pa government

David Wilson / Flickr

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- After a year of fights over how to pay for Pennsylvania's claims system for jobless workers, lawmakers say they're getting close to a bipartisan solution. 

A standoff last year over financial mismanagement in the unemployment compensation program resulted in nearly 500 layoffs.

Some workers have since been brought back, but not all.

A new plan passed through the House Labor and Industry Committee on Monday would give the UC program $115.2 million, which would be gradually phased out over four years.

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Pennsylvania is already on track to have a significant budget gap to fill next year.

A study from the Independent Fiscal Office shows lawmakers will likely need to come up with about a billion dollars to keep the books balanced.

They only just finished this year’s budget, four months behind schedule.

It was mostly filled with borrowing, expected revenue from a gambling expansion and a number of internal fund transfers.

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The state legislature has received its yearly audit, which looks at reserves lawmakers keep on hand in case pay for themselves and their staff gets cut off during a budget impasse.

This year's review showed a smaller surplus than last year's, with overall legislative reserves decreasing from $118 million and change last year, to around $95 million as of this June.

However, the surplus could be significantly bigger than it appears in the report.

PA Filling Budget Holes With Borrowed Tobacco Funds

Nov 15, 2017
AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Pennsylvania is going to borrow against its Tobacco Settlement Fund to fill in last year's deficit and finish this year's budget 

The Wolf administration confirmed Tuesday that it will tap into the stream of money states have received from tobacco companies since the 1990s.

The borrowing will give the commonwealth money to balance its books up front, and will then be paid back over several decades.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved the plan Tuesday. However, Budget Secretary Randy Albright noted that it's not finalized yet.

Two Fact-Tracked Court Cases Could Change PA Politics

Nov 15, 2017
Keystone Crossroads

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS - With drastic changes to Pennsylvania’s political landscape hanging in the balance, two lawsuits challenging the state’s congressional map are moving forward at rapid speed — one in state courts, the other in federal. 

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) - Several activists were arrested Monday while blocking a hallway during a rally at the state Capitol. 

Many had just finished a three-day walk from Lancaster to Harrisburg--the second one they've done this year.

The group's goal is to call attention to stalled bills that would ban gifts to lawmakers and seek to make the redistricting process less partisan.

The walk to the Capitol was 36 miles, and temperatures fell below freezing at times.

But when the March on Harrisburg group reached the Capitol, their energy was high

governortomwolf / Flickr

HARRISBURG (WSKG) - State lawmakers are running into legal issues over a component of the budget plan they passed last month.

Some $200 million of the plan is slated to be appropriated from a group that insures healthcare providers against malpractice claims.

However, the group has sued to keep that money.

The state established the Joint Underwriting Association in the 1970s, so lawmakers say they have the authority to appropriate its funds as needed. 

Emily Previti, WITF

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS - In 2013, Pennsylvania created the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program in hopes of spurring economic growth by allowing a few select communities in the commonwealth to reinvest tax dollars that normally would go to the state or local government.

401k / Flickr

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Four months into the fiscal year, Pennsylvania's revenues are more-or-less on target. 

A new report from the state Independent Fiscal Office shows collections are about $10 million dollars below estimates--a figure IFO Director Matthew Knittel said is leaps and bounds better than this time last year, when state income lagged by more than 20 times that much.

The commonwealth ended last fiscal year nearly $1.5 billion below projections--a shortfall that contributed to lawmakers' painful, protracted budget battle.

A recent report from a civil rights organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community shows Pennsylvania has room to improve when it comes to equality. 

Forty-four Pennsylvania communities have passed ordinances to protect members of the LGBTQ  community from discrimination. But, not all of them offer the same level of protection, and the legislature has failed to pass a statewide nondiscrimination law for LGBTQ people.

PA's Governor Signs Most Of A New Revenue Plan

Oct 31, 2017
tomwolf / Flickr

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Governor Tom Wolf has signed the majority of the revenue plan passed by the legislature last week --four months past the deadline.

But he hasn't signed the public school code yet, and in a briefing Monday, appeared to leave open the possibility of vetoing it.

The rest of the revenue package fills a $2.2 billion hole in the $32 billion budget.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- One of the biggest parts of the budget plan that Governor Tom Wolf has now mostly signed into law is $1.5 billion dollars worth of borrowing.

But Wolf said Monday it's not yet set in stone where that money will come from.

The legislature's plan called for borrowing from the Tobacco Settlement Fund--which gets yearly payments from a settlement states made with tobacco companies in the late 1990s.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) - The state Treasury has authorized a major $1.8 billion loan to keep Pennsylvania's general fund from running out of money. 

It comes just in time for the commonwealth to make major public school payments.

Over the last several years, it became routine for the Treasury to extend large loans early in the fiscal year, because the bulk of state revenues have tended to come in later months.

But this year, Treasurer Joe Torsella refused to follow suit until the state budget was finished--calling it irresponsible to do so.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The state House has sent a gambling expansion bill to Governor Tom Wolf's desk--effectively finishing the budget they've labored over this entire fiscal year, four months past the due date. 

The long, complex measure prompted hours of debate over the course of two days.

It significantly broadens Pennsylvania's 13-year-old gaming industry. Gambling in airports and over the internet will now be legal. Truck stops across the commonwealth can install video gaming terminals--or VGTs--and up to 10 new miniature casinos are authorized.

PA's State Budget Could Be Finished Today

Oct 26, 2017
Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- After almost four months of false starts and negotiation breakdowns, the state legislature has passed most of a plan to fund Pennsylvania's budget--almost entirely through borrowing and internal transfers.

Lawmakers say the end is finally in sight.

However, the House still has to pass a gambling expansion bill, which they'll resume debating at 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, after running out the clock late Wednesday night.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Pennsylvania's hate crimes law protects people on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. But it doesn't include several other categories--like ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. 

Some lawmakers have been trying to change that--but not everyone is on-board.

The commonwealth's hate crimes law didn't always exclude protections for sexual orientation, disabilities, or gender identity. From 2002 to 2008, it protected an expanded number of groups.

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The legislature is crawling closer to finishing its nearly four-months-late state budget--with the House and Senate both saying they're aiming to finalize a plan based mostly on borrowing this week.

"It's been a long three months, so hopefully there's more optimism than there was for most of the time," House Republican Leader Dave Reed said.

"But," he added, "we'll wait and see."

So far, the legislature has sent the governor its fiscal code, which implements the overall budget, and which Wolf said he still has to review.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- This week the state Senate is expected to consider a budget proposal that's already been approved by the House, and leaders say the borrowing-heavy plan might be the only avenue to finding consensus. 

But disagreements remain on a key component of the revenue package: how to expand gambling.

Many House members have long wanted to legalize remote video gaming terminals--or VGTs-- in bars and taverns. They argue illegal terminals already exist, and should be regulated.

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- A Senate committee has moved a bill to reauthorize Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program--or CHIP.

CHIP has existed for decades in Pennsylvania. But this time, the bill is controversial. It includes a component that would prohibit the state from insuring transgender kids' transition surgeries and related needs, like counseling.

Keystone Crossroads

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS - Fair Districts PA delivered postcards collected from constituents to State Senator Jake Corman’s office in Bellefonte on Thursday, urging the Republican majority leader to to pass legislation to reform the redistricting process in Pennsylvania. 

About 25 members and supporters of Fair Districts PA gathered in the parking lot outside Corman’s office with over 500 postcards stapled onto a giant board.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- State House lawmakers have moved a bill onto the floor calling for a severance tax on natural gas drilling.

It's a big step for Democrats and moderate Republicans, who have pushed the tax for years. But there's a good chance the measure will languish without a vote for the foreseeable future. 

It would create a tax on the volume of gas taken from the ground, on top of an existing fee for new wells drilled.

PA Senator: GOP Tax Plan A 'Giveaway To The Rich'

Oct 19, 2017
Ben Allen / WITF

Pennsylvania's senior U.S. Senator doesn't see much hope for the middle class in a tax plan supported by Republicans.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey and other members of the Senate Finance Committee met with President Trump in the White House Wednesday to discuss a proposal to cut taxes. 

Casey gave Trump a letter from a 73-year old Adams County constituent on a fixed income. The senator said he shares the man's concerns.

PA House Budget Proposal May Be The Only Option

Oct 19, 2017
Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The state House has now sent the Senate most of the revenue components necessary to finish Pennsylvania's budget--more than three months behind schedule.

Senate leaders say they'll make a good-faith effort to pass them, despite their flaws.

But the budget's completion might still hinge on whether the chambers can agree on a gambling expansion. 

The main component of the House proposal is a $1.5 billion in borrowing against the state's Tobacco Settlement fund. That money would be paid back with interest over 20 years.

David Wilson / Flickr

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Some state lawmakers are trying to get restitution for what they see as bad US Federal Reserve policies during the recovery of the housing market.  

The ask? Around $20 billion dollars.

The state Treasury would be required to lobby the federal government for those funds under a resolution that recently passed committee in the House.

The practice at the core of the resolution is quantitative easing, or QE.

PA House Passes Familiar Budget...Minus New Revenue

Oct 18, 2017

HARRISBURG (WSKG) - House lawmakers narrowly passed part of a proposal Tuesday night to finish Pennsylvania's overdue state budget--their first significant action since talks melted down two weeks ago. 

It's extremely similar to a plan that previously failed to garner support. However, this version borrows more money and doesn't include significant recurring revenue, from taxes or otherwise.

It came together on the heels of a cooling-off period for the legislature, following Governor Tom Wolf's announcement he would balance the budget unilaterally.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers might be close to a bipartisan agreement that gets a natural gas severance tax to the House floor. 

Similar efforts have failed repeatedly over the last several years--and as recently as this month. But a slightly friendlier committee might make this time different.

Most House severance tax bills end up in the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which is stacked with conservative Republicans who tend to oppose tax hikes or new taxes.

Associated Press

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The state House and Senate are back in session after taking time off following the collapse of budget negotiations earlier this month. 

There's no concrete strategy moving forward.

But some lawmakers say they hope opposition to Governor Tom Wolf's unilateral budget-balancing plan will eventually spur the body into action.

Wolf has announced he intends to bring the state's books in line by borrowing against liquor control board revenues, leasing out the state Farm Show complex, and not passing funding for state related universities.

Lindsey Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

A bill under consideration in the state House changes the way Pennsylvania enacts new regulations on everything from education, to health, and the environment. 

HB 1237 would add new requirements to Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act, an already byzantine process by which regulations are scrutinized by the general public, state legislators, and an independent commission. The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House Commerce committee Monday.

David Wilson / Flickr

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- State Treasurer Joe Torsella has decided to authorize a five-day, $700 million loan to keep Pennsylvania from missing Medicaid payments while its general fund runs low. 

The move is politically fraught.

For two months, Torsella, a Democrat, refused to lend money until the legislature passed a plan that would balance the state's finances.

Now, Governor Tom Wolf is taking unilateral steps to try and bring the three-months-late budget in line. But critics of Torsella and Wolf say not enough has actually changed to justify the shift in position.

Katie Meyer

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Governor Tom Wolf has gone public over the past two days to promote his plan to balance the state budget without action from the legislature. 

It mostly involves borrowing, and a number of smaller cost-saving measures. But a lot is still unknown about it.

For instance, Wolf's plans to borrow money against the state liquor industry and Farm Show complex in Harrisburg could see challenges from lawmakers who think the governor doesn't have the authority to make those decisions.