Hearing Will Scrutinize Use Of Money In PA’s Special Environmental Funds

As state lawmakers continue to search for ways to plug an estimated billion-dollar budget hole, they are taking a renewed look at state agencies’ use of special funds, including money dedicated to environmental programs.

A House hearing scheduled for next week will examine how the state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are using special funds. These include things like cleaning up industrial sites and recycling. Last fall, House Republicans sought to use $450 million from agencies’ special funds to help balance the state budget. Although the move was unsuccessful, the money has been viewed as a potential surplus that could be diverted into the state’s General Fund. Read full story here.

PA Fines Natural Gas Company $1.7M For Drilling Violations

State environmental officials have fined a natural gas company $1.7 million for problems at well sites in Greene and Clearfield counties. Energy Corporation of America was cited for, among other things, operating storage pits without proper permits and for pits that leaked. The violations took place at 17 well sites, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The wells were recently acquired by Greylock Energy. Read full story here.

SCOTUS To Consider Case That Could Increase State Sales Tax Revenue

WASHINGTON DC (WSKG) -- The US Supreme Court is slated to hear a case that could change how online sales are taxed. It's an issue that might sound a little familiar to Pennsylvanians--lawmakers tried to improve online sales tax collections in last year's budget, as the state struggled to find enough revenue balance its books. The case is likely to come before the high court in April. Justices will decide whether to uphold a South Dakota decision maintaining a long-held standard: if a seller doesn't have a physical location in a state, they don't have to charge sales taxes there. It's an issue that may have lost state and local governments around $13 billion last year, according to the Congressional Government Accountability Office.

New York Lawmakers React To Cuomo’s 2018 Budget Proposal

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb:

“The governor continued his familiar theme of blaming Washington D.C. for problems that have been evident in New York for years. Oppressive taxes, a high cost of living, and financial pressures that drive residents away are not new issues. Unfortunately, today’s Executive Budget presentation was long on finger-pointing, yet short on financial details. Despite the fiscal peril the governor insists we face, today’s presentation failed to make a commitment to actually reduce spending. There was no plan to lower the costs Albany places on local governments.

State Senator Accused Of Sexual Harassment Expects To Be “Vindicated”

ALBANY (WSKG) - State Senator Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, spoke publicly for the first time since an investigation has begun into allegations that he sexually harassed a female staffer. Klein, who has denied that he forcibly kissed a former female staffer in 2015, says an investigation has begun by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE. The leader of the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate says he’ll fully cooperate. “I expect to be vindicated,” Klein said. Klein spoke after Governor Cuomo’s budget presentation, where Cuomo proposed giving more money to JCOPE to set up a unit to investigate charges of sexual harassment and issue conclusions  quickly.

Cuomo Proposes New Taxes, Tax Restructuring In New Budget

ALBANY (WSKG) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a $168 billion budget plan that would close an over $4 billion gap by reducing some spending and imposing tax increases on health insurers, big businesses and prescription opioid users, among others. Cuomo said he also wants to look into legalizing marijuana in New York. “This is going to be challenging, my friends,” Cuomo told lawmakers gathered at the state museum for the budget presentation. He said he’s holding the line on state agency spending, and he’s eyeing additional revenues by taxing health insurance plans and deferring corporate tax credits. He said both received big tax breaks in the federal tax overhaul, so can afford it.

Self-Driving Cars And Reclaiming Time Spent Behind The Wheel

ROCHESTER (WXXI) - People organize their lifestyles around access to transportation, so the advent of autonomous vehicles is important for their economic, social and environmental impact. That's from one of the authors of a new paper on the subject. Assistant professor in sustainability at RIT, Eric Williams, says they looked at a number of ways people could reclaim all the time they spend behind the wheel. "Anything from okay, we need to bring our kids to the sports team, well let's have the vehicle do it instead of doing it ourselves.  You know, thinking of taking a lot more trips, overnight in your car, because your car can drive you rather than having to stay up yourself," he said. Williams says the top 20 percent of people who drive or take public transit everyday could benefit from such vehicles.

Poll Finds New Yorkers Pessimistic On Race, Sexual Harassment

ALBANY (WSKG) - A poll on New Yorkers' attitudes on racism and sexual harassment show that many believe society has a way to go to improve things. The Siena College survey finds that 36 percent of women report being the victims of workplace sexual harassment. Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg said that when it comes to the issue, there is no upstate-downstate divide or difference in political parties, and three-quarters of New Yorkers think it’s a significant problem. “Those are just staggering numbers,” Greenberg said. The Siena poll finds that nearly two-thirds of  New Yorkers think race relations are just fair or poor, a number that’s up from polls conducted earlier in the decade.

Cuomo’s Budget Expected To Be Grim

ALBANY (WSKG) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his budget Tuesday, and the news is not expected to be good. The state faces an over $4.4 billion budget gap, as well as funding cuts and policy changes from Washington that could cost New York and some of its taxpayers billions of dollars. The governor set the tone in his State of the State speech earlier this month, saying, “2018 may be the toughest year New York has faced in modern history.”

“We have unprecedented challenges ahead on every level,” Cuomo said. Cuomo, in his speech, said President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress in Washington are responsible for many of the state’s challenges, including $2 billion in cuts to hospitals and health insurance programs for the working poor. He called the cuts “an arrow aimed at New York’s economic heart.”

While he warned of the dark times ahead, the governor did not name any spending cuts that might have to be made, and even said he wants to increase some education programs. Those details will come in the budget address on Tuesday afternoon.

To Ward Off Mass Shooters, New York Church Encourages Congregation To Bring Guns

SYRACUSE (WRVO) - When the parishioners at one Oswego County church gather for worship each week, many of them are armed. And it's no secret. The Lighthouse Mexico Church of God even advertises that its not a gun-free zone - a response to the frequent mass shootings in the country that's the subject of some debate. Walking into the church on a Sunday morning is more like joining a family reunion than attending a mass. Music plays for the first half of the service as the parishioners move about the church greeting one another and joining in community prayers. The pastor Ron Russell says his church is like a family, and it's his responsibility to ensure their safety.