Pa. primary elections 2019: A voter’s guide for Allegheny County and beyond

Julian Routh | Thursday, May 16, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For voters in Western Pennsylvania, the municipal primary elections on May 21 are a chance to have a say in the day-to-day governing of city and county governments and school boards and in who becomes judges.

Even though there’ll be a general election in November, many of the candidates that voters choose in the primary will be on a fast track to power, with no official challengers declared on the other side. Pittsburgh City Council seats? The Democrats who win their primaries next week will almost certainly be sworn in next January. Allegheny County District Attorney? Same thing.

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Welcome to the ‘Centre District’ — or the former Civic Arena site

Mark Belko | Wednesday, May 15, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former Civic Arena redevelopment in the lower Hill District has a new name. But not all Hill residents are happy about it.

In unveiling their new vision for the 28-acre site at a community meeting Wednesday evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins also coined a name for the $750 million development — the Centre District.

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Bill would set a minimum marrying age in Pennsylvania. And no, we don’t already have one.

Jan Murphy | Tuesday, May 14, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

How old do you have to be to get married in Pennsylvania? Twenty-one? Sixteen? Fourteen?

Actually there is no minimum age. But legislation that won unanimous approval by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday seeks to change that by setting 18 as the minimum age to marry in the commonwealth.

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UPMC-Highmark split to take center stage in state Supreme Court showdown

Natasha Lindstrom | Monday, May 13, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro balked at claims that his legal fight against UPMC is a ploy for political clout under the guise of acting in the public interest.

“This has nothing to do with my career, and everything to do with the good people of Western Pennsylvania who deserve to have access to health care at these health care institutions, which are nonprofits,” Shapiro said. “I’ve made it very clear that UPMC is not following the law.”

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Information denied: State’s open-records law needs a big update

The Editorial Board | May 9, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylvanians are guaranteed the “right to know” — unless they happen to want to know something from an unscrupulous someone.

That point was made when it was disclosed that the Philadelphia mayor deleted text messages — potential public records — for six months after a newspaper sought copies of the texts. And the state office that oversees the right-to-know law determined there was nothing to be done about the disappearing act.

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Audit says there was no bidding process in most large Allegheny County contracts

Christopher Huffaker | May 8, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The majority of Allegheny County’s large purchases are not publicly bid, according to an audit released Wednesday by the County Controller’s office.

From January 2017 to June 2018, 145 contracts for purchases over $30,000 were made by “piggybacking” onto existing government contracts. The county Purchasing Division conducted 126 bid processes in the same period.

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Hybrid pension plan options popular with Pa.’s new state government employees

Jan Murphy | Tuesday, May 7, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Nearly 2,500 state government employees hired in the first three months of this year were among the first in the commonwealth workforce to get a taste of pension choice.

Turns out, the overwhelming majority – more than 1,900 – preferred one of the two hybrid options that preserved some semblance of the century-old traditional pension plan combined with a 401(k)-style plan, according to a PennLive analysis. PennLive obtained records of state government employees’ pension choices from the State Employees’ Retirement System through a Right-to-Know request.

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Pa. lawmakers cling to pensions after pushing new state workers to adopt 401(k)-style plans

Jan Murphy | Monday, May 6, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Pa. lawmakers cling to pensions after pushing new state workers to adopt 401(k)-style plans

For years, Pennsylvania lawmakers wanted state government and school employees’ pension plans to look more like the 401(k)-style plans in the private sector.

But it’s pretty clear most didn’t want that kind of retirement plan for themselves.

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Auditor General urges state to invest in cybersecurity for school districts

Paul Guggenheimer | Thursday, May 2, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Thursday urged legislators to invest in helping school districts strengthen cybersecurity as part of the next state budget.

DePasquale said that despite a 2017 survey by his office showing a majority of Pennsylvania school districts were concerned about the increased risk of cyber attacks, no action has been taken at the state level.

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Pennsylvania teacher salaries rank 10th in the nation

Deb Erdley | Wednesday, May 1, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pennsylvania teachers average the 10th-highest salaries in the nation, according to a National Education Association annual pay analysis.

While Pennsylvania teachers ranked below colleagues in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, they were well above teachers in West Virginia (who ranked next to last) and the bordering states of Ohio and Delaware.

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Saturday start to 2019 deer hunting season might not be permanent

Paul Peirce | Tuesday, April 30, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Much like the split vote to allow deer hunting to start the Saturday after Thanksgiving, differences of public opinion has the Pennsylvania Game Commission already agreeing to re-examine the controversial issue after this year.

After 55 years of opening the Monday after Thanksgiving, the commission voted 5-3 on April 8 to move up the start of the firearms deer hunting season by two days this year, starting it on Nov. 30. On Tuesday, the commission said it will see how things go in November before deciding if the move is permanent.

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Recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania: What should legalization look like?

Wallace McKelvey | Monday, April 29, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Pennsylvania is getting ever closer to legal recreational marijuana but policymakers still face tough questions about what this potentially multi-billion-dollar industry would look like.

In December, Gov. Tom Wolf signaled he’s open to it after years of ambivalence and caution. Newly elected Lt. Gov. John Fetterman subsequently embarked on a 67-county listening tour to collect public input.

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PennDOT could fix more roads, bridges, if gas tax didn’t fund police, Auditor General says

Ed Blazina | Thursday, April 25, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylvania governors and legislative leaders of both parties for years have tapped various cash cows to pay for transportation services and avoid a general tax increase.

But now some of that revenue is endangered, leaving leaders scrambling.

State police, for example, are receiving more than $700 million this year from the state’s Motor License Fund to patrol state-owned highways. The primary use of the fund, which gets most of its money from the 57.6-cents-a-gallon state gasoline tax, the nation’s highest, is to build and maintain the state’s roads and bridges.

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Pennsylvania’s tax on online sales is making millions more than expected. Here’s why.

Laura McCrystal | Wednesday, April 24, 2019, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Taxes on internet sales have created a small windfall for Pennsylvania, according to state officials — thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the rapid growth of online retail.

The state’s Department of Revenue initially estimated that tax revenue from marketplace sales would total $50.5 million in the current fiscal year. But between the start of the fiscal year in July and the end of March, the state has already raised $151.4 million.

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2-cent fee proposed for single-use plastic bags in Pennsylvania

Mary Ann Thomas | Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Earlier this month, PennEnvironment joined forces with Pennsylvania House Democrats to announced its “Zero Waste PA” package of 13 bills looking to tackle a number of litter and pollution problems.

According to the PennLive website, the proposals range from “creating a 5-cent beverage bottle and can deposit program and raising fines for littering to restricting the availability of plastic straws and charging a 2-cent fee for a non-reusable plastic bag.”

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Turnpike nixes idea of a joint contract for tunnel upgrades to avoid borrowing more money

Ed Blazina | Monday, April 22, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pennsylvania Turnpike won’t bundle the rehabilitation of five tunnels under one contract because it shouldn’t borrow the upfront money it would need for the project.

That’s the conclusion turnpike chief engineer Brad Heigel announced last week in a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Office of Public-Private Partnerships. Although the project has “definite, tangible merits,” Mr. Heigel said, the agency isn’t in a position to borrow up to $350 million it could take to fund the project and doesn’t want to defer other work in favor of the tunnels.

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Deadline nears to register to vote in Pa. primary election

Ron Southwick | Thursday, April 18, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

If you haven’t registered to vote and want to cast a ballot in the primary election, time is running out.

The deadline to register to vote for the primary is Monday, April 22. The primary elections take place on May 21, but you must be registered by April 22 to cast a ballot.

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Governor backs Shapiro’s efforts in UPMC-Highmark dispute, even as key departments stay on sidelines

Steve Twedt | Wednesday, April 17, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Last week, an attorney in Gov. Tom Wolf’s office informed Pennsylvania’s highest court that two departments that were instrumental in creating the UPMC-Highmark consent decrees would not take a position for or against Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s petition to modify those agreements.

The three-sentence letter gave no reason why state Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine and Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman are sitting this one out.

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Eastern hellbender voted Pennsylvania’s official amphibian

Tuesday, April 16, 2019, Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania is getting an official amphibian, a nocturnal salamander that can grow to be more than two feet long.

The House voted 191-6 on Tuesday to grant the honor to the Eastern hellbender, and Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said he plans to sign it.

The path to legislative recognition was not smooth, as the Eastern hellbender faced a stiff challenge from Wehrle’s salamander.

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Original midfield terminal architect: Airport’s $1.1 billion modernization ‘doesn’t make sense’

Mark Belko | Monday, April 15, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The architect behind the midfield terminal is urging Pittsburgh International Airport leadership to abandon a $1.1 billion modernization plan, arguing that the project is unnecessary and could end up costing even more than expected.

In an open letter to the Allegheny County Airport Authority, Tasso Katselas has raised a series of concerns about the project, which would involve closing the existing landside building and erecting a new one to handle ticketing, security, and baggage claim.

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