Pa. Legislature approves $90M for new voting machines; bill would end straight party voting

Charles Thompson | June 27, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

In a flurry of pre-summer recess action, the General Assembly gave final approval Thursday to a bill that calls for the state to borrow up to $90 million to help counties defray the cost of buying new voting machines.

But that bill also would end the time-honored option of casting a straight-party vote.

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Gov. Wolf looks at carbon emissions fees to pay for fixing Pennsylvania roads, bridges

Charles Thompson | Thursday, June 20, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

After years of hesitancy, the Wolf Administration is testing support for joining Pennsylvania into the Northeast’s regional cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, and the benefits could possibly extend beyond the fight to stem climate change.

Sources familiar with this year’s budget discussions say administration officials are also promoting how such a move could create an alternative funding source for the governor’s $4.5 billion “Restore PA” infrastructure program.

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Divided Pa. House votes to end $54M cash welfare program

Mark Scolforo | Wednesday, June 19, 2019, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Republicans in the state House voted Wednesday to end a Pennsylvania cash welfare program, a year after it was revived following a court decision.

The Republican-majority House voted 106-95 to eliminate the $54 million in payments, bundled in the bill with a subsidy for Philadelphia hospitals.

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Gov. Tom Wolf, GOP leaders butt heads over how to pay for addressing Pa.’s infrastructure needs

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, June 5, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

When it comes to investing in infrastructure improvements in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers from both parties agree there are some critical needs across the commonwealth that are crying for attention.

Flood control is needed in some communities. Blighted areas need addressed in others. Broadband access is needed in rural areas as well, among other projects that the governor has drawn attention to during a nearly five-month tour of the commonwealth.

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Who’s making money as Pa. counties upgrade voting machines?

Emily Previti and Ed Mahon | Tuesday, May 28, 2019, PA Post

UPPER MERION TWP. – As Jeff Frank strode out of his polling place on a recent Tuesday morning, poll watchers thanked him for voting.

“Have a great day – enjoy the complaints as they come out the door,” Frank responded.

Municipal elections tend to be relatively quiet – even in Montgomery County, which consistently turns out a higher number of voters than any other county in the state but more-populous Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.

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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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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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Efforts to salvage cash assistance for Pa.’s poorest citizens fail in the House

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, March 27, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Legislation that seeks to end permanently a program that provides $200 in monthly general cash assistance to low-income Pennsylvanians starting on July 1 withstood six attempts to give the program at least a partial lease on life.

After a House debate on Wednesday, the bill is teed up for a vote by the full House when members return to legislative session the week of April 8.

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Flat Medicaid rates concern Pennsylvania nursing homes

Nicole C. Brambila | Thursday, March 7, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A group that represents about 500 nursing home operators across Pennsylvania expressed concerns about Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, saying flat funding threatens the state’s rapidly aging population.

The Medicaid reimbursement rate for Pennsylvania nursing home residents has increased less than $9 a day since July 1, 2010, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. Wolf’s proposed budget does not include a rate increase.

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Ripple effects of raising Pa.’s minimum teacher salary concern House GOP lawmakers

Jan Murphy | Monday, March 4, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

The ripple effects of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to raise the state’s minimum public school teacher salary by 143 percent to $45,000 a year could be what costs it the support of some House Republicans.

At Monday’s House budget hearing with state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, GOP members voiced several concerns about the impact it could have on such things as teacher contracts, salaries of more experienced teachers, and school property tax rates.

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Gov. Tom Wolf wants to offer first-of-its-kind college tuition benefit to Pa. National Guard member families

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, February 27, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Gov. Tom Wolf wants to break new ground with a new incentive program to entice members of the Pennsylvania National Guard to re-enlist for six years by offering them a tuition assistance plan for their spouses or children.

The Pennsylvania National Guard Military Family Education Program, or Pennsylvania GI Bill of Rights as Wolf refers to it, would provide up to 10 semesters of tuition-free education for the service member’s spouse or family to attend most of Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions.

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Pennsylvania GOP lawmaker opens door to minimum wage deal

Marc Levy | Monday, February 25, 2019, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A top Republican lawmaker is opening the door to raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, but he’s also insisting that Democrats lower their sights.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Monday that Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest proposal isn’t reasonable and not worth discussing.

Corman wouldn’t define what he views as a reasonable increase. But he suggests there’s enough Senate Republican support for a more modest increase to bring a bill to the floor.

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Your View: Why Pennsylvania should join neighboring states and raise the minimum wage

David Fillman | Thursday, February 21, 2019, The Morning Call

As lawmakers begin to debate Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019-20 budget proposal, I would urge them to consider the headlines from some of our neighboring states regarding one of the governor’s top priorities — raising our state’s shameful $7.25 an hour minimum wage:

$15 minimum wage is now coming to New Jersey

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Gov. Wolf again proposes for local communities to pay for state police coverage

Megan Tomasic | Wednesday, February 13, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Hempfield could pay almost $7 million for state police coverage under Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal — yet another attempt to collect from municipalities that rely on troopers rather than their own police department.

Hempfield is one of nearly 2,500 municipalities across Pennsylvania without a local police department.

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Tom Wolf the pragmatist: Governor kicks off second term with a budget that forsakes bold policy strokes for doing things better

Charles Thompson | Tuesday, February 5,2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

You know your governor has gone all-in on political pragmatism when one of the talking points in his budget proposal is insisting that children attend first grade.

Look it up. Gov. Tom Wolf called Tuesday for lowering the age of compulsory school attendance in Pennsylvania to six.

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Gov. Wolf set to unveil budget plan with focus on severance tax for gas drillers

Liz Navratil and Angela Couloumbis | Monday, February 4, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG — When Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address Tuesday, he is expected to call for more money for public schools, a higher minimum wage for Pennsylvania workers, and a new tax on natural gas drillers.

In doing so, the Democratic governor who is now unfettered by re-election concerns — and has been openly showcasing his progressive roots — will have to persuade a more conservative, Republican-controlled Legislature to buy into his plan.

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Gov. Wolf again pitches plan for taxing Marcellus gas drillers

Liz Navratil | Thursday, January 31, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced plans to once again seek a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, promising to use the money for disaster recovery, infrastructure and the expansion of broadband internet, among other projects.

The Democratic governor plans to approach state lawmakers with a proposal to borrow $4.5 billion over four years by selling bonds. The money would be paid back over 20 years using revenue from a severance tax, which would vary depending on the price of gas and the amount of it extracted.

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