Government

Lindsey Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

HARRISBURG (WSKG) - A bill to expand Pennsylvania's pension forfeiture laws is gaining traction after stalling out last legislative session. 

In large part, the movement is thanks to a controversial, high-profile appeal in which a convicted former lawmaker was given his pension back.  

Robert Mellow, a former Democratic state Senator, lost his more than $245,000-a-year retirement income after pleading guilty to felony corruption in 2012.

But he appealed, and now he has the money back.

FBI probes some Cuomo hiring practices

3 hours ago

According to published reports, some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hiring practices are the subject of an FBI investigation.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

According to published reports, some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hiring practices are the subject of an FBI investigation. The Albany Times Union first reported that the FBI is looking at Cuomo’s longstanding practice of hiring employees for his office but paying them through other state agencies.

PA's Credit Stable, But That Might Not Last

Dec 8, 2017
Tim Lambert/WITF

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- A rating agency has deemed Pennsylvania's credit stable.

That's an improvement from several months ago, when the commonwealth received a downgrade from a different agency in the midst of an extended budget impasse. 

But it doesn't mean the fiscal woes are over.

Even though Fitch Ratings' has taken Pennsylvania off its Rating Watch Negative list, it still has a negative outlook.  

MARIE CUSICK/ STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA

A complaint filed with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission alleges a senior aide to Governor Tom Wolf might have illegally blurred the lines between the public’s business and her own.

StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported a year ago that Wolf aide Yesenia Bane could be running afoul of state ethics law, when a review of her 2016 daily calendar showed she was regularly involved in meetings and travel related to her husband’s natural gas industry clients.

At the time her husband, John Bane, was a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Harrisburg. Among his clients were gas driller EQT, refiner Philadelphia Energy Solutions, and pipeline company Williams. He joined EQT full time as a senior government relations manager in late 2016.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

ALBANY (WSKG) - County leaders across New York are the latest to complain about the tax overhaul plan now being crafted in Congress. They predict higher taxes for many New Yorkers, declining home prices and slowed economic growth.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said the federal tax bill will lead to many middle- and upper-class New Yorkers paying higher taxes because of the proposed end to state and local tax deductions. And he said the state’s over $4 billion projected deficit and potential funding cuts aren’t helping either.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- A conservative state lawmaker is doubling down on comments he made suggesting a fellow lawmaker might be gay for touching him on the arm.

The initial incident happened Tuesday in the House State Government Committee between Bucks County Republican chairman Daryl Metcalfe and minority chair Matthew Bradford, a Montgomery County Democrat.

During a discussion on a land use bill, Bradford briefly touched Metcalfe's arm while making a point.

200 PA Municipalities Opt Out Of Gaming Expansion

Dec 7, 2017
Lindsey Lazarski, WHYY

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Two hundred Pennsylvania municipalities have already opted out of hosting a new miniature casino. 

At least 79 are in the midstate.

The option is part of a gambling expansion lawmakers passed at the end of October, which was designed to raise revenue to help fix the commonwealth's chronically underfunded budget.

Karen DeWitt

ALBANY (WSKG) - New York faces fiscal challenges in 2018, but that has not stopped groups from asking for more money in the new state budget, including agencies that provide care to people with disabilities. 

Chanting, “Be fair to direct care,” about 200 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, along with their family members and caregivers, gathered in a reception area outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Wednesday to ask for more help in paying the workers more money. 

New York State Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said if net neutrality rules are repealed by the Federal Communications Commission, it would benefit only the most powerful and wealthy. The rules require Internet service companies to provide the same service to everyone equally.

Gabe Altieri / WSKG

Residents in the Village of Van Etten are split over whether to dissolve their government. They vote on it next week. 

If yes, the village would be absorbed by the Town of Van Etten, but, the decision is not just about saving money. It’s about a deep rift between the village and town governments.

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The state House has passed a bill to fund the commonwealth's jobless claims system for another four years, and the Senate will likely agree to it.

Last year, a standoff over financial mismanagement in the system resulted in nearly 500 layoffs from unemployment compensation call centers.

Lawmakers have struggled since then to right the situation.

The House-passed bill would give the UC program more than $115 million, phased out over four years. 

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The state House has kicked forward a proposal to outlaw automatic deductions from state workers' paychecks for union dues that contribute to political activity. 

Supporters call it a "paycheck protection" bill.

Though they had a lot on their agenda Tuesday, arguments on the measure took up most of the day.

Under current law, a nominal amount of taxpayer money is used to make automatic deductions for things like taxes, Medicare, or charitable donations.

MATT RYAN / NEW YORK NOW

ALBANY (WSKG) - One of the biggest challenges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers will face in 2018 is balancing the state’s budget, which already has a structural deficit of more than $4 billion. On top of that, federal changes to taxes and health care could cost the state billions more in lost funding. 

State tax revenues are down, contributing to the largest structural budget gap in seven years. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli estimates the deficit to be about $4.4 billion.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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PA Lawmakers Start Weighing Child Welfare Reforms

Dec 5, 2017
Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- In September, a report from the state auditor general's office declared Pennsylvania's child welfare system "broken." 

Now, lawmakers have begun considering how to improve it.  

The first committee hearing on the report focused largely on how to keep qualified case workers on the job.

On average, those employees don't make a huge salary. The audit showed the average entry level pay is just over $30,000 per year.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said that might be why some counties see up to half of their case workers quit within a year.

Lindsey Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- A bill narrowing the window to get an abortion in Pennsylvania could be on a fast track to Governor Tom Wolf's desk sometime soon. 

Under current law, abortions are permitted until 24 weeks of pregnancy. This would roll the limit back to 20, except in medical emergencies.

The measure would also outlaw a procedure referred to as "dismemberment abortion," which is not a medically recognized term.

It already passed the House last session, and made it through the Senate earlier this year.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

ALBANY (WSKG) The governors of New York, California and New Jersey on Monday strongly condemned the GOP tax bill now before Congress, saying it is unfair to their states and will wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.

In a conference call, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the federal tax overhaul plan that severely restricts state and local tax deductions is “political retaliation” against 12 states that are run by Democrats.

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

ALBANY (WSKG) - A leading Senate Democrat says if a planned unification between rival factions in the State Senate occurs, don’t expect any immediate action on key items like women’s reproductive rights, public financing of campaigns, and transgender rights. 

Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, says under the current plan, the reunification would not happen until late in the legislative session, and there likely won’t be time to act on the bills.

Katie Meyer

EASTON (WSKG) -- On the eastern border of Pennsylvania, north of the Philadelphia suburbs, a cluster of state Senate districts appear -- at first glance -- to be arbitrarily drawn. 

They twist and tangle their way through Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Chester and Monroe Counties.

It's an area that's long been a Republican enclave, but has more recently started to lean further left.

But the way the districts are drawn happens to give many Republicans wide margins, while sometimes making things confusing for individual cities and communities.

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) said members of Congress accused of sexual harassment allegations should resign. But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is calling for investigations first.

governorandrewcuomo/Flickr

ALBANY (WSKG) - 20 state and national groups supporting a bill that would strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Law are urging Governor Cuomo to sign the measure into law as soon as he receives it from the state legislature. 

The bill, approved by the Senate and the Assembly in June, says if a court finds that a state agency unreasonably dragged its feet answering a Freedom of Information request, a judge could require the agency to pay the attorney’s fees for the person or group who made the FOIL request.

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

ALBANY (WSKG) - A state Assemblyman has been sanctioned by the Assembly Ethics Committee for allegedly sexually harassing a staff member. Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin denies the charges and has asked for a criminal investigation of the ethics committee itself.

The complaint against McLaughlin stems from a June 2016 complaint from a female staffer, who said the Republican from Rensselaer County made lewd comments to her and asked to see nude photos of her. McLaughlin also is accused of releasing the name of the staff member, then lying about it.

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Several Republican state senators plan to introduce legislation that would require Pennsylvania to use zero-based budgeting--a standard specifically designed to save money.

The idea comes from lawmakers' annual, unsuccessful struggles to balance the commonwealth's books.

However, other states that have attempted to use the method have often opted not to stick with it.

Photo by Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Pennsylvania's Supreme Court is deciding whether Governor Tom Wolf overstepped his authority with an executive order letting the state organize home healthcare workers under a union-like structure. 

A lower court already decided against the governor once.

But lawyers for the Wolf administration argue the governor's directive merely gives workers an option to voice their concerns.

The 2015 order--one of Wolf's first in office--targets independent workers who care for elderly and disabled people in their homes.

Judge Halts PA's Attempt To Take Funds From Insurer

Nov 28, 2017

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- A judge has issued an injunction that will at least delay state lawmakers from getting some of the money they planned for in the revenue plan they finished last month.

The cash is tied to a pending case about whether the state can constitutionally force the Joint Underwriting Association--a medical malpractice insurer--to give up $200 million.

This is the second year lawmakers have tried to take surplus money from the JUA to help balance perennial budget gaps.

Central New York Republican Rep. John Katko met with businesses in Syracuse Monday to discuss the tax bill he voted for, which passed the House of Representatives. Business owners said they would reinvest in their companies if the deal goes through.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

ALBANY (WSKG) - The Congressional Budget Office report released Sunday finds that the Senate tax overhaul bill harms the poorest Americans even more than originally thought. 


Pennsylvania Lawmakers Get Automatic Pay Raise

Nov 27, 2017

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- When lawmakers return to the Capitol after their Thanksgiving recess, they'll have a little extra cash waiting for them.

Every year, salaries for elected officials are reevaluated based on the cost of living.

The number varies--this year, it's .81 percent, which means the average salary for a lawmaker will increase by about $700, from $86,480 to $87,180.

Those in leadership positions make even more. The top salaries hover around almost $140,000.

Gabe Altieri / WSKG Public Media

Congressman Tom Reed returned to the Southern Tier this week and faced heat over his support of the big GOP tax bill that just passed the House of Representatives.

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