PA Senate Proposal Aims To Add Funds To Struggling Rural Hospitals

TRANSFORMING HEALTH:- Rural hospitals see an average of 10 percent more Medicare and Medicaid patients than elsewhere, according to Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania. Those insurers pay less than commercial insurance. Rural hospitals also have a higher rate of patients who have no means of payment. (Stock image)

Wolf Calls Wagner’s New Education Funding Proposal ‘Abracadabra Math’

Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner has a plan to pump an additional $1 billion into public schools without raising taxes. He says he’d do four things to make that happen: privatize the sale of alcohol, lease its liquor wholesale system, slash corporate welfare “that has no positive economic impact,” and reform the welfare system.

PA Warns Of ‘Deceptive’ Short-Term Insurance Plans

TRANSFORMING HEALTH – The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance is requiring companies to put a consumer notice on short-term, limited duration health insurance plans indicating that they aren’t regulated and may not offer much of what people have come to expect from health insurance. 

PA Governor Calls For Drastic School Funding Shake-Up

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS — Governor Tom Wolf called for a major change to the way Pennsylvania funds schools Friday, advocating for the state to distribute its largest pot of school money in a way that would benefit the majority of students in the state, but would likely cause deep cuts in many districts.

PA Addresses Non-Citizen Voter Issue

(Harrisburg) — State officials have sent letters to 7,702 registered voters in Pennsylvania who they have reason to believe may not be citizens, and thus ineligible to vote.

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., speaks during an interview at his campaign office in Allentown in November 2016.

Moderate GOP Rep. Charlie Dent To Resign

The centrist Pennsylvania Republican was already part of a record number of GOP lawmakers who weren’t running for re-election in November, but on Tuesday Dent announced he would step down soon.

Medical Marijuana Rule Change Will Let PA Patients Vape

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) — Soon, medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania won’t just be limited to taking oil, pill, and liquid forms of the drug. Starting in late summer, they’ll be able to get marijuana in its dry leaf form– but will technically be limited to using it only in a vaporizer.

In Pennsylvania, Unions Throw Political Weight Behind Natural Gas

STATE IMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – On a recent afternoon, Ken Broadbent walked the aisles of his union’s “weld shop.” Behind orange plastic curtains that shield the eye-searing brightness of their torches, a few dozen apprentices practiced welding pipes together. Each will end up with about 700 hours of training.

House GOP Completes Investigation Into Miccarelli Abuse Allegations

HARRISBURG, PA, (WSKG) — State House Republicans have concluded an internal investigation into abuse allegations against one of their own. The case involving Representative Nick Miccarelli is an unusual one. Both of Miccarelli’s accusers work in the Capitol, and one is fellow Republican Representative Tarah Toohil. The investigation began more than a month ago, when the two women first filed their allegations. One, who has not come forward publicly, said he raped her.

Bill That Shrinks PA Legislature Moves Forward

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) — The state House has moved to change the commonwealth’s constitution and drastically reduce the size of the legislature. However, there’s no guarantee voters will see the amendment on their ballots come election day.

Federal Judges Hear Arguments In PA Redistricting Case

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) — A fraught redistricting battle in Pennsylvania has taken a small step forward. A panel of three federal judges heard arguments Friday in a case over whether the commonwealth’s Supreme Court violated the federal constitution when it redrew congressional maps last month.

PA Lawmakers Rack Up Bills As Redistricting Battle Rages

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) — Over the last several months, Pennsylvania’s House and Senate have spent over $3.5 million on congressional redistricting.  Part of that money was spent redrawing the congressional map in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision declaring it unconstitutional.

Timeline: The Battle Over Pennsylvania’s Congressional District Map

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Pennsylvania’s congressional map has been recognized nationally as having some of the starkest examples of gerrymandering in the country, prompting both a state and a federal lawsuit in 2017. A three-judge panel in the federal case upheld the map as drawn by Republicans in 2011. The state case compelled the Democratic-majority Pa. Supreme Court to strike it down as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. This ruling seems likely to alter the partisan tilt of the state’s congressional delegation, which has held a steady 13-5 Republican advantage.

Sunoco Appeals PA’s Stop Work Order

Sunoco is appealing the Department of Environmental Protection’s January 3 order to halt construction on the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

US Supreme Court Lets Pennsylvania Ruling Stand In Gerrymandering Case

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has denied the request for a stay on the ruling overturning Pennsylvania’s congressional district map. Republican lawmakers, who were sued for creating an unconstitutionally gerrymandered congressional map, had turned to the nation’s top court after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s split decision in January.

PA Legislature’s Plan Remains Hazy In Congressional Map-Redrawing

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — Pennsylvania Republicans have lost what was likely their best shot at getting out of redrawing congressional maps, after the state Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional. GOP legislative leaders had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds the state court decision violated the US constitution. But Justice Samuel Alito declined to issue a stay. House Majority Leader Dave Reed said there may be nothing else opponents of the redistricting decision can do to change the situation. “I mean look, I think generally when the U.S. Supreme Court speaks, that tends to be the end of it,” he said.

PA Lawmakers Question Agencies’ Use Of Special Funds

As state lawmakers keep looking for ways to plug an estimated billion-dollar hole in Pennsylvania’s budget, they are scrutinizing state agencies’ use of special funds, which include money to promote environmental programs.

PA Lawmakers Push Toward Amendment To Shrink State Legislature

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — This could be the year Pennsylvanians vote whether to amend the constitution and shrink the state House of Representatives by a quarter. The process started last session; this year, the same exact bill must pass the legislature again. If it moves fast enough, it could go out to voters as a referendum as soon as November. It has already passed the House State Government Committee on near-party lines–with most Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. However, it’s getting somewhat tangled up in ongoing disputes about legislative redistricting.

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.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court To Decide If State Congressional District Map Is A Partisan Gerrymander

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Pennsylvania’s congressional district map is often considered one of the most gerrymandered in the United States, but is it unconstitutional? And if so, how do you fix it? Those are the central questions the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will weigh when hearing oral arguments on Wednesday in a lawsuit that has the potential to change the state’s political landscape. The case was initiated by 18 voters, all Democrats, and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs claim Republican lawmakers, who drew the congressional map, violated their state constitutional rights, and are requesting the court to order the state legislature to draw a new map before the primary elections in May.

If Not PA Taxpayers, Who Should Pay Off Sexual Harassment Claims?

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — As new details emerge on at least $1.5 million Pennsylvania has spent to settle sexual harassment cases over the last eight years, calls are increasing for the state to change its policies. But a number of lawmaker are struggling to find solutions that will work for every situation. The latest report–from the Associated Press–concerns a $900,000 sexual harassment settlement the state paid in a 2016 case that involved a Department of Revenue administrator. Other recent stories have revealed similar settlements involving elected officials. Even though all the cases involve shades of harassment, it can be very different to settle one with a lawmaker than with a regular state or legislative employee.

PA’s Auditor General Renews Calls For Expanded Authority

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is outlining a plan for the new year that includes a request for more authority. The nonpartisan elected officer can’t investigate legislative spending or municipal authorities–despite years of pushes to allow it. DePasquale–a former House Democrat who’s now in his second term as auditor general–said Monday, a spate of recent revelations that the General Assembly has paid hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment claims is one of the reasons he wants the ability to audit them. “I guarantee you, 90 percent of the members–if not higher–had no idea that took place,” he said. “So if members didn’t know, imagine the outrage from taxpayers that that money was being used to settle those lawsuits.”

Ex-Governor Looks Back At Sandusky Case, Fallout

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – In a rare interview, former Republican Governor Tom Corbett has returned to one of the issues that dogged him late in his lone term in office–the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. Corbett told Radio PA “mistakes were made” in the handling of the situation. In the aftermath of Corbett’s loss to Democrat Tom Wolf, it was a common theory that the Republican’s seat on the Penn State Board of Trustees had hurt him politically. The board voted to fire Paterno for under-reporting Sandusky’s abuse. Corbett said he certainly sees a connection.

Pennsylvania Revenue Collection In Flux Due To New Federal Tax Law

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Spurred by changes in the federal tax law, Pennsylvania business owners seem to have rushed to pay their state income taxes early in hopes of taking advantage of uncapped deductions on their 2017 federal returns. Matthew Knittel, director of the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office, says the commonwealth’s general fund revenue through the first half of the fiscal year came in $95 million above projections, a difference of 0.7 percent. He said the biggest increase had to do with business owners and those with capital gains paying taxes at the end of 2017 what would normally be due this month. “Individuals, due to the federal tax reform and the state and local deduction, paid their taxes a little earlier than they usually do. So we think some of the money we would have received in January was remitted in December of this year,” he said.

Fearing Financial “Crisis,” Auditor Will Review PA Turnpike Commission Again

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — The beleaguered Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is under review for the second time in less than two years. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale acknowledged, it’s unusual for him to audit an agency twice in such a short time. But he said he has “grave concerns” about the turnpike’s practice of repeatedly raising tolls, largely to pay for its $450 million-a-year obligation to PennDOT. It also pays hundreds of millions in debt-service on the money it borrows to make those payments. The money goes toward things like public transportation

“What we want to analyze is their belief…that despite the increase in tolls, they’ll have increased traffic,” DePasquale said.

PA Judge Allows Budget Constitutionality Case To Proceed

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — A state judge has allowed a lawsuit over budgeting practices to proceed. The suit alleges top elected officials have violated the Pennsylvania constitution in the last two years by passing budgets without fully funding them, and borrowing money to pay off a previous year’s debt. Two years ago, a spending plan passed just after the June deadline, but it took lawmakers weeks to finalize how to pay for it. The situation reoccurred last year, with the deadlock stretching four months. Matt Brouillette, a conservative who runs the advocacy group Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs Inc., is one of the complainants in the case

He said he’s worried the state will continue to see bigger deficits and a continuing pattern of unbalanced budgets if the state’s practices aren’t better-policed.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Set Agendas For 2018

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — Lawmakers won’t truly start their 2018 session until late this month. But they’re already laying out legislative agendas for the new year. Many of the top priorities aren’t much different from last year’s. Democrats and Republicans all named job creation among their primary goals. House Democratic Spokesman Bill Patton also said his caucus is particularly focused on raising the minimum wage.

PA Officials Scramble To Plan For Possible CHIP Shutdown

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — Fights over federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program has states trying to figure out how long their programs can hold out without getting more money. Pennsylvania is no exception. The commonwealth’s CHIP program will be lucky to last until March if federal lawmakers don’t act soon. CHIP funding expired at the end of September. And a measure that would extend it for five more years is wrapped up in partisan gridlock in Congress over an end-of-year spending bill.

‘Flush And Boil’ Advisory In Pittsburgh Speaks To Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Needs

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Many cities across Pennsylvania are struggling with outdated infrastructure, especially their water and sewer lines. In Pittsburgh this week, a water main break caused a safety advisory affecting 7,000 households. It’s the city’s third such warning this year. The broken 20-inch water main left some customers without water or with very low pressure, which means groundwater could infiltrate the pipes. In a precautionary measure, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority told affected customers to run their taps and then boil water before using it to drink or cook.

PA House Democrats spent $248,000 to settle harassment complaint

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — A newly published report shows state House Democrats have paid $600,000 in taxpayer money to settle complaints against four lawmakers over the last decade. Two of those were sexual harassment complaints–including one against 21-term Representative Thomas Caltagirone that cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars. According to documents obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the House Democratic Caucus paid $248,000 in 2015 to settle a complaint from one of Caltagirone’s staffers. It apparently involved years of physical and verbal harassment. The settlement included a nondisclosure agreement.

How Six House Bills Could Change The Way PA Budgets

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — Amid a flurry of end-of-year legislative activity, the state House passed a raft of six Republican-backed bills that could significantly change the way Pennsylvania puts together its budget. The proposals would largely come into play during impasses, like the ones the state has faced repeatedly in recent years. House GOP Leader Dave Reed said they’re borne out of frustration at budgets becoming law without the revenues to back them up, among other things. “It would just require that we actually have a budget be balanced constitutionally, as is required,” he said during floor debate. One bill would mandate an official revenue estimate be made when lawmakers enact their spending plan for the year.

Wolf Administration Reports Fiscal Turnaround, Contradicts Projections

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — After several years of shaky finances, Governor Tom Wolf’s administration says Pennsylvania’s fiscal health is now the best it has been since the Great Recession. In his annual mid-year briefing, Budget Secretary Randy Albright said his office is predicting a roughly $30 million surplus at the end of this fiscal year–enough to start putting some money back into the commonwealth’s long-neglected rainy-day fund. While that’s small relative to the state’s $32 billion operating budget, it’s better than the $1.5 billion shortfall lawmakers had to fill at the end of last fiscal year. The state’s Independent Fiscal Office–which is nonpartisan–agreed that this year will probably end with a surplus, estimating it would actually be a few tens of millions higher than the administration’s number. But when it comes to next year’s fiscal situation, the predictions diverge.

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PA Governor Won’t Release Report On Alleged Staff Mistreatment

(Harrisburg) — Governor Tom Wolf has decided not to release the findings of an investigation into his lieutenant governor, fellow Democrat Mike Stack. Earlier this year, Wolf ordered the state inspector general’s office to look into allegations Stack and his wife had been verbally abusing their police detail and other staff. After the initial complaints, the governor stripped the lieutenant governor of his police detail and most of the staff in his state-provided residence. He said his concern at the time was “to make sure the employees…were safe and were not in a bad job situation.” But he said he’s not releasing the report because he doesn’t “think anything will be served by piling on top of that.”

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Late-Night Bid To Force Severance Tax Onto PA House Floor Fails

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — Supporters of a natural gas severance tax attempted to circumvent state House Republican leaders late Tuesday night to push the issue back onto the floor. The motion to call the measure up as a special order of business came after a long day of votes on other major bills. It ultimately received popular support, but was just shy of the constit