will let the 10-day clock run out on Monday, which automatically allows it to become law.
“Governor Wolf believes components of this bill are important: delaying the Keystone Exams, expanding opioid education in schools, curbing ‘lunch shaming’, and providing additional funding to help distressed school districts,” said his spokesman J.J. Abbott.
“Though there are components of the bill that he has concerns about, particularly Republican plans around teacher evaluation and termination, he will allow it to become law but withhold his signature. Despite those who prioritize putting pressure on public schools and making the jobs of teachers harder, Governor Wolf will continue to protect and invest in education.”
The so-called school code bill is the final piece of the 2017-18 budget package that the General Assembly sent to Wolf for enactment last week. He signed most of the other bills related to the budget but did veto the human services code mostly over a requirement it included that would force some Medicaid recipients to look for work while they’re receiving assistance.
His decision to allow the education bill to become law was cheered by Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County. Bloom had sponsored the legislation that was folded into the code bill that allows school districts to furlough teachers for economic reasons and requires those determinations as to who gets furloughed based mostly on performance ratings.
Seniority would only come into play if two teachers had the same performance rating. Reinstatement of furloughed teachers would be done in reverse order in which they were suspended.
Wolf had vetoed a similar bill last year when it was sent to him as a standalone piece of legislation. Bloom said he was pleased the governor chose not to veto the entire school code bill over his objections to that particular part of it.
“For the sake of Pennsylvania students, I’m very pleased,” Bloom said. “It’s a very positive step for making sure the best teachers remain in the classroom for our kids where they belong.”
Bloom commented that there are enough goodies in this bill that folks on all sides of the school reform debate can find something positive to say about it. And he’s right.
Even Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of PA, who disliked its inclusion of $10 million more for the private school scholarship portion of the popular Educational Improvement Tax found other parts to be appealing.
While she thinks it’s atrocious the Legislature would give money to benefit private schools when so many public schools are barely able to provide students with the educational opportunity they need to be successful, Spicka likes that it pushes back the use of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for another year until 2019-20.
She also was pleased with the measure’s inclusion of a provision that requires school districts to provide meals to students regardless of the ability to pay and prohibits them from publicly identifying, stigmatizing, or assigning work chores to students who cannot pay or owe money for school meals. Spicka said she was unconvinced the Legislature would have passed that if it was a standalone bill.
Further, she said,”Language in the school code ensures that $63.5 million in reimbursements for students with high cost disabilities will be made to school districts. Without the school code, school districts could have been left high and dry and may have had to make up for this lost funding either through cuts or higher property taxes.”
So overall, she said despite her misgivings about it, “not allowing it to become law would have been worse.” Source
Nov 2, 2017
Pennsylvania becomes 27th state to make FirstNet ‘opt-in’ announcement
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announces that he has accepted the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) deployment plan offered by FirstNet and AT&T on behalf of his state, making Pennsylvania the 27th state—not including two territories—to “opt-in” to the FirstNet system.
“When an emergency strikes, Pennsylvania first responders are called upon to handle the situation and support the community,” Wolf said in a prepared statement. “As we have learned from recent events in many parts of the country, a vital component needed for coordinating a response is the ability for all responders on the scene to share information as events unfold.”
Under the law that established FirstNet, governors in all 56 states and territories have the choice of making an “opt-in” decision—accepting the FirstNet deployment plan and allowing AT&T to build the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders at no cost to the state—or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to be responsible for building and maintaining the RAN for the next 25 years.
Wolf made his announcement exactly two weeks after the Pennsylvania legislature conducted a high-profile hearing about FirstNet. Much of the discussion during the hearing focused on potential risks and financial responsibilities that Pennsylvania would assume, if the state were to “opt-out” of FirstNet. Key points noted during the hearing included ongoing payments to access the spectrum licensed to FirstNet and a possible fee that would be charged to the state, if its “opt-out” initiative proved to be unsuccessful.
In contrast, Diane Stackhouse, director of the Pennsylvania State Police’s Bureau of Communications and Information Services and the state’s FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC), testified during the hearing that an “opt-in” decision represents a “low-risk option” for the state.
Today, Stackhouse highlighted some of the new capabilities that first responders will have as a result of access to broadband services from FirstNet.
“The ability to share real-time images and video of the scene as well as the locations of first responders and locally relevant information improves communication and outcomes,” Stackhouse said in a prepared statement. “FirstNet will carry high-speed data, location information, images, and eventually streaming video that can mean the difference between life and death in emergency situations.”
With Wolf’s announcement, Pennsylvania becomes the fifth state to announce an “opt-in” decision after issuing a request for proposals (RFP) seeking bids from vendors willing to deploy and maintain an alternative RAN. Previously, the states of Michigan, Arizona, Alabama and Oklahoma issued RFPs but later saw their governors announce “opt-in” decisions.
“Governor Wolf’s decision will deliver innovation and interoperability to first responders in the Keystone State, helping them serve and protect their communities,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth. “We are pleased to have delivered the network plan that best meets Pennsylvania’s needs and look forward to connecting public safety throughout the commonwealth.”
FirstNet released its initial state plans on June 19 and made them actionable, so governors would have the opportunity to “opt-in” to FirstNet prior to the final state plans being released on Sept. 29. Governors in 53 states and territories that received initial state plans on June 19—the exceptions being the Pacific territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Island, which will have a separate timetable—are required to make their “opt-in/opt-out” decisions by Dec. 28. Source
Nov 2, 2017
Local legislators react to Wolf signing state spending plan
The Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg breathed a collective sigh of relief after Gov. Tom Wolf signed the long-stalled spending plan to balance the state’s $32 billion budget.
Although he signed the package, which contains massive borrowing, and a large gambling expansion component to cover Pennsylvania’s $2.3 billion budget deficit, Wolf still expressed his displeasure with lawmakers who dragged out the process for nearly four months.
“I’m sick and tired of special-interest politicians, self-interest, political games trumping the public interest here in Harrisburg,” Wolf said.
State Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-185), the chairwoman of the Philadelphia County delegation, said the budget process had been grueling, but members are relieved to be able to get back to work on other matters still pressing in the legislature.
“This has been a long, hard-fought process over the last few months. My colleagues and I from the Philadelphia delegation have worked tirelessly to make sure that the budget the governor signed is best for all Philadelphians,” Donatucci said.
“This includes providing the much-needed fix to the Actual Value Initiative for the School District of Philadelphia, ensuring funding for our state-related universities, and providing a real solution for the issue of problem stop and go establishments all while protecting our hard-working neighbors by preventing the hotel tax and the storage facility tax,” she said.
State Rep. Donna Bullock (D-195) said while the budget is finally complete, attention must now be focused on the passage of a severance tax.
“Wealthy corporations must no longer be allowed to take Pennsylvania’s fleeting natural resources without paying their fair share,” Bullock said.
“I support the governor’s commitment to see this through and the reality is that this isn’t a Democratic issue,” she said.
“A severance tax can do more than balance the budget in future years, it can address the structural budget deficit or help create a rainy-day fund. This tax is supported by both parties and must be implemented by the time our next budget is due,” Bullock added.
Funding for the budget will include $1.5 billion from the state’s tobacco fund, money that stems from a 20-year-old settlement with states from tobacco companies that help to cover medical costs complicit with smoking and the use of tobacco.
It also includes adding online gambling, slot machines at truck stops and airports, and it paves the way for casinos to build satellite locations; all of which will bring in an estimated $200 million in licensing and tax revenue.
Part of the spending bill also legalizes and taxes consumer fireworks like Roman candles and small firecrackers.
It places a 12-percent tax on the purchase price of fireworks and still allows for taxing at the local level. Lawmakers have earmarked 75 percent of those tax dollars for emergency medical services grants and 25 percent for programs to train volunteer firefighters.
The budget package also includes some tax code changes that lawmakers said will generate another $100 million during the fiscal year.
“I supported our state budget package because we have an obligation to get a fair and equitable budget done in a timely fashion. It was important that we avoid the budget impasse that occurred two years ago,” said State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-201).
“Senior centers, countless human services, and even our school district were impacted. It put residents through serious hardship and I could not let that happen,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey joined others in the Philadelphia delegation who said lawmakers must now work towards building smart policies.
“We must work toward smart policies like a fair extraction tax, ensuring a fair, livable wage, and growing our economy with more jobs that create greater revenues for our state,” he said. Read more
Nov 1, 2017
You Could Soon Gamble at Philadelphia International Airport
And online and at truck stops, per a budget bill signed by Gov. Tom Wolf this week.
You’ve probably heard by now that Gov. Tom Wolf signed several pieces of legislation on Monday aimed at funding the state’s $32 billion spending plan.
The bills follow months of legislative chaos and debate over how to solve the state’s infamous budget stalemate.
The answer lawmakers and Wolf agreed on? Gambling.
According to the American Gaming Association, Pennsylvania’s commercial casinos generate more tax revenue than those in any other state. In 2015, commercial casinos contributed more than $1.37 billion in taxes.
Wolf has approved a bill that will expand gambling beyond Pennsylvania’s casinos to airports, truck stops and the internet.
With the legislation, Pennsylvania becomes the fourth state to allow online gambling – New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware are the others – and the first state to allow both existing casinos and the state lottery to move online.
The bill will also allow casinos to establish “gaming areas” — which include mostly videogame-style gambling — at eight airports, including the Philadelphia International Airport.
In addition, ten of the state’s casinos will be able to bid on a satellite casino license, which would allow them to open a facility housing up 750 slot machines and 30 table games. And some truck stops will be able to run a maximum of five “video gaming terminals,” which will resemble slot machines.
State legislators aim to generate about $200 million annually from the bill, according to CBS.
Oct 30, 2017
Wolf signs some budget bills, slams GOP majority
HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday signed most of the bills needed to bring the state’s $32 billion budget into balance, authorizing an expansion of casino gambling and a borrowing plan pushed by lawmakers.
And he took one more opportunity to complain about the politics of the Republican legislative majority that he blames for months of budget chaos and a credit downgrade.
“I’m sick and tired of special interest politicians, self-interest, political games trumping the public interest here in Harrisburg,” the Democratic governor said in a speech at the monthly press club luncheon in Harrisburg.
It sounded like an early campaign speech. Mr. Wolf is up for re-election next year, and one of the candidates who hopes to challenge him, Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, was in the crowd.
Still, even after the governor’s speech and an impromptu press conference, many questions remain unanswered.
Near the top of the list is, how much will the state be looking to borrow? Mr. Wolf earlier this month unveiled a plan to borrow $1.25 billion and repay it using revenue from the state’s liquor control board. He did that when the Legislature was dragging its heels on a revenue package, before it passed a plan to borrow $1.5 billion against proceeds of the state’s landmark settlement with tobacco companies.
Mr. Wolf on Monday signed the tobacco-fund loan plan. Asked whether he will continue to pursue his idea of borrowing against liquor money, he first said “yes,” then later said he misspoke. At the end of the day, it was clear only that he will provide more clarity after the Commonwealth Financing Authority decides whether to approve the plan involving the tobacco money.
One of the bills Mr. Wolf signed Monday also required him to take $300 million out of dedicated funds for projects ranging from transportation to environmental clean-up. He did not specify which funds he might tap. “If I do that,” he said, he would “take a look at that to make sure it’s not actually damaging programs.”
Mr. Wolf suggested he may veto one bill remaining on his desk — the education code, which authorizes spending to the state’s public schools.
“There are a couple of things I’m not real comfortable with,” he said, though he didn’t note exactly which provisions troubled him.
He added later: “I’d like to, I think, go back to the drawing board.”
A few lines tucked into the education bill would allow school districts, when laying off teachers for economic reasons, to do so on the basis of performance evaluations rather than seniority. That measure is deeply opposed by school unions in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the provision would be damaging.
“It’s really opening the door to a selective and abusive employer practice,” said Mr. Jordan, whose support was crucial to Mr. Wolf’s gubernatorial win. “It’s subjective and arbitrary.”
The union objects to the evaluation system generally; under it, Mr. Jordan said, teachers who were judged exemplary by their principals can end up with “needs improvement” ratings overall because they work in struggling schools. Such teachers could, in theory, be laid off, he said.
The teachers’ union in Pittsburgh expressed similar concerns. Its president, Nina Esposito-Visgitis, said in a statement that the layoff provision was “horrifying” and urged the governor to veto the bill.
In addition to outlining the formula to calculate spending for districts, the education-code bill also includes language that requires training for newly elected school board members and charter school trustees; a provision delaying a rule that high school students must pass standardized tests to graduate; and language that prohibits “lunch shaming,” meaning districts must provide students with food even if the students owe money. Source
Oct 28, 2017
Budget Bills Are Ugly But Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Has Little Choice But to Sign
Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives had passed an aggressive, bipartisan gambling expansion bill an hour earlier when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s top budget adviser walked by the chamber’s Democratic leader in the Capitol’s ornate Rotunda. “Thank you,” he told Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.
It was perhaps the most polite thing said about Pennsylvania’s ugly budget process and a Frankenstein-like assortment now sitting on Wolf’s desk: The gambling bill, a $140 million tax package and $1.5 billion borrowing measure to bail out the state’s finances.
There were no celebratory press conferences for the borrowing and gambling, no flood of credit-taking and no visible elation.
Despite their distaste for it, lawmakers say it puts the state on sound financial footing for the foreseeable future after fighting persistent deficits since the recession. This year’s projected deficit was particularly acute: $2.2 billion, driven largely by Pennsylvania’s biggest post-recession shortfall.
It props up a $32 billion bipartisan spending package, and could ease whatever fiscal challenges emerge ahead of next year’s election when voters decide on Wolf’s re-election bid, plus contests for most legislative seats.
Wolf hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the bills, hundreds of pages of legislation that flew through the Legislature this past week after months of stalemate pitting Wolf, Senate Republican leaders and Democratic lawmakers against the House Republican majority’s huge conservative bloc. Read more
Oct 27, 2017
A dozen ways Pa.’s 2017-18 state budget may impact your life
With all the pieces of the 2017-18 state budget now through the General Assembly and awaiting action by Gov. Tom Wolf, it’s a good time to look back at this $32 billion spending and revenue package as a whole and see how it could change life in Pennsylvania.
The following points out 12 ways that state residents would notice the impact of this budget as they go about their lives, Read more
Oct 25, 2017
More borrowing, more gambling: How they’re breaking budget impasse in Harrisburg
HARRISBURG — More borrowing, more casinos, and a few more taxes.
That is the solution the Republican-controlled legislature has devised to balance Pennsylvania’s budget and break a stubborn stalemate that has hurt the state’s financial standing and tested political alliances.
Lawmakers in both chambers worked late into the night Wednesday to approve key pieces of a long-overdue revenue package to fund the state’s $32 billion spending plan and close a more than $2 billion deficit.
The overall deal relies heavily on borrowing and siphoning money from various state funds reserved for special programs.
It also includes a still-to-be-approved plan for a major expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania, including legalizing online gambling, authorizing 10 new “mini-casinos” around the state, and permitting so-called video-gaming terminals at truck stops. Late Wednesday, the Senate had passed the gambling bill and the House had started debating it, with most of the discussion centered on whether to postpone a vote on the matter so members could have more time to read the 939-page bill.
The debate was expected to continue Thursday morning.
Gov. Wolf has not endorsed the revenue deal and late Wednesday would say only that he would review it.
But Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) signaled optimism earlier Wednesday evening: “This should bring closure to the budget.”
Wolf has said he would be willing to sign off on up to $1.5 billion in borrowing as long as the legislature approved plans to raise significant new revenue for the cash-strapped state.
But aside from the gambling expansion, the revenue deal does not include any big-ticket money-generating taxes. Instead, legislators propose taxing the sale of fireworks and applying the state’s 6 percent sales tax to more goods sold on online marketplaces.
What it doesn’t include: a new tax on natural gas extraction that Wolf has pushed hard for and that the Senate approved earlier this year. GOP leaders in the House have refused to even allow a floor debate on it. Read more
Oct 21, 2017
Pennsylvania’s budget fight will come with its own price tag
Pennsylvania state government’s projected $2.2 billion deficit, and a protracted fight over how to fix it, will come with its own special price tag.
The final cost is a moving target, and whether or how the fight will end remains unclear, now nearly four months into the state’s fiscal year.
But the state stands to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years, considering the prospect of long-term borrowing to finance the deficit, compounded by a credit downgrade last month.
“That’s almost undeniable when you’ve got the downgrade and the borrowing,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat who is the state’s independently elected fiscal watchdog. “And regardless of the merits of any of the proposals, there’s extra costs that wouldn’t exist if you had a balanced budget passed.” Read more
Oct 15, 2017
The Seattle News
Pennsylvania explores new territory in budget fight
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s deficit-riddled finances are in new territory, as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf assembles a package to balance the state’s budget without involvement from a Republican-controlled Legislature riven by ideological and provincial disputes.
Three-and-a-half months into the state’s fiscal year, Wolf has bypassed a Legislature that hasn’t sorted out a way to finance a nearly $32 billion budget bill it passed June 30. Instead, he is working on a $2.2 billion budget-balancing strategy that relies heavily on borrowing to get the state through the year. Read more
Oct 14, 2017
New Castle News
Lawmakers skeptical of Wolf’s budget bailout
HARRISBURG — The Liquor Control Board has taken the first steps to borrow $1.25 billion to help balance the state budget, but many lawmakers remain unconvinced of the strategy.
After the state House failed to pass a series of potential fixes to the budget, Gov. Tom Wolf, in frustration, abruptly announced Oct. 4 that he will pay the bills by borrowing against future liquor sales.
Under this plan, Wolf estimated that at 4 percent interest, it would cost the state around $85 million a year in debt payments over the next two decades to borrow the funds necessary to balance the budget.
The Liquor Control Board said its annual payment to the state has topped $200 million every year in the last decade.
The Liquor Control Board on Wednesday announced that it was having legal staff review how to proceed.
“We understand the urgency driving this issue for the Governor’s Budget Office, and we are working as quickly as possible to contract with legal and financial advisors well-versed in this kind of transaction,” said LCB board member Michael Newsome in a statement.
But the plan comes as the system absorbs dramatic changes to the state’s liquor law, with an increasing number of grocery and convenience stores now able to sell wine, as well as beer. The wine sales set them up in direct competition with the state-run liquor stores. In 2015-16 before the state Legislature loosened the rules on where wine can be sold, wine accounted for about 36 percent of the sales at the state stores, LCB data shows.
Last year, locations with wine-expanded permits, including grocery and convenience stores, accounted for about 5 percent of wine sales, said Elizabeth Brassell, an LCB spokeswoman.
“It’s unfortunate we need to look at borrowing” to balance the budget, said state Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer County.
The move to borrow against the proceeds of liquor sales will also create a long-term handicap to any future move to further privatize the system, Nesbit said.
Wolf said the bond could be “callable,” meaning the state could pay off the debt early, if there was a reason to do so. But the cost of paying off the debt could make it “impractical” to move away from having the state running the wine and spirit stores, Nesbit said.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Thursday said Wolf’s plan “has some merit,” though he added that “I’d be stunned” if someone doesn’t file a lawsuit trying to stop the proposal.
DePasquale added that he has no specific information that a lawsuit is planned, but suggested that the controversial nature of the proposal suggested it was ripe for a legal challenge.
DePasquale said he’s much more certain of the merit of the governor’s plan, announced Monday, to lease the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg to a private operator. Under the plan, the state would get $200 million in an up-front payment, while maintaining control of the facility, which is home to the Farm Show and a variety of other events throughout the year.
DePasquale said he can find no evidence that his office needs to approve either plan and said as the negotiations over how to balance the budget have dragged on, there are few good solutions left.
“I can’t stress enough, this isn’t an ideal situation,” he said.
State Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder County, said that he objects to the fact that the borrowing is being used to pay off a debt.
“If we were getting a tangible asset, I could make an argument for it,” he said. “But after 20 years what are we going to have? Nothing.”
Keller said he hopes the state House moves to get the governor and Senate to pass legislation that would tap money House lawmakers say is sitting unused in reserve funds, while borrowing against the state’s tobacco settlement payments.
The tobacco settlement money goes toward health programs, including payments to hospitals to cover their costs of providing care to people who can’t pay.
Keller said that the Legislature would have to figure out how to replace that funding, but it wouldn’t involve forcing one government agency, like the Liquor Control Board, to absorb the full burden of debt. Source
Oct 11, 2017
The Morning Call
Gov. Wolf touts administrative savings as budget stalemate raises specter of state tuition hikes
Gov. Tom Wolf praised state workers Wednesday for saving taxpayers $217 million by devising and using new technology, energy efficiency and more favorable contracts with vendors.
But Wolf might want to ask staff to triple their savings output if the state is going to make its traditional payments to four semi-public universities and forestall threatened tuition hikes on scores of in-state students and cuts to community-based programs.
A total of $650 million in state funding to Temple, Pittsburgh, Penn State and Lincoln universities has been stalled as part of the nearly four-month-old budget fight the governor and Senate have had with the House. The Senate passed the universities’ funding bill in June. The House has not acted on it and there is no guarantee it will. Not funding the universities helps balance the state’s deficit-ridden, unfinished budget of nearly $32 billion.
At a Capitol news conference, Wolf said the savings staff found as part of his “Go Time” plan already are baked into the budget — it is not money that can be used to reduce the state’s $2.2 billion deficit. But, he said, the ongoing effort will help him manage the state’s finances because the Legislature failed to pass bills to pay for the budget.
“The Go Time savings is streamlining government as it works,” Wolf said. “That is separate from what I am talking about in budgeting in managing … the hole.” Read more
Oct 9, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf did what he had to do on state budget
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that he is tired of waiting for Republican lawmakers to produce a plan to wipe out a projected $2.2 billion deficit and will look to borrow $1.2 billion against profits from the state-controlled liquor system to help patch it, The Associated Press reported. The state Legislature has failed to produce a spending plan to pay for the new $32 billion budget passed in June. Wolf said his moves will be immediate.
By his own admission, Gov. Wolf is not a patient man. He is, after all, a businessman, unaccustomed to having to machete his way through a bureaucratic jungle to accomplish what should be routine tasks.
In state government, there should be nothing more basic than coming up with a plan to pay for the budget you’ve already passed.
So, we’d say Wolf was justified when he finally blew his cork.
“Too many Republicans in the Legislature are more focused on the 2018 elections than on helping Pennsylvania succeed,” Wolf said at a press conference last week. “They’d rather see me fail than Pennsylvania succeed. They’d rather protect special interests, they’d rather protect lobbyists and campaign donors than do the right thing. I’m not going to play their games anymore, so I’m drawing a line in the sand.”
Before you dismiss Wolf’s tirade as partisan posturing — for him, this qualifies as bona fide brimstone — consider what he told us during a conference call Thursday.
Wolf said that before his press conference Wednesday he met with Republican leaders in the Senate and told them what he was going to do. Wolf said they “had a few questions” but their reaction was not, “Why are you doing this?”
In other words, they went along with it, without resistance, because even they realized something had to give. Wolf said the Senate leaders seemed to share his frustration about the House’s inability to get its act together and, in fact, seemed relieved at the prospect of finally moving forward.
The GOP Senate had voted down the House budget 43-7, a budget that called for the transfer of funds from environmental and other programs to help fill the deficit. Republicans were divided and nothing was happening.
House Republicans were not able to come to an agreement on imposing a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production, applying the sales tax on commercial warehousing and nearly doubling the state hotel tax rate.
The House and Senate adjourned Wednesday without plans to return before Oct. 16, and Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board members said in a statement they had not discussed a proposal to borrow money but would cooperate with the governor’s office to explore it, AP reported.
Wolf said he feels like he is on firm ground.
“I think the Senate was patient for three months. It was liberating to do what I did (Wednesday),” Wolf said.
Regardless of your political leanings, or whether you think the governor was right, we can agree that a stalemate was helping no one. Pennsylvania’s credit rating had already taken a hit. Payments to schools and insurers were delayed. There was no perfect solution, so Wolf did what he thought was right.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said Wolf is covering for Democrats’ “inability to get anything done,” while House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said Wolf is refusing to lead and only capable of blaming others, AP reported.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have shown much of an ability or willingness to work together on much of anything, though it should be noted that Wolf and the Democrats did work with Republicans to pass the Senate version of a budget plan in the summer.
Something else on which we can agree is that this is no way to do business. And it’s a far cry from the budding spirit of cooperation we saw — or at least wanted to see — back in February when Wolf announced his budget. At the time, we wrote, “The scolding tone of his second budget address gave way to the language of conciliation and unity.”
So much for that.
So much for compromise, cooperation and partnership, which now seem like distant memories in a foreign land.
It took eight months, but we’ve now officially returned to discord, rancor and deadlock.
At least we recognize the neighborhood. Source
Oct 4, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf, angry about budget deadlocks, will turn to liquor stores to close deficit
Gov. Tom Wolf threatened unilateral action to help close the state’s budget deficit Wednesday, as another negotiated settlement with legislative Republicans faltered in the face of statewide opposition.
“This is not the way government is supposed to work. But I have to make sure that Pennsylvanians are not hurt, so I’m going to have to act to protect the investments that we all made earlier this year,” a visibly angry Wolf said in a mid-afternoon press conference at the Capitol.
Wolf said he would first seek to raise $1.2 billion in cash by borrowing against future anticipated payments from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the operators of the state’s liquor monopoly.
That, the governor said, would be used to pay off a lingering deficit from the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Looking to the current fiscal year, the governor said he would use his executive powers to “manage” state government and the $32.0 billion budget that funds it as best he can, in tandem with the revenues that are already coming in.
That left the door open to some spending freezes and personnel moves.
But Wolf stressed he would do everything he can to ensure that core services like aid to schools, public safety functions and funding that supports vital human services like drug and alcohol treatment are uninterrupted.
The unilateral actions were triggered by a persistent failure between the Democratic governor and the Republican-dominated state legislature to reach agreement on a plan to close a $2.2 billion gap between state spending and expenses.
All sides agreed to a $32.0 billion spending plan in late June; they have been stalemated ever since in their quest to raise $2.2 billion to pay for it.
Wednesday’s extraordinary moves are not a fait accompli.
Wolf’s Budget Secretary Randy Albright said that the PLCB borrowing would likely take about two months to close.
That leaves a window for the budget talks between Wolf’s administration and the Republican-controlled legislature to resume, and Wolf himself said he would still prefer to complete an agreed-to package.
But after several false starts – including the apparent implosion of a proposed 5 percent statewide tax on hotel rooms earlier Wednesday – an angry Wolf said he had to take action on his own.
“I’ve had enough of the games,” Wolf said, directing special anger at the 121-member House Republican caucus, whose strong anti-tax fervor has blocked several proposed tax increases Wolf believes are needed to eliminate a recurring gap between state spending and revenues.
“So I’m going to manage the finances of the Commonwealth until the House sees fit to do what it’s supposed to do.
“There will be some things that are going to be harder to do in the absence of that recurring revenue. I can’t tell you exactly what those things are,” Wolf continued.
“But the basic things that we committed ourselves to in June – protecting education at all levels, protecting seniors… doing what we need to to keep Pennsylvania in the forefront of fighting the opioid epidemic – I’m going to continue to do everything in my power to address those issues.”
It seemed that the most likely immediate step would be a needed cooling-off period between all parties.
House leaders, after a fiery session that included rejection of a move to force debate on a natural gas severance tax, engaged in a round of finger-pointing, with Republicans and Democrats blaming each other for failing to provide enough support for the hotel tax bill.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County, blamed the Republican majority for failing to rally around tax proposals that they had insisted on as alternatives to a shale tax.
“Here we are today with the governor having to manage our problem because the House Republicans won’t be responsible, and won’t work with others to solve the problem,” Dermody said.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, countered that Republicans have given full support to several non-tax revenue proposals centered on gambling expansion and liquor reforms.
It had always been understood, he said, that Democrats would have to provide a majority of the votes for any tax increase, and they failed.
Reed later gave voice to the rising exasperation in a stalemate that has already cost the state government a credit downgrade and caused a temporary delay in some bill payments.
“This doesn’t sound like a governor who actually wants to get a budget done, but look, if he wants to securitize the revenues from the LCB, so be it,” Reed said. “It beats tax increases. so we’ll accept it.”
Albright said Wolf will be able to complete the liquor borrowing with the Liquor Control Board’s approval.
LCB members Tim Holden, Mike Negra and Michael Newsome pledged their cooperation with the governor Wednesday afternoon, releasing a joint statement that said in part:
“Although we have yet to discuss the proposal as a board or begin to delve into details of a potential arrangement, we pledge to work collaboratively with the governor’s budget office to explore a revenue-backed contract to deliver significant immediate revenue while capitalizing on the PLCB’s long-term profitability.”
While exact terms need to be negotiated, Albright said one model shows an annual extra cost of about $85 million that would be swept off the future proceeds from the liquor system.
Those payments would not take effect until the 2019-20 fiscal year, but would create that added cost to the Commonwealth from that point on.
Intentional or not, Wolf’s plan is also a possible finger in the eye to House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, and the de facto leader of the House’s tax resistance movement.
Turzai is a passionate crusader for privatization of the state store system; this securitization could as a practical matter, foil any further privatization efforts for years to come.
If it comes to that.
Wolf stressed Wednesday that despite his instant irritation, he is still open to a negotiated solution. If one is reached, passes the General Assembly, and reaches his desk, he said he can call off his emergency plan.
“If at any point in time they (the House) come up with a budget that passes muster with the Senate and that I can sign on to, yeah, I will move to that because that’s going to give me the revenues that I need to make sure that all these things are protected.
“In the absence of that, I’m going to do the best I can.”
Sept 29, 2017
Pennsylvania’s gas drilling severance tax budget idea enters governor’s race
Politics has always been lurking in the shadows of Pennsylvania’s long, drawn-out budget fight and ever-present deficit. So it was just a matter of time before budgetary politics came into the light being cast by the looming 2018 election for governor.
It happened this month, when Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, told a gathering of York County residents that he urged Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, to fight a gas drilling tax proposal because it could help Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf win a second term. Saylor is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which is a key cog in the budget talks.
Wagner’s Sept. 14 comments were recorded by a state Democratic Party tracker who tails him on the campaign trail. Here’s part of what the audio picked up: “I went to school with Stan Saylor,” Wagner said. “And I told Stan at a meeting three weeks ago, he was sitting like fifteen feet away from me, I said ‘Stan you cannot let this severance tax get through … because if that happens the governor is going to get reelected. Stan, you take that to the bank.’”
A severance tax was one of the 2013 campaign promises Wolf made on his way to defeating an unpopular incumbent, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Every year since being in office, Wolf has proposed a severance tax on natural gas drillers who already pay an impact fee on wells. Every year, the Republican-controlled Legislature has rebuffed him. But this year, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that included higher sales taxes on utility bills and a severance tax that also carried regulatory changes for business. Wagner voted against the bills and the GOP-controlled House rejected them, too. Budget talks are ongoing.
Wagner’s campaign manager Jason High dismissed the recording as nothing more than “campaign talk.” Wagner has opposed a severance tax in Senate floor policy speeches that have nothing to do with politics. “He’s been pretty vocal about that for a long time,” High said of Wagner’s objection to the tax.
Through a spokesman Saylor declined comment on the specifics of his conversation with Wagner.
“The chairman doesn’t allow political conversations to affect his views and votes on policy items,” said Saylor spokesman John O’Brien. “Stan has a long record of opposing a severance tax. It’s nothing new.”
Democratic Party spokeswoman Beth Melena doesn’t see Wagner’s shale comments as campaign politics as usual. She sees a conspiracy.
“Republicans in the Legislature conspiring with their gubernatorial candidate to block a shale tax for electoral gain is Harrisburg at its very worst,” Melena said.
Wagner has his supporters and detractors in the Legislature. As the owner of a York County trash and recycling company, Wagner has donated personal money to Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate and also raised money for them as the head of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. At the same time, he has accused Republican and Democratic lawmakers of being corrupt politicians who are hurting the state.
Wagner’s Republican opponent in the May 2018 primary is Paul Mango, a western Pennsylvania businessman. Wolf is unopposed on the Democratic side. Source
Sept 23, 2017
Governor talks about state budget during stop at Mansfield school
MANSFIELD — Gov. Tom Wolf spoke about the budget stalemate during a visit with elementary students in the Southern Tioga School District in Mansfield on Thursday.
In his visit of the area, Wolf toured Warren L. Miller Elementary School as part of a tour across the northern tier.
As for the budget, the governor gave a latest update on the stalemate while meeting in the library of the school.
“The Senate yesterday passed nonconcurrence with the House closing, so that means they’re both going to get together and work out whatever differences they have,” Wolf said. “I think we’re moving toward an agreement.”
He said he was not sure what the biggest issue was.
“The House Republicans didn’t seem to like it,” he said. “There was some disagreement there, and I think there was some concern in making sure we pay for the budget that everybody agreed to.”
He said it was important not to be too taxing to the state citizens.
“Unfortunately, what happened was by taking so long to come to the conclusion, we got a credit downgrade, which means the interest we pay on debt, school districts like this, municipalities, counties, the state … all going to pay higher interest rate,” Wolf said. “Over time, that’s going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The delayed cost is tax increase.”
He said that it involves loans.
“Everybody has to borrow money, to do improvement to a school or something … if they ever have to borrow money, it’s just like personal. If your score goes down, you have to pay a higher interest rate,”he said. “That’s the same way with all these public agencies.”
As far as a resolution, Wolf said that there needs to be more attention to key issues.
“We ought to be paying attention to a lot of things. Education is key among those things,” he said. “I laid out my budget on time back in February … (I laid out) what I thought we ought to do, we ought to focus on our education, focus on our seniors, … focus on jobs, creating jobs and the opioid epidemic.”
He said it’s about finding a balance.
“I understand government can’t do too much, should not be intrusive, but it cannot do too little, either. People need things like schools,” he said. “So, the key is to figure out what that balance is. That’s what I support.”
Agreement on a budget would make things easier, according to Wolf.
“I think I’m paying attention to it, and I think most of the people in Harrisburg are paying attention …” he said. “I will manage as I have to, to make sure that we do everything we can to continue to pay attention to those things, but it would be a lot easier if we had an agreement on a budget.”
He said that there are consequences to irresponsible behaviors.
“There’s all kinds of room for debate and disagreement … but you can’t do irresponsible things,” he said.
He said he’s hoping for an agreed-on budget.
“I can manage with the assumption that we’re going to get to a budget up to Oct. 1,” he said.
As of now, he’s working under the assumption that an agreement will happen by then, and he is “hopeful and optimistic” that it will happen.
“Whatever it is, I’m going to manage the situation,” he said. “I will do the best I can to address the priorities that I think all Pennsylvanians have. Education, protecting education … protecting the options for seniors, protecting our job creation record … and finally, … to combat the opioid epidemic.”
Sam Rotella, Southern Tioga School District superintendent, said that the governor met with students in four classrooms and visited around the school.
“I think it’s humbling, and I think it’s inspiring,” Rotella said. “I think it’s an amazing opportunity not only for Southern Tioga School District and specifically this elementary school … but for our region.”
He said it was great to have the governor meet with the students and speak with them about what they were doing in class.
“There are a lot of amazing things happening, a lot of quality education happening, and it’s an opportunity to be exposed,” Rotella said.
Rotella said the students had a great time meeting with the governor.
“Some of them were in awe, and some of them are so innocent that it’s just another person visiting them,” Rotella said. “It was pretty neat.”
He said that the elementary students got a chance to feel special.
“We try to do a lot of the same things in our district, and for an elementary school, it shows us the that it is the foundational piece to education,” he said. “Kids make a lot of social, emotional decisions in this grade level, and they’re also inspired in elementary school. I think giving credence to elementary education is so important.”
The governor also visited Rynone Manufacturing, Sayre, for a discussion with Bradford County business leaders; Cole Memorial Hospital, Coudersport; and Embassy Powdered Metals, Emporium.
Wolf said he was also stopping to have lunch in Wellsboro on Thursday and was looking forward to seeing that area as well. Source
Sept 11, 2017
The Unionville Times
Wolf visits Coatesville redevelopment projects
COATESVILLE – Gov. Tom Wolf paid a surprise visit to the city Friday afternoon to observe the revitalization efforts and tour the project sites that are now underway.
Wolf addressed the small crowd that had gathered at Fuel City Café in anticipation of his arrival, which also included State Rep. Harry Lewis (R-74), praising the revitalization project that is underway.
“It’s really good to be here…to see what’s going on.” Wolf said.
Wolf mentioned he often took the train through Coatesville on his way to and from Philadelphia and that he is looking forward to the improvements. He also praised the city for its efforts to make the neighborhoods good and safe for everyone, which, according to Wolf, is something every community should be doing. Read more
Sept 7, 2017
The Daily Item
Today’s Editorial: Governor issues freeze warning
Gov. Tom Wolf said this week that state lawmakers will have just a few days to pass a revenue package to balance the state’s $32 billion budget before the state will begin to “get hurt” by the financial crisis.
During an interview in Pittsburgh, Wolf said he will have to start freezing some spending by Sept. 15 to prevent the state’s main bank account from dipping into red ink. Freezing spending could affect roads, schools, emergency response systems and volunteer fire companies, the governor warned.
Meanwhile, a group of rank-and-file House Republicans presented a plan to fill the state’s $2.2 billion projected deficit by diverting cash from off-budget programs.
Their plan leans heavily on siphoning money from a public transportation system fund and programs aimed at environmental cleanups and improvements. House Republican supporters insisted the money could be diverted from surpluses without affecting the programs, but the Wolf administration disputes that.
The Republican efforts to comb through budgetary accounts in search of dormant funds are noble, but mistimed.
State lawmakers have about four months from the time the governor presents a budget proposal in February until the June 30 deadline for adopting a new state budget. That would seem to be the appropriate time to identify and debate spending allocations. Doing so on the brink of a financial crisis resulting from indecision and inaction is not.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, questioned the legality of “raiding” accounts that, he said, are restricted by law. The Wolf administration also questioned the plan’s reliance on $400 million in unused program cash leftover from last year while the House GOP plan raised the prospect that it would include nearly $200 million in cuts to spending already approved, some of it for hospitals, public health programs and job training.
Wolf supports the state Senate’s revenue package, which relies on a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production and prospective licensing fees by authorizing another expansion of casino gambling across Pennsylvania.
No votes are scheduled for this week, and the Republican-controlled House is scheduled to return to Harrisburg on Monday for the first time since July 22.
It is well past time for state House members to finish their primary duty — sewing up the state budget before anyone else gets hurt. Source
Sept 7, 2017
Gov. Wolf: House GOP’s Budget-Balancing Plan Is ‘Nonsense’
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf says a plan assembled by a group of House Republicans to balance Pennsylvania’s budget is “nonsense” and urged House members to approve a $2.2 billion bipartisan plan that passed the state Senate in July.
Wolf said Wednesday the House GOP plan would divert aid from other programs, such as volunteer fire companies, highways and county emergency response agencies.
Wolf also repeated an earlier warning that he’ll have to start freezing some spending on Sept. 15 to prevent the state’s main bank account from going below zero.
The House returns to session next week and a vote on the GOP plan is expected after that. The plan’s supporters insist the money can be diverted without affecting programs. It would avoid raising taxes on utility bills or borrowing, key elements of the Senate’s plan. Source
Sept 7, 2017
Central Penn Business Journal
Wolf: Don’t let feds target medical marijuana
Governor backs amendment preventing DOJ action
Gov. Tom Wolf has raised concerns about the future of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program as Congress fights over funding U.S. Justice Department efforts to thwart such initiatives.
Republican congressional leaders on Wednesday appeared headed to block a vote by the full House on an amendment denying the Justice Department funding to crack down on the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use despite federal laws outlawing the drug.
Wolf urged lawmakers to support the amendment by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), that would prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states from implementing medical marijuana laws.
It was not immediately clear how federal opposition might affect Pennsylvania’s program — or how quickly — and a Wolf spokesman could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.
There are those, meanwhile, who feel legalization in Pennsylvania should go even further.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been advocating for legalization of recreational marijuana, a step he believes could raise $200 million for the cash-strapped state. Read more
Sept 2, 2017
The Titusville Herald
House GOP to announce its own revenue plan
On Tuesday, 17 members of the Pennsylvania House GOP will announce a new revenue plan for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which was due June 30, along with spending plan already on the books.
The plan, presented as an alternative to the one already passed by the Senate in July, proposes to pull money away from as-of-yet unspecified agencies, funds, and other accounts and transfer them to the General Fund to meet the spending plan that was allowed to become law without Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature.
According to state Rep. Brad Roae (R-6), this money will be from surpluses and excesses, and will not impact the agencies from which they are pulled.
“There’s a couple hundred funds other than the General Fund, and there’s about $11 billion in those funds, so we’re looking to transfer some of those funds into the General Fund, rather than do a tax increase,” Roae told The Herald.
The Senate’s revenue plan, which was sent to the House but faces significant opposition, would raise the needed $2 billion in missing funds by raising taxes on natural gas, a bond issue against future payments from a tobacco settlement, and from the growing state gambling industry. Read more
Sept 1, 2017
Waiver in effect on gasoline during hurricane recovery
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently initiated a waiver to ease enforcement of certain gasoline regulations.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced today that Pennsylvania will move to ensure adequate gasoline supplies for drivers in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Governor’s Office of Communications release states. The commonwealth has seen disruption to fuel supplies as ten refineries are shut down as a result of the hurricane.
“Consumers have seen fuel prices rise as the Gulf region recovers from this horrific act of nature and this will help ease fuel supply issues impacting Pennsylvania,” said Governor Wolf. “Pennsylvanians are already doing their part to help those affected by the storm, and this action is to ensure there are not any serious disruptions to the Commonwealth.”
The EPA waiver applies to reformulated gasoline in the five-county area of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties and Reid vapor pressure requirements in the are of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
The waiver is in effect until September 15. Source
August 29, 2017
Wolf to GOP: State’s finances will soon be ‘much more dire’
ARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf warned House Republican leaders Tuesday that failing to fully fund the state budget will put Pennsylvania in “a much more dire financial situation” in the coming weeks.
Wolf’s letter to Speaker Mike Turzai, Majority Leader Dave Reed and six other House GOP leaders urged them to act quickly to fill the budget’s $2.2 billion revenue gap.
Wolf announced he authorized what he called “a very short-term” loan this week from the state’s Motor License Fund but expects that a lack of action will affect state programs and cause outside agencies to downgrade Pennsylvania’s credit rating, increasing borrowing costs.
“There has been robust debate about how to meet this challenge,” said Wolf, who is expected to seek a second term next year. “Time is not on our side, and now is the time to put statesmanship before anything else. There is too much at stake.” Read more
August 27, 2017
Pennsylvania rescue team departs for Texas
Pennsylvania has sent a team to help conduct search and rescue efforts in Texas as rain from Tropical Storm Harvey continues to pummel the Gulf Coast, Gov. Tom Wolf said Sunday.
The team includes 45 members of the Pennsylvania Task Force One, Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
The personnel include heavy rigging and structural specialists, medical personnel, canine handlers and those trained in specialized communications and hazardous materials. There will also be staff who will help the team with ground support once they arrive.
“The images coming out of Texas are heartbreaking and difficult to imagine,” Wolf said in a statement. “We know that this will be a long-term response and recovery effort, and Pennsylvania stands ready to provide whatever help we can to citizens and first responders in Texas or any other state impacted by the storm.”
The team left Philadelphia today and were to report to Fort Worth to assist with water rescue and search and rescue efforts. Read more
August 22, 2017
The Morning Call
Pennsylvania House Republican must get ‘act together’ on budget, Gov. Tom Wolf says
HARRISBURG — House Republican leaders should “get their act together” and return to Harrisburg to resolve a badly out-of-balance state budget that’s lingering seven weeks into the fiscal year and risking a downgrade of Pennsylvania’ battered credit rating, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday.
Wolf said the state’s main bank account will “run out of cash” in three weeks — about the time a large Medicaid payment is due — as a result of a seasonal low-flow period of tax collections and an entrenched post-recession deficit.
The state has spending authority under a nearly $32 billion budget bill that lawmakers passed June 30, including with the support of 98 out of 121 House Republicans. Read more
August 20, 2017
Amid Budget Stalemate, Might Pennsylvania Put Off Paying Some Bills?
op state officials are warning that Pennsylvania’s deficit-strapped government is rapidly approaching a more severe stage in its seven-week-old budget stalemate, one in which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf may have to start deciding which bills to pay and which to postpone.
Taxes are still being collected and checks are being cut by the Pennsylvania Treasury under a nearly $32 billion budget bill that lawmakers approved June 30, the day before the current fiscal year began.
But that spending plan is badly out of balance and, without a loan or an emergency revenue package, the state will face hard decisions within days.
“Somebody’s not getting paid if this doesn’t get fixed,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, said Friday. “Who it is — the vendors, I don’t know — that’s a decision for others to make. It’s simply a math equation: there’s not enough money to pay everybody.” Read more
August 15, 2017
Wolf posts criticism of Trump’s ‘blame on both sides’ remark
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Gov. Tom Wolf is criticizing President Donald Trump’s comment at a news conference that “there’s blame on both sides” for last weekend’s violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Democratic governor directed a series of tweets Tuesday afternoon to Trump, saying the woman killed in a protest against white nationalists marching in her town “deserves better” than the president’s comment.
Wolf says “Americans died to defeat hate like this” and that one side carried torches and Confederate and Nazi flags, and made bigoted and Nazi chants. Read more
July 25, 2017
PA leaders warn of health care bill’s negative impact ahead of Senate vote
Ahead of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate Republican-driven effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, three Pennsylvania leaders joined to once again denounce the health care plan and warn about its negative impact on the state.
“It’s a bad piece of legislation for virtually everyone we can think of,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Lackawanna County, said of the Republican plan, which U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, helped craft as part of a 13-member Senate GOP panel.
As he has done since it was unveiled, Casey argued that the plan would hurt the middle-class, seniors, children and the disabled mostly through deep cuts to Medicaid funding that would have a widespread impact on health care across the state. Read more
July 23, 2017
Revenue plan may be tricky
No-new-taxes plan would borrow $1.5B
HARRISBURG (AP) — The question of where to find $2 billion will dominate the upcoming weekend session by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature stumble through a three-week stalemate.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, wants House members to support a no-new-taxes plan to balance a $32 billion spending package, most of which Wolf let become law last week.
Turzai’s plan would authorize the state to borrow about $1.5 billion and siphon hundreds of millions of more dollars from off-budget programs to patch up state finances shredded by Pennsylvania’s biggest shortfall since the recession.
It is not clear whether it will pass the House or, for that matter, the Senate. Wolf has acceded to some level of borrowing that comes with a $700 million to $800 million tax package he views as necessary to avoid a downgrade to a credit rating battered by Pennsylvania’s long-term deficit.
Here is a look at the stakes: Read more
July 20, 2017
The Sacramento Bee
House to hold session amid swirling budget disagreements
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives prepared to return to Harrisburg for an unusual weekend session amid a three-week stalemate with the Senate and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf over how to resolve a gaping hole in state government’s $32 billion budget plan.
Amid wider disagreements over taxes, gambling and liquor policy, House Republican aides worked Thursday to prepare a no-new-taxes package that would borrow roughly $1.5 billion and raid hundreds of millions of dollars more from off-budget programs.
The forthcoming legislation ordered up by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, could leave Wolf to decide which off-budget programs to tap, and how much cash to divert from each, up to a certain limit.
Talks with the Senate and Wolf’s office were effectively on ice Thursday. House Republicans acknowledged that it was unclear whether their huge, albeit fractured majority can pass any sort of revenue package without help from Democratic lawmakers, who are backing Wolf’s bid to secure a $700 million to $800 million tax package. Read more
Gov. Wolf will sign Lancaster County senator’s inspector general bill
Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will sign a bill from a Lancaster County state senator that will strengthen the authority of the state’s Office of Inspector General, which investigates welfare fraud and the executive branch of state government.
The Democratic governor vetoed a similar bill last year, though changes made by Republican Sen. Ryan Aument, of Landisville, led to a bipartisan compromise. Read more
July 11, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf to let Pennsylvania’s state budget become law without full funding
HARRISBURG — For the second consecutive year, Gov. Tom Wolf will allow the spending bill the Legislature has sent to him to become law, even though there is no plan for how to pay for it.
Monday’s move once again plunged the state into uncertainty, with questions swirling around whether it is constitutional and whether it will provide more fodder for a crushing credit downgrade for the state.
For his part, the Democratic governor said he believes that, just like last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature will swiftly act to deliver a revenue package to his desk.
“In the coming days, it is my hope that the General Assembly will come together to pass a responsible solution to balance our books,” Mr. Wolf said in a statement. “There are many options available to balance the budget in the long-term, like those I presented earlier this year. Our creditors and the people of Pennsylvania understand a responsible resolution must take real and necessary steps to improve Pennsylvania’s fiscal future.”
What became clear late Monday was that the Legislature would not pass a revenue package to accompany the nearly $32 billion spending bill by the midnight deadline. Read more
July 9, 2016
The Latest: Passing revenue deal unlikely before deadline
The Latest on Pennsylvania’s budget negotiations (all times local):
A top Pennsylvania state senator says it looks increasingly unlikely that lawmakers will pass legislation to patch the state’s tattered finances before Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf must make a decision on a nearly $32 billion spending bill on his desk.
Senate Republican leader Jake Corman said Sunday night that there was no agreement between Wolf and the leaders of the House and Senate Republican majorities in a 9-day-old stalemate.
Corman says the sides are a couple hundred million dollars apart on a roughly $2.2 billion revenue package that’ll lean heavily on borrowing and more gambling.
Wolf wants $700 million to $800 million of it to be reliable revenue, such as tax increases, to help the state avoid another credit downgrade.
At midnight Monday, the spending bill becomes law without Wolf’s signature. Before then, Wolf can sign it, veto it or strike out some of the spending. Read more
July 7, 2017
The Daily Item
Wolf stays positive as budget revenue deadline looms
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf struck an optimistic tone with reporters Friday despite a Monday deadline for the state to come up with plan to close a more than $2 billion spending shortfall and no indication lawmakers are close to a solution.
“We’ve had a nice, positive, constructive tone” in negotiations, Wolf said Friday morning. “I fully expect we will get to a good outcome.”
Lawmakers returned to the Capitol to try to pass a final series of budget bills that are expected to call for a $1.5 billion loan. How the Legislature closes the rest of the gap still isn’t clear although both Wolf and Republican lawmakers have said they don’t plan to seek broad-based tax increases, such as sales and income tax hikes. Read more
July 3, 2017
Pennsylvania in focus: Gov. Tom Wolf vetoes bill to outlaw local plastic-bag bans
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is vetoing a bill that would have prevented counties and municipalities from banning recyclable plastic bags at retail stores.
Wolf rejected the measure that also would have prevented fees or taxes being imposed on the bags.
Wolf says the legislation could have kept local governments from doing what they’re required under the state constitution to protect the environment.
He’s also objecting to how the bill would have diminished the ability of local governments to make their own decisions.
Plastic bag manufacturer Novolex says the veto will make the state less competitive and could affect workers. Read more
June 30, 2017
Governor Wolf Denies Trump Administration Request for Voter Information
Governor Tom Wolf sent the following letter today to Kris Kobach, the Vice Chair of the Trump Administration’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
View letter here
June 29, 2017
Pa. legislature deciding how much to spend – later how to pay for it
HARRISBURG – With the deadline to pass a state budget fast approaching, legislators began voting on a $31.9 billion spending plan late Thursday — though there was no agreement on how to pay for it.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the spending bill shortly after 10 p.m. with little debate, positioning it for floor votes in both legislative chambers by day’s end Friday. The new fiscal year begins Saturday.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana), said early Thursday evening that House negotiators also had agreed to the plan.
“Obviously, the final word is when it gets voted,” he said, but added, “I expect it to pass overwhelmingly.” Read more
June 26, 2017
The Morning Call
Pennsylvania could save millions by shaving prison sentences, report says
Barely ahead of Friday’s looming budget deadline, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders on Monday received a last-minute idea for saving more than $100 million in coming years in part by shaving five months off some non-violent offenders’ sentences.
Shaving the time, streamlining state sentencing guidelines and providing county probation services more state aid could trim the state Corrections Department’s $2.4 billion budget, according to a report issued by Justice Reinvestment, a bipartisan group of state, county and local legislative, criminal justice and judicial officials.
Most of that savings would come from the shorter sentences for inmates convicted of drug or property crimes and who did not get into additional trouble while behind bars, said Patrick Armstrong, senior policy analyst for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which conducted the report. The shorter sentences would not be for anyone convicted of assault, robbery or other crime in which a victim was physically accosted or hurt, he said. Read more
June 26, 2017
Most school districts raising taxes, reducing staff to meet rising costs
Tax increases, furloughs and not replacing retiring employees are three ways area school districts are addressing 2017-18 budget shortfalls that are primarily happening because of increased pension costs and changes to state funding.
Although Gov. Tom Wolf and House Republicans proposed a $100 million increase in the state’s 2017-18 budget for basic education funding, they proposed cuts to other school programs, such as a cut of $50 million to school transportation, according to the Campaign for Fair Education funding. Pension costs are projected to rise $140 million, requiring districts to find big chunks of money to make required contributions.
The top three actions school administrators plan to take in the 2017-18 school year as a result of budget funding issues are taking money from the fund balance, raising local property taxes and reducing staffing, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s most recent state of education report.
The report states 74.7 percent statewide planned to draw from fund balance, 72.9 percent expected to raise local property taxes and 47.6 percent planned to reduce staff/number of positions. Read more
June 24, 2017
Pa. lawmakers eye wider DNA sampling of convicts
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania lawmakers moved closer this week to mandating that DNA samples be collected from people who have been convicted of crimes — something supporters predict will help solve serious crimes.
The state House voted 157-32 for a bill that would require cheek swabs from those convicted of any first-degree misdemeanor and a list of 15 second-degree misdemeanors.
Current law requires testing for those convicted of felonies and certain other offenses. Pennsylvania classifies as first-degree misdemeanors many crimes that are felonies in other states.
It was sent to the state Senate, where a nearly identical proposal is pending. A Senate Republican aide said Friday one of the bills could get a final vote before lawmakers adjourn for the summer.
“Not only will some crimes be solved, serial offenders would be stopped before they could reoffend, and innocent people would be ruled out of suspicion in cases where their DNA does not match what’s found at the scene,” said Tom Dymek, an aide to House Judiciary Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, the bill’s prime sponsor.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, opposes the bill in its current form, saying it would test for too many minor offenses, and its costs are not funded.
A fiscal note for the House bill estimated the additional testing would eventually cost more than $3 million annually, based on an estimate of 40,000 offenders.
“Gov. Wolf believes we should expand DNA collection to combat violent crime,” his press secretary J.J. Abbott said. “However, this bill expands the law to include more than 100 misdemeanors, including many offenses that are nonviolent in nature such as retail theft and littering.”
The Senate will likely consider amending the proposal to remove a few of the less serious misdemeanors, said Mike Stoll, chief of staff to Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, sponsor of the Senate bill .
“The list can’t be reduced that much, or you defeat the purpose of it,” Stoll said. Read more
Daily Times News
A ‘get out of town’ Pennsylvania budget appears inevitable, lawmakers say
….With just two weeks before the July 1 start of the 2017-18 fiscal year, ideas on how to inject more money into the state’s threadbare bank account have begun flying around the Capitol in earnest. One concept raised by Senate Republicans is borrowing a one-time lump sum against cash from Pennsylvania’s share of the landmark 1998 multi-state settlement with tobacco companies.
….Wolf early on ruled out raising sales or income taxes, avenues he pursued in his first two budget proposals. Instead, he suggested a $1 billion tax package he billed as closing loopholes and making corporations pay their fair share. That included his third straight year of proposing a tax on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale natural gas production, plus imposing the sales tax on computer services and warehousing.
All of that — plus his proposals to raise the minimum wage, charge municipalities for free state police coverage and restructure the corporate net income tax — has generated little interest from Republicans. Read entire article
June 15, 2017
Wolf to Sessions: Hands off PA’s medical marijuana
After 2 1/2 hours on a Senate hot seat this week in front of a committee questioning him about his possible ties to Russia, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions then got a somewhat threatening letter from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
The gist of the June 15 letter was: Back off of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program.
Sessions, in a May 1 letter to Congressional leaders, asked that any pending legislation not restrict the Department of Justice’s authority to enforce federal controlled substances laws in states where medical marijuana is legal. Read more
June 12, 2017
The Morning Call
Gov. Tom Wolf signs bipartisan pension bill
Following accolades and handshakes that reached across party lines, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Monday a bipartisan bill to change the state’s debt-ridden pension systems by reducing taxpayer exposure in any future market crash.
The law, which takes effect in 2019, would move all school employees and most state workers from a taxpayer-funded pension plan with guaranteed retirement benefits to a “hybrid” plan. Under it, about half the worker’s pension benefits would be guaranteed, while the other half would be placed in a 401(k)-style plan that fluctuates with the markets.
The law will save taxpayers between $1.3 billion and $4.2 billion over 30 years, according to a financial analysis accompanying Senate Bill 1. Wolf said the savings might stretch to $10 billion under ideal market conditions. Read more
June 6, 2017
The Morning Call
Feds lift Pennsylvania Real ID travel deadline warningThe federal government has accepted Pennsylvania’s request for a little more time to comply with the anti-terrorism law known as Real ID.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted Pennsylvania another month to come into compliance before making a determination on whether state residents should be barred from flights and from entering certain federal facilities for not having the federally sanctioned ID cards.
In January, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave state officials six months to repeal a 2012 state law that had prohibited PennDOT from creating driver’s licenses and identification cards that complied with federal Real ID standards. That deadline was to expire today, but was extended until July 10.
To hit the deadline, Gov. Tom Wolf on May 26 signed a bill into law that repealed the state’s 2012 prohibition law. Then PennDOT sought a deadline extension. Homeland Security granted that today as the agency makes sure the new state law complies with federal standards, said PennDOT spokeswoman Alexis Campbell. Read more
June 5, 2017
Gov. Wolf supports pension reform bill which cleared Pa. Senate
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Governor Tom Wolf says he is looking forward to pushing a bill “across the finish line” which would act as Pennsylvania’s first attempt at pension reform in years.
Senate Bill 1, which starts the process of moving retirement plans for state workers and teachers from a taxpayer-funded formula to a 401(k) style plan, passed the State Senate on Monday by a 40-9 vote.
Wolf applauded the vote afterwards.
“This pension compromise achieves my foremost goals: continuing to pay down our debt, reducing Wall Street fees, shifting risk away from taxpayers, all while providing workers with a fair retirement benefit,” the governor said. “I look forward to working with House leaders to get this bill across the finish line.” Rad more
June 3, 2017
Wolf hopeful on budget, snow money
THROOP — Less than a month before the state needs a new budget, Gov. Tom Wolf expressed optimism for getting it done on time, despite a projection showing a $1.1 billion shortfall for the current fiscal year.
Wolf also discussed his appeal Friday of President Donald Trump’s denial of a federal disaster declaration to help Northeast Pennsylvania communities hit hard by the costs of cleaning up the massive March snowstorm.
Wolf said the May budget shortfall projection actually improved from April and he expects the state’s tax amnesty program to produce unknown new revenues.
“No one really knows (how much) because that’s a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of thing what we’re going to collect from that (the amnesty program),” Wolf said after touring the Gertrude Hawk Chocolates manufacturing plant. “So that may surprise us pleasantly again.”
In February, Wolf proposed a $32.3 billion budget that dealt with a projected $2.8 billion deficit through a new tax on natural gas drilling, a $25-a-person fee on towns that use state police instead of their own and more revenue from expanded gambling.
On the spending side, he proposed merging the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole, consolidating the health, aging, human services and drug and alcohol programs into one department and tens of millions of dollars in spending cuts.
When he proposed the budget, the projected fiscal year-end was $230 million short this year. The April shortfall projection was $1.2 billion. The budget deadline is June 30.
“We’ve been talking for the last number of months and we still have another month to go. I think we will all work hard to make the deadline, but I think we’re all working even harder to have a real good budget,” Wolf said.
The state Department of Revenue estimates about $3.47 billion in delinquent taxes are eligible for amnesty, which means paying the full amount of a tax owed with no penalties and half the interest waived. The amnesty covers 29 different taxes. The amnesty period began April 21 and ends June 19.
More than 12,000 of the more than 680,000 tax delinquents are in Lackawanna County and more than almost 16,000 in Luzerne County.
As for his appeal of Trump’s denial of the disaster declaration, Wolf pointed to the year-end deficit and said the state can’t afford to help the storm-stunned local communities.
Statewide, the storm cost communities $7.22 million, including $2.02 million in Lackawanna County and $2.64 million in Luzerne County. The Trump administration said that was too little to warrant a declaration that would bring federal money. The storm dumped a record 23.6 inches.
“If we don’t work together through our democratically elected governments when we’re in need, I’m not sure why we have governments,” Wolf said.
“This is a time we can help people who’ve really been hurt through no fault of their own and it seems to me that’s a pretty compelling argument.”
After visiting Gertrude Hawk, Wolf attended a community garden groundbreaking in West Pittston and the championship ring ceremony before the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Raiders baseball game at PNC Field in Moosic.
3 Mile Island owner threatens to close ill-fated plantCheap natural gas could do what the worst commercial nuclear power accident in U.S. history could not: put Three Mile Island out of business.Three Mile Island’s owner, Exelon Corp., announced Tuesday that the plant that was the site of a terrifying partial meltdown in 1979 will close in 2019 unless the state of Pennsylvania comes to its financial rescue.Nuclear power plants around the U.S. have been struggling in recent years to compete with generating stations that burn plentiful and inexpensive natural gas to produce electricity.The Chicago-based energy company’s announcement came after what it called more than five years of losses at the single-reactor plant and Three Mile Island’s recent failure to be selected as a guaranteed supplier of power to the regional electric grid.Exelon wants Pennsylvania to give nuclear power the kind of preferential treatment and premium payments that are extended to renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar. It has not said how much it wants.Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has made no commitment to a bailout. In a statement Tuesday, Wolf said he is concerned about layoffs at Three Mile Island and open to discussions about the future of nuclear power. Exelon employs 675 people at the plant, whose license does not expire until 2034.Nuclear bailouts have won approval in Illinois and New York, but the potential for higher utility bills in Pennsylvania is generating resistance from rival energy companies, manufacturers and consumer advocates. Read more
Bucks County Courier Times
Gov. Tom Wolf will sign Real ID law this week
Pennsylvanians feeling anxious about being turned away at the airport next year can breathe a sigh of relief. After bouncing around Harrisburg for a few months, the final version of a Senate bill repealing the state’s non-compliance to the federal Real ID program passed the House Wednesday afternoon and is headed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.
“This bill achieves the primary goal of allowing Pennsylvania commuters and businesses to avoid disruptions related to noncompliance,” Wolf said in a statement released prior to the vote. The governor said he would sign the bill into law. “Once the 2012 noncompliance law is repealed, PennDOT can begin working with the federal government to update its systems to complete compliance. We will work diligently to ensure the process is as consumer friendly and affordable as possible.”
The approval came with just two legislative days left before the June 6 deadline imposed by the federal Department of Homeland Security. If Pennsylvania did not comply with the Real ID requirements, residents would not be able to use a standard driver’s license for domestic flights or accessing federal property starting Jan. 22. Read more
Pennsylvania Governor: Convention Surplus Should Have Gone to Taxpayers
Gov. Tom Wolf says the committee that raised public and private money to put on last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia should have returned surplus funds to the taxpayers rather than handing out staff bonuses and grants.
The Legislature provided $10 million for the event, and some lawmakers voiced displeasure upon finding out that the host committee gave nearly $1 million in bonuses for staff members as well as grants for Philadelphia schools and nonprofits. The bonuses were disclosed in a Jan. 31 Federal Election Commission filing. Read more
President Trump denies request by Gov. Wolf for federal disaster declaration
overnor Tom Wolf announced Thursday that President Donald Trump has denied his request for a federal disaster declaration to help offset the financial burden of a record-breaking snowstorm that crippled much of the northeastern part of the state in March.
“This disaster declaration would have provided much-needed financial assistance to hard-hit communities in northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Governor Wolf. “I want to thank county and local emergency managers and responders for all of their hard efforts in responding to this storm and helping us make our case for this disaster declaration request.” Read more
PA police protection bill on the move again as governor floats compromise amendment
A bill shielding Pennsylvania cops from public identification during police-involved shooting investigations may soon see a compromise amendment on the Senate floor, silencing the governor’s overtures to block it.
When it passed the House in March, House Bill 27, sponsored by Philadelphia Republican Rep. Martina White, faced certain veto from Gov. Tom Wolf, who rejected an identical measure in 2015.
Now, Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott says the administration is considering an amendment to remedy some of the governor’s concerns, though he did not divulge its specific details.
“We are considering an amendment, but that process is still ongoing,” Abbott told Capitolwire Tuesday.
HB 27 mandates police departments withhold the names of officers involved in police shootings and other “violent confrontations” for 30 days, or until criminal charges have been filed or an investigation has been completed. Officials who break this rule would face a second-degree misdemeanor charge. Read more
Senate and Gov. Wolf battle over vetoes in state Supreme Court hearing
A herald in tights? A sealed proclamation? A government website? A 3 a.m. tweet?
Which method must a governor use to inform the public and Legislature that a veto has been issued in the 21st century?
That question — plus a justice’s ominous warning about the legality of the Legislature’s budgeting process — dominated a state Supreme Court hearingTuesday.
Under a lower court decision, the governor now can use line-item vetoes to eliminate specific spending earmarks lawmakers put into the fiscal code, a separate budget bill that dictates formulas and other rules for how some taxpayer money is to be spent in the annual appropriation.
In 2014, Republican and Democratic Senate leaders sued then-Gov. Tom Corbett over his July 2014 line-item vetoes of the Legislature’s finances. Corbett cut $64 million from the Legislature’s own budget, and $7.2 million more in fiscal code earmarks in a fight over liquor and pension reform.
In its lawsuit, the Senate claimed the vetoes were illegal for three reasons. First, the lawsuit claimed Corbett’s office used an emailed press release, rather than an official sealed proclamation, to declare the vetoes had been issued. The Senate based its argument on a state constitution provision saying the governor needs to “give notice thereof by public proclamation” of any veto made while the Legislature is adjourned. Read more
State bill slows down Gov. Tom Wolf’s consolidation plan
A Bucks County state representative wants to put the brakes on Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal to consolidate four health-related departments.
The House Human Services Committee approved Wednesday by a 14-13 margin a bill introduced by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, Bensalem, that prohibits the merger of the Department of Health, Aging, Human Services and Drug and Alcohol Programs until studies about the proposal are completed. All 11 Democrats on the committee, plus two Republicans, opposed the measure. Read more
Centre Daily Times
Wolf told the elected officials that proposed cuts in President Donald Trump’s budget plan would hurt Pennsylvanians, saying the president “seems intent on waging war on those who are struggling.
“Opposing the president’s proposed reductions for the remainder of this fiscal year is especially critical because in many cases they would lock-in the disastrous budget blueprint, which would slash $54 billion in federal support to states including particularly the social programs which help Americans access health care and education benefits,” Wolf wrote. “The budget blueprint, which was announced in mid-March, shocked members of both parties in the degree to which its cuts were targeted at Americans who can least afford them.” Read more
Wolf and Treasurer Joe Torsella said at a news conference that they hoped that the state government pension fund would find ways to save $46 million annually and the school employees’ fund about $100 million a year.
The two Democrats said Pennsylvania is near the top in the ranking of states that pay the highest percentage of pension-fund investment fees. Read more
“Financial crime can be visited upon older Pennsylvanians by someone they know — caregivers, friends, professionals, or service providers who abuse the trust that has been placed in them — or, in some cases, they can be targeted by strangers with elaborate scams,” Wolf said. “That’s why my administration decided to pull together and collaborate across all our agencies to work to protect older Pennsylvanians from this kind of abuse.” Read more
Lebanon Daily News
The money is designed to last until next year. Wolf’s office couldn’t immediately say how many people will be hired or how soon they’ll start working.
Pittsburgh NPR News
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would provide its officers with the medication, used to help minimize opioid-related fatalities.
“We’re losing over 10 people every day to this disaster,” Wolf said. “This is an epidemic that affects everybody in Pennsylvania – all across the state. Rural areas, rich and poor, men and women. It affects everybody.” Read more
McClatchy DC Bureau
Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday he had met with Lt. Gov. Mike Stack multiple times regarding complaints about Stack’s treatment of state employees, complaints that are now the focus of a state inspector general’s investigation.
Wolf last met with Stack, a fellow Democrat, in mid-March. It was the most recent of numerous meetings about the complaints, and Wolf told him “you need to stop,” Wolf told reporters after an unrelated public event in the Capitol.
Wolf said he expected to receive a completed report from his inspector general soon but had not decided whether he would release it publicly. Told about the governor’s comments, Stack’s office declined to respond directly Monday. Read more
Closing in on a state budget
In February Gov. Tom Wolf released his budget proposal. Predictably, it called for increased spending and higher taxes — although far less of both than in past years. This month the House Appropriations Committee, where the budgeting process actually begins, released its own budget that holds the line on taxes while actually slightly reducing overall general fund spending in the coming year.
Harrisburg politicians are operating on the theory that the state has a $1.4 billion “structural budget deficit” and revenue from the current fiscal year is expected to fall about $700 million short of projections, so the new budget begins with a significant shortfall. Read more
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