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Capitol Notebook

A quick guide on what to expect from the Pa. legislature, governor and more in 2020

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This is the year nearly everyone working in Pennsylvania government and politics has been waiting for: from the decennial census to control of the state legislature, Congress and the White House, 2020 promises to be breathtakingly busy. And Pennsylvania is widely expected to be at the center of the national news cycle.

Next week, the state legislature returns to the Capitol after a lengthy break for the holidays. On the policy front, few believe lawmakers will move substantive legislation. Traditionally, legislators have shied away from tackling particularly complicated or costly problems in election years, lest it hurt their reelection chances.

Still, Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, in early February is scheduled to deliver his budget address to a joint session of the Republican-controlled legislature, and budget negotiations will dominate the agenda. In his second and final term, the governor is expected to again make a push for some of his key priorities, including some that have repeatedly been rejected by GOP lawmakers.

Wolf, for instance, is again poised to push for a tax on the extraction of natural gas (he’s done so every year since taking office in 2015). He would then use the proceeds to bankroll infrastructure improvements. The proposed tax has been deeply unpopular with many Republicans, who believe it will drive away an industry that is integral to the state’s economy.

Wolf also is likely to argue for gun control reforms, which, for years, have gained no traction in the Capitol. He will also advocate for a minimum wage hike. (The Senate approved an increase late last year from the current $7.25 per hour to $9.50 per hour; it is unclear whether the House will act on it.)

But the more bruising fight is expected in the political arena.

There are several high-profile congressional races across the state that will be watched nationally. And in Harrisburg, Democrats believe they can take back control of the state House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold 107 of 203 seats (there are four vacancies because of resignations).

In the Senate, Democrats say they still see a path to taking control of the chamber, despite the high-profile defection of longtime Sen. John Yudichak (D., Luzerne), who announced late last year that he was becoming an independent and now caucuses with Republicans.

Control of the chambers is key. Once this year’s census is complete, the legislature will redraw maps for legislative and congressional districts, and the party that controls the statehouse will have an advantage in the process.

Capitol Notebook by Spotlight PA provides updates on important news and notes from the halls of power in Harrisburg. Have a tip? Contact Cynthia Fernandez at cfernandez@spotlightpa.org.